Having been out of the country for over three weeks, haven’t blogged since the election, but here are my thoughts as a moderate small c conservative why Scheer must go as leader. The reality is while the party increased its vote share and seats, this was an election for their taking and they failed. Yes they won the popular vote, but largely due to running up the margins in two provinces; Alberta and Saskatchewan. As shown below when you remove the Prairies, the party actually by historical standards fared quite poorly and more importantly all the key areas they need to be winning in, they were either static or going backwards while just running up the margins in the areas they already held.
In Atlantic Canada, the party saw its vote go up by 10 points, but this was still one of the worst showings in the party or its predecessor’s history and also a full 10-15% below what their provincial counterparts were getting. Atlantic Canada has generally been centrist and thus has no problem with Progressive Conservatives, but never liked the Reform Party so the party must be more like old PCs as opposed to Reform party to become competitive here again. That doesn’t mean they have to be liberal lite; just need to have thoughtful policies that deal with the challenges of the day. Also Atlantic Canadians very much have a community rather than individualistic orientation so trying to appeal to people’s own selfish interests doesn’t work here. People want to know not how will it make their personal life better, but how will it make things better for their region and Canadians as a whole.
Quebec has always been a tough one for the Tories to crack, but if there was ever an opportunity for a breakthrough it was this election and the Tories missed it. They will never win in Montreal, but they can expand beyond the Quebec City region into other regions of Quebec which party failed miserably to do. With Trudeau vulnerable, NDP collapsing, and BQ on life support, there was a strong opening the Tories could have taken advantage of; especially with their centre-right premier Francois Legault have a 60% approval rating. But rather than having an appealing platform for Quebec and making use of their candidates, it was a Prairie dominated one and showed lack of understanding of the province. Scheer’s poor French, social conservativism, and weak environmental platform all put him offside with most Quebecers. The party had a strong slate and rather than showcase the candidates and let them play a bigger role, it was mostly run by their Western supporters who don’t really understand Quebec well. With the BQ now back, I am afraid the window of opportunity for a breakthrough in Quebec may have passed, but at the very least the party needs a new leader who can take advantage if such opportunity arises in the near future.
Tories won most seats in rural Ontario as one would expect but in the 905 belt which is where elections are won and lost; party actually went backwards losing votes and seats. When compared to 2011, Tories were running a full 20 points behind in many ridings what they got then. Ontario is a fairly urban, multicultural, and educated province and party must adjust if it wishes to expand beyond its rural rump there. Running on an ideological right wing platform or not putting to bed the idea of a hidden agenda may work occasionally when people are ready to throw the bums out as they were provincially in 2018, but is a recipe for failure 80% of the time, whereas a more moderate well thought out platform can win far more often. Scheer was right to not campaign with Ford, but a lot of Ford’s team members in terms of staff have a better track record and could have helped. More importantly he could have included more moderate ones like Elliott and Mulroney. The party needs to do three things in Ontario to win which are: 1. have a real environmental plan 2. drop the social conservatism and 3. avoid austerity where possible and if it must be done make the case well before the election of what the long term benefits are of a balanced budget. Also perhaps postpone tax cuts until after the budget is balanced or even look on revenue side such as carbon tax or eliminating tax credits to help close the gap as opposed to just spending side.
In Prairies Tories did will but that was more due to opposition to Trudeau as opposed to support for Scheer. In Winnipeg which is the least Tory part of the Prairies, that is where the party saw the smallest swing in their favour for similar reasons as explained in Ontario. So while doing well in the Prairies and the party needs to keep the base on side, they need to find a way to bridge the divide between their Prairie base and more moderate support elsewhere and for that you need a more competent leader as Scheer is simply too weak to be able to achieve this.
Tories came in first in British Columbia in seats and votes, but only got 34% which is well below what they traditionally get and more importantly their biggest gains were in the Interior, but in Lower Mainland where they needed to gain, largely fell short and few seat pick ups were more due to vote splits on left which they lacked in Ontario as Greens and NDP stronger in BC than in Ontario. BC is a very green province and people care deeply about climate change so not having a strong climate change plan makes it hard to win there. BC Liberals who despite name are more conservative understand this, which is why it was under Gordon Campbell, BC introduced its first carbon tax. And despite some opposition on right, most federal Tories vote for BC Liberals and Interior stuck with them.
But its not just regions, its also demographics the party has a problem with. Canada is the most educated country on earth making right wing populism a much tougher sell here than elsewhere and if you look at polls, it was party’s poor support amongst university educated voters that cost them and that group is getting larger. Not everyone or even most with university degrees are left wing; you have a strong mix here, but most want intelligent policies to deal with issues, not simplistic solutions so this group can be won but party needs to move beyond simplistic rhetoric and things like just offering tax credits to buy votes. That might work with less educated types, but is turn off for the more educated types. Party also did poorly with women too and I believe the party not taking a strong enough stance on abortion hurt them. Women fought long and hard for this right and they don’t want a promise of just we won’t re-open it, but a backbencher can bring a private member’s bill, they want the door slammed shut on re-opening it. One can still be personally pro-life, but its important a leader make clear they support a woman’s right to choose and will not re-open issue. Yes making abortion whipped votes may anger base, but most voters have little knowledge on private member’s bills so best solution is just say the issue is settled and will not be re-opened. Finally the largest demographic is millennials and they will still be alive when the worst of climate change effects occur so without having a serious climate plan, party will continue to do poorly here and only way to counter this is win bigger amongst boomers as British Tories have managed to do but ours have not; but even that is only a short term solution not long term. Millennials may be more progressive, but still close to 30% lean right and if 30% vote Tory, that is enough to win provided they do better amongst Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation voters. But they want someone who relates to their generation and its challenges. Scheer may be young in age, but his policies are very old style and don’t connect with that generation. Weak climate change plan and not marching in gay pride parade are just two examples that paint the party as stuck in the past and most Canadians want a party of the future not past. Liberals slogan of Choose Forward was no accident; it was deliberately done to portray the party as forward looking and Tories backward. And while many Liberal policies like racking up deficits or reversing OAS changes and whole bunch of others are not forward looking, the party at least on balance looked more of the party of the future than the past.
But its not just policies that did party in, its also having a compelling message and a competent leader. Fair or not, Scheer comes across as weak and he just doesn’t come across as someone who has the skills and competence to be prime-minister. Likewise saying Liberals bad or we aren’t Liberals only works when approval is rock bottom like Wynne’s were in 2018, it won’t work in most cases. You need a clear platform and compelling case of why the party will do a better job and the Tories failed to do this and Scheer just doesn’t strike me as someone with the depth of knowledge and intellectual capacity to make this case. He can still be a good MP and maybe even a cabinet minister when Tories return to government, but he does not have the skills to become prime-minister. Trudeau is leading Canada down a risky economic path, but I am afraid if Tories stick with Scheer, the Liberals will win again, maybe even a majority. Scheer comes across as quite stubborn and unlike Trudeau doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the loss. A good leader will at least take notice of why they loss and change, but Scheer seems too stubborn to do this. I realize a race is risky and divisive, but looking at potential candidates, it is a risk worth taking as base is solid enough party cannot do much worse while as long as Scheer is leader; room for growth is limited. Later this week, I will do another post on what I believe the party needs to do to win next time around.