PHOTOS: Andrew Scheer, demonstrating his vaunted smile. (Photo: This fills corporate media with hope. It shouldn’t. In Canada, with or without a smile, social conservatism is ballot-box poison. Below: former prime minister Stephen Harper, who really doesn’t have a very nice smile at all. Below him, former PM Joe Clark and serving PM Justin Trudeau.

It was only the morning after the night before, but by early yesterday Canada’s corporate media seemed to have reached a solid consensus about the new leader of the federal Conservative Party: Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper with a human face!

Naturally, this wasn’t exactly the way they put it. The way most corporate media outfits summed up the change atop the Conservative Party of Canada was that Mr. Scheer, the Saskatchewan MP and former Speaker of the House of Commons chosen by the Tories after several hours of faux suspense the night before, is Mr. Harper … with a smile.

As if a smile will make much difference!

Well, you have to give it to whatever is left of Canada’s “elite” media – conservatives all, presumably, to a man and woman – their faith in the notion the Canadian electorate is pretty dull and easy to fool is boundless.

These are, after all, the media corporations that before the 2015 federal election sent orders to their supposedly independent local franchises to run editorials supporting Mr. Harper or whoever the local Conservative was, or which, like the Globe and Mail, advised B.C. readers from its new Toronto aerie high above King Street East to hold their noses and vote for Christy Clark. The results? Not that effective.

So the thought that a new Stephen Harper with a human face will fix everything, restoring God to His heaven, order to His universe and Tories to Ottawa is a bit of a reach, even for them.

Never mind that in October 2015, the same voters sent the grimly self-righteous Mr. Harper and his neoliberal government packing, presumably fed up with its harsh tone, destructive market fundamentalism, and anti-science, anti-labour, anti-immigrant and anti-social policy agenda.

If we roll out the same policies advocated by a spokesperson with a less sinister smile and a modicum of charm, they seem to think, all will be well. Don’t count on it, if your definition of all’s well means Conservatives in power in the nation’s capital.

There are those, of course, who might argue that Justin Trudeau, the prime minister whose Liberals were restored to government after a decade in the wilderness on Oct. 19, 2015, is the one who should be described as Stephen Harper with a human face.

But they are mostly New Democrats still labouring under the impression their own party would act differently in government, notwithstanding the 2015 policy platform of their current leader, now reduced to interim status partly as a result.

Regardless, as an understanding of just who the unexpected Mr. Scheer actually is, the realization is already dawning on a lot of voters that while he may have a nicer smile than Mr. Harper, in some ways he is could even be worse.

The former Conservative prime minister paid ritual obeisance to the unchanging attitudes of his party’s social conservative base, but it’s said here he never really had any intention of doing anything about them. In truth, he was a dogmatic market fundamentalist ideologist, pure and simple, and the only thing self-evidently genuinely religious about him was his quasi-religious faith in the Almighty Market.

When it comes to so-con dogma, Mr. Scheer may or may not be closer to the real thing than Mr. Harper was, but he certainly owes the party’s social conservative base a heck of a lot more than Mr. Harper did. It was their votes, after all, that pushed him over the top.

On climate change and First Nations policies, it is true, he is a virtual clone of Mr. Harper. On science and labour, we don’t know yet for sure, but don’t hold your breath hoping for anything better.

And while like Mr. Harper, Mr. Scheer has said he won’t revisit the country’s abortion laws, he has thrown a bone to the social conservatives by proposing tax breaks for home and private schoolers.

But that may not be enough for the party’s so-cons, who are bound to be feeling their oats after pushing Mr. Scheer over the top Saturday. How will he say no when CPC social conservatives demand he re-open such divisive cans of political worms as the debates over abortion and same-sex marriage?

Well, hope springs eternal for Conservatives, just like the rest of us. But social conservatism is ballot-box poison in most parts of this country, and that’s only going to become more pronounced as time rolls on.

Mr. Scheer is almost certainly bright enough to recognize this, but he can only do something to remedy the problem by alienating the angry, volatile, religious zealots who got him elected and now surely feel they have the right to tell the party what to do next. If he does that, chances are they’ll stay home on election day.

If he turns out to be the true believer Mr. Harper wasn’t, on the other hand, he can push policies in good conscience that will send the majority of Canadian voters screaming back to the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau.

Unlike former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, mentioned in this space yesterday, Mr. Scheer is not exactly showing up at a point in Mr. Trudeau’s career when voters are righteously sick of the prime minister, they way there were of his dad, Pierre Trudeau, in the late 1970s. At least, that is, until they got a short glimpse back then of Conservative government in action.

So despite Mr. Sheer’s supposedly human face, don’t bet the urban farm on him getting very far on the strength of a nice smile.

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  1. “But they are mostly New Democrats still labouring under the impression their own party would act differently in government, notwithstanding the 2015 policy platform of their current leader, now reduced to interim status partly as a result.”
    Thank you for that!

