Stance on social issues isn’t winning Scheer many friends

With every passing week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer looks more like a politician trying to whistle past the graveyard of his leadership.

Since the election, there has not been a week that has not featured new cracks in the support Scheer needs to survive a vote of party confidence next April.

It is not as if he had a particularly sturdy leadership foundation to start with.

Two years ago, almost half of all of Conservative members supported Maxime Bernier’s leadership bid.

A mediocre election campaign is unlikely to have earned Scheer the loyalty of those who did not, in the first place, believe he was the best choice to lead the party.

From the perspective of many former Bernier backers, the failure to keep the former Quebec MP inside the tent is a black mark on Scheer’s record that only an election victory would have begun to erase.

At the same time, some of the harshest post-election attacks on the Conservative party leader’s performance have come from the very quarters that ensured his victory in the 13th ballot two years ago.

That starts with Scheer’s fellow social conservatives.

In the aftermath of the election defeat, he was denounced from the pulpit of the Campaign Life Coalition. In a post-election memo, the influential anti-abortion lobby accused Scheer of having, over the course of the campaign, betrayed his principles.

That same memo suggested Scheer should not count on the party’s social conservative wing to have his back at the time of the leadership review.

“If you cannot beat (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) under this prime scenario, how can you ever hope to beat him?” the group’s director of political operations, Jack Fonseca, wrote.

Scheer is also taking hits from the other side of the social rights divide. Over the campaign, Conservative insiders pushed back against Liberal attempts to sow doubts as to Scheer’s intentions on abortion and gay rights.

They argued their leader’s (tepid) assurances that he would respect the existing laws on both fronts should put the issue to rest.

But since the election, a string of prominent Conservatives has picked up where the Liberal election war room left off.

That friendly fire became more lethal when former interim leader Rona Ambrose jumped into the fray.

“It’s time to move forward together and show ALL families we have their backs!” Ambrose tweeted late Wednesday.

Scheer’s failure to explicitly embrace the equality rights of members of the LGBTQ community is set to continue to dog him all the way to the leadership review.

He spent almost two years as leader — including an entire campaign — passing on every opportunity to issue more than ambiguous bromides.

By now, his conflicted approach to values most Canadians have come to share is baked in his political persona.

If a majority of Conservatives join Ambrose and others in their contention that the party and its leader need to proactively join the social rights mainstream, it is hard to see how Scheer could continue to fit the bill.

And then he would not have become Conservative leader without some solid Quebec support.

Almost to a man and a woman, the party’s Quebec MPs did not want Bernier to succeed Stephen Harper. But in the wake of last monthís defeat, most Quebec Tories are as adamant about not wanting to fight another campaign under Scheer’s command.

As he cut ties with the Conservative caucus last week, Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais pretty much summed up the mood in Quebec Tory circles. No one (he says) believes a Scheer-led party has a shot at winning the next election.

To this chorus, one might also add the voice of Brian Mulroney, a figure still influential in many Tory quarters. In two separate post-election speeches, the former prime minister took indirect shots at the recent Conservative campaign.

The April review vote in Toronto will be some considerable distance from the Prairies, which is ground zero when it comes to support for the Scheer-led Conservatives, but is right in Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s backyard.

Ford was persona non grata on the Conservative campaign trail. For all intents and purposes, Scheer and his team treated the leader of Canada’s largest provincial Tory party as an embarrassment.

It may be that, on the way to the review of his leadership next spring, the best Scheer should hope for from Ford would be that the premier sits on his hands.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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