In the hours and days after Justin Trudeau vanquished Stephen Harper in 2015, no less a pundit than Jason Kenney offered a trenchant analysis.
Conservatives, he said, needed their own sunny and optimistic brand.
“We got the big things right. We got the tone wrong,” he said.
Kenney, of course, decamped for Alberta, joining a gaggle of party heavyweights who sat out this leadership race, but Saturday night in a packed airport conference centre in Etobicoke, a sunnier, more optimistic brand of conservatism was introduced.
Andrew Scheer, come on down.
Scheer carries with him a boyish charm and an impish grin. If he wanted to steal the laces from your shoes, he would do so with such a benign and inoffensive manner, it would probably take you four days to realize they were missing.
When he meets with his caucus in Ottawa Monday he will do so as a younger, less hard-edged Harper, a natural heir to the former prime minister whose name was so rarely heard during the Toronto gathering.
That changed when Scheer took the stage to accept his narrow victory. The former Commons speaker had no hesitation in paying tribute to Harper.
He thanked the former prime minister, told party members he enjoyed working under a man “who will always stand tall in the Conservative movement.”
But Scheer has a potential problem. He must prove he is not beholden to the social conservative wing of the party for his razor-thin win over former cabinet minister Maxime Bernier.
He must learn from Harper and from former Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney.
Scheer may be pitching himself as a uniter and a consensus-builder, but a 50.95 per cent victory is hardly a massive mandate from his party.
He must learn from Mulroney’s style in keeping a sometimes fractious caucus together.
Mulroney was a master at keeping internal fires from flaring into infernos, but he did it in government. It will be tougher for Scheer in opposition.
And Scheer must emulate Harper in keeping the so-cons at bay, because to let them unleashed is to damage the party brand.
The new leader is a social conservative, but he watched Harper lay down the law with those in the caucus who sought to reopen abortion and same-sex marriage debates.
To cross the finish line, Scheer must thank fellow Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, a man who fared much better than many thought, a message to the party that its social conservative wing is alive and muscular.
This is the same Trost who won applause from the convention floor Friday night by denying climate change.
This is the Trost whose campaign spokesperson sent out a video telling Conservatives “in case you haven’t noticed, Brad’s not entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing.”
Trost endorsed the video, saying he would never attend a Pride event and would end funding for them.
This is the same Trost who embarked on a leadership campaign after the party decided to put opposition to same-sex marriage behind it.
This is the same Trost who was endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition, which boasted about the “principled, bold” campaign by he and fellow social conservatives Pierre Lemieux and said it was looking forward to working with Scheer on “gendercide abortions and protection for preborn victims of crime.”
Trost said his fourth-place finish showed he is in the mainstream of today’s Conservative party, but he’s trying to halt a train that left the station years ago.
Scheer, after victory, was happy to talk about balancing budgets, ending corporate welfare, his dangerous policy of withholding funding from universities that shut down debate and killing the Liberal carbon tax.
He didn’t mention social policy in his speech and tried to shut down those questions in post-victory interviews.
These Conservatives appear sometimes conflicted about how to take on Trudeau in 2019, a schizophrenic strategy of trying to “out-sunny” him or attack him. This was best summed up by former interim leader Rona Ambrose, who told the convention the description of her she loved best was one which characterized her as both compassionate and able to “kick Trudeau in the balls.”
Scheer will attack with a smile.
Liberals should remember that people grow into jobs and Scheer is a perfect candidate for growth.
And, another thing to remember about the sea change in Canadian politics — with the 38-year-old Scheer in place and with New Democrats eyeing 38-year-old Jagmeet Singh, Trudeau could be the oldest candidate in 2019, by a fair bit.