OTTAWA — Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is expected to mark a political milestone today: his final time rising in the House of Commons as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Today’s Commons sitting is one of two scheduled for August, but the second comes after party members will elect Scheer’s replacement, bringing an end to the long and sometimes painful process for Scheer that began just after last fall’s federal election.
That the House is sitting at all this month though is something Scheer himself took some credit for Tuesday as he briefly reflected on his achievements during a news conference.
He argued that Commons sittings, committee hearings and the chance to propose improvements to government programs all came from the Opposition’s push for more accountability from the Liberals as they rolled out their COVID-19 response.
While the Liberals haven’t taken the Tories up on all their ideas, they did agree to some, he said.
“We haven’t missed a beat, we’ve been right there,” he said.
It is perhaps fitting for Scheer that he counts among his legacies the fight to ensure Parliament’s work could continue during an unprecedented time.
In addition to being an MP from Regina since 2004, he also served as the Speaker of the House of Commons from 2011 to 2015.
It was after the Tories lost government in 2015, and the subsequent resignation of then-leader Stephen Harper, that Scheer decided to go for the leadership job.
He won in 2017, eking out a very narrow victory over fellow MP Maxime Bernier.
He spent the next two years trying to gain recognition across the country, while shoring up the party’s war chest and policy playbook in order to defeat the Liberal government in the Oct. 2019 election.
But despite the Liberals struggling with several scandals that reduced them to a minority, he failed to outright bring them down.
That failure was linked in part to Scheer’s personal inability to clearly articulate his position on social conservative issues. There were also factors that ate away at his credibility — a claim to being an insurance salesman when he never completed the licensing requirements and not disclosing he was a dual American-Canadian citizen.
Some, including Scheer, argued that increasing the Conservatives’ seat count and besting the Liberals’ share of the popular vote was a success.
But the knives came out for Scheer almost immediately after election day.
Among the jabs: party insiders leaked an internal argument over Scheer using party funds to pay for his kids’ private religious schooling, a fact unknown to many of the party’s executives.
Giving grassroots members more oversight and control over how the party spends the money has been a talking point for leadership candidates during the ensuing campaign.
The vote is taking place by mail, and all ballots must be back by Aug. 21. A winner is expected to be announced within days, and very likely before the next sitting of the Commons on Aug. 26.
Candidates Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan are both MPs, so could easily slide into the Opposition leader’s seat — and the official residence of Stornoway — if they win.
Neither of the other two candidates, Peter MacKay and Leslyn Lewis, currently holds a seat in the Commons. Should either of them win, they would likely appoint someone to lead the party in the Commons until they could win their own spot.
While a by-election is looming in the riding of York Centre, thanks to the resignation of the Liberal MP there, neither Lewis nor MacKay’s campaigns have committed to having their candidate run for that seat.
Whomever wins, Scheer has set them up for success, said Chris Warkentin, an Alberta MP who was one of Scheer’s earliest backers for leadership.
“Those of us who are close to Andrew know of his love and passion for his family, our country and our Conservative team,” Warkentin said.
“Our party is united, his family is intact and he will continue to fight to build a better country. That’s a legacy of leadership he can be proud of.”