Ditching Scheer won’t fix all the issues facing Conservatives

Ditching Scheer won’t fix all the issues facing Conservatives

In the cold light of morning and with the dust settling on the federal election results, it is becoming clearer that the vote has landed Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in a much better place than it did their Conservative rivals.

Short of winning the majority he coveted, the Liberal leader has been handed as workable a hung Parliament as he could ever have hoped for.

At the same time, his party’s electoral hand — notwithstanding a double-digit loss in seats and an equivalent gain for Andrew Scheer’s party — has been reinforced at the expense of the Conservatives.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it is the Conservatives who are most at risk over the longer term of paying the bill for the resurrection of the Bloc Quebecois and the frustrations of their Prairie supporters.

A Bloc resurgence was not in the pre-election cards of any of the federalist parties and it killed Liberal hopes for gains in the province.

But by winning 35 seats in Quebec, Trudeau not only beat the Bloc for first place, he also reinforced his party’s advantage. The Liberals beat the Conservatives by a margin of two to one. The New Democrats were reduced to a single seat.

In his home province, Trudeau now towers over his federalist rivals, with the Bloc poised to block the latter from securing enough support to contend for federal power.

And as if that were not enough, that Liberal edge on the Conservatives in Quebec is compounded by a similar advantage in Ontario.

At the same time, the election of two dozen New Democrats means the prime minister need not spend his second term at the constant mercy of the Bloc for the survival of his minority government.

There should be enough common ground between the third parties and the Liberals for Trudeau to run a relatively stable government.

It helps that many, and perhaps most, NDP, Green and BQ supporters are happier with the Liberal minority than they would have been with the Conservative alternative.

None of the third parties are in a position to go back on the hustings any time soon.

The Greens are about to go in search of a successor for Elizabeth May.

The NDP’s coffers are beyond empty.

While Jagmeet Singh did save the party’s furniture on election day, his caucus was cut by a third and the party is left with only two seats east of Ontario.

Every election since 2011 has seen the NDP pushed further back in the wilderness. It will not be easy to chart a way back.

In the short term, the arrival of a strong Bloc contingent on Parliament Hill could even have a silver lining for Trudeau.

Scheer’s Conservatives should not hold their breath waiting for Bloc support to lead the opposition majority back to the SNC-Lavalin barricades.

If anything, the sovereigntist party will be pressuring Trudeau to give the engineering firm the deferred prosecution agreement it has so actively been seeking.

Since election night, Scheer has tried to cast the result as a first step back to federal power for the Conservatives. To listen to him, an electoral rematch would be too imminent for his party to consider a leadership change.

But he is really clutching at straws in the hope of consolidating a potentially untenable leadership position.

Scheer’s days as leader may be numbered, but a change at the top will not alone fix the Conservatives’ post-election woes.

It is not just that he has turned out to be an underwhelming campaigner.

On election night, about two thirds of Canadian voters supported parties that advocate carbon pricing.

From one federal election to the next, support for a more activist approach to climate change has been growing. The issue is likely to loom even larger on voters’ radar in the next campaign.

On Scheer’s watch, the Conservatives have deliberately broken away from what has evolved into a multi-party consensus.

The party’s base in the Prairies has come to equate the drive to more seriously address climate change with an existential threat to their region’s aspirations.

Scheer and his provincial allies have fostered that perception every step of the way. That stands to come back to bite the federal party.

If the Conservatives are to expand their narrow base, they will have to find a way back to the climate change mainstream.

But it will be a colossal task for whoever leads the party going forward to achieve that without losing the party’s Prairie anchor.

It is not necessary to believe that Alberta and Saskatchewan would have a brighter future outside the federation to know that the Conservative party could be collateral damage in a regional backlash over the results.

Should a party along the lines of the Bloc rise in Western Canada out of the hot embers of Monday’s election, it is the Conservatives and not Trudeau’s Liberals that will face the existential threat of another schism.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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