    Ya, Mulcair was a Tony-Blair-in-waiting no doubt. So many “progressives” betray their electors ….
    Blair, Obama, Hollande, Trudeau etc etc (even Syriza in Greece)
    Once they are “in power” they become seem to become powerless.

    Jeremy Corbyn is an interesting case. The UK elites (including the Blair-ite Labour MPs) have done their best to destroy him but he keeps rising in the polls and the Labour manifesto is very popular. (May copied Harper and called an unprecedentedly long campaign, silly lady.) Were he to pull off an upset, I think he might show more backbone than the dismal list above.

  2. While Scheer certainly possesses the clone-like attributes of Stephen Harper, more problematic is the current state of the CPC.

    Defeated candidates like Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, and Maxime Bernier (the pre-convention anointed leader who almost was) are not going away anytime soon. Their polemic attacks on Muslims, LGBTQ rights and supply management will give the new leader more than a few agonizing headaches. Throw in Mr. Bombast himself, Kevin O’Leary, and mix in the always incorrigible Chris Alexander, and Scheer will likely have his hands full just with his own agitating band of party provocateurs. You could rightfully label it “Scheer lunacy.”

  3. Stop the presses and hold page one! The National Post’s John Ivison has called the federal election of 2023 today!

    “But if he’s smart (and he is), Scheer will look to add to his seat count in 2019 and move in for the kill four years later, when he will be the grand old age of 44. Short of a meltdown in 2019, it is a fair bet to say that one day, Andrew Scheer will be the prime minister of Canada.”

    Me and Conrad cain’t hardly wait.

  4. Can a nicer tone and a smile help the Conservatives regain power? Maybe, but I think more is needed. In some ways their leadership contest was a referendum on the Harper years. Did the party that stuck with him all these years finally realize somewhere he had really lost touch with Canadians or did they just think a fresh face was needed? Their answer seems to be the later.

    I never thought Harper’s image was his worst problem. Yes, he was generally rather serious, but it gave him gravitas. He could even sound moderate and reasonable when he needed to be, like during the years of minority government and he certainly knew how to keep the social conservatives largely silent, even though he sympathized with them. He was overly partisan, more so the longer he was in power and somewhat angry towards the end, but in his defense the Duffy affair was really annoying and I am sure he felt his great achievements, whether real or imagined were not as appreciated as they should have been.

    I suppose with Mr. Scheer, the Conservatives get to start fresh, sort of a reboot. Perhaps he will have some initial success in presenting a kinder gentler face to Conservatism. However, the problem is Harper’s Conservatism was not at all kind or gentle. He was the one that cut benefits to veterans to balance the budget. Mr. Scheer seems eager to lead the anti-carbon tax parade which may be popular in some parts of Saskatchewan but will probably lose him votes in suburban Ontario and BC. I also don’t think his support for tax credits for religious home schooling is going to win over a lot of support from those who voted Liberal in the last Federal election and he seems more willing to give social conservatives free reign than Harper.

    He was probably the safer choice as leader over Bernier. Surprisingly there are a lot of dairy farmers in rural Canada where the Conservatives hold most of their seats and I suspect they greatly prefer Scheer over Bernier. He doesn’t seem eager to jump into the debate over immigrants and cultural values that some candidates like Leitch seemed eager to embrace, so perhaps there may be some hope for him in Brampton or Surrey.

    He actually may have been a reasonable choice in the circumstances, but I don’t think Liberal strategists will be losing a lot of sleep over him.

  5. I heard a political scientist interviewed on the CBC noon show this afternoon. He pointed out that the last time a government with a majority was defeated after only one term was in 1935, at the height of the depression, when R B Bennett was defeated. The suggestion was also made that could be why some of the more prominent Conservatives didn’t run this time.

  6. Scheer is so middle-of-the-road that he is offensive to many. How middle-of-the-road is he? There are suggestions that it was the diary farmers who put him over the top on his promise to defend supply management.

  7. Obviously a toothy smile and fabulous hair is what Knuckistanis crave. Economic success and steering the economy through rough times is a gigantic who cares. Welcome to Knuckistan the land of Robin Hood. What a joke of a place. Thanks Lieberals!

  8. I must admit that I miss the good old days, when the CPC was a hot mess of warring factions between the PCs and Canadian Alliance. The greatest moment was when a small faction of the Alliance caucus temporarily broke off in protest over Stockwell Day’s incompetence. Oh well, back to the present. I think the Liberals should take Scheer seriously as a threat, regardless of the fact that their popularity is still riding relatively high. The electorate is volatile these days and what even the CPC leadership race showed is that there is danger in appearing too sure of yourself.

  9. It will take much more than a constant smile to be successful.

    He needs to have clever people around him, he needs to hold the party together, he needs to stay clear of social conservative dogma and be seen to do so, and he must stay very close to, just right of center.

    There was a reason why the Conservatives lost the urban vote in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. And why they were completely shut out of Atlantic Canada. Scheer, IMHO, needs to understand why and chart a new course for party.

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