You can do anything as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
But you can’t do that.
Andrew Scheer jumped before he could be pushed on Thursday, saying goodbye to the Conservative Party he had helped steer in no direction in particular.
Scheer, 40, resigned shortly before an internal review of the party’s performance in the last election is set to come in (we can infer it won't be positive) but more pointedly, he leaves after it was reported by multiple outlets that he had taken money from the party to send his kids to private school.
The party, apparently, can forgive a leader who fails just about every test put in front of him. But use donor money to put your kids in fancy school? A bridge too far.
Scheer’s two-and-a-half-year tenure as leader of the party—which he brought from second place to second place—was marked by a stubborn refusal to say anything in particular on LGBTQ rights or abortion; a dogmatic belief that climate change is a danger that can be averted by wishful thinking and positive attitudes; and an earnest belief that societal ills can be solved with tax breaks.
His ouster is both fitting and unfortunate.
Scheer, a former Saskatchewaner (Saskatchewanean? Saskatchewanite?) moved house and home, plus five kids, to Ottawa upon being elected leader in 2017. He headed straight into Stornoway, residence of the leader of the official opposition. During the four years he was Speaker of the House of Commons, Scheer lived in Kingsmere, another government-owned official residence. (Must be nice!) But this time around, Scheer’s kids needed a place to study.
The party confirmed Thursday that their donors’ money went towards offsetting the cost difference between private school in Saskatchewan versus Ontario.
Scheer made little secret of his love for all types of non-public schools—religious, private, homeschooling, you name it. If it meant getting kids away from the big government classrooms, so be it. “It’s my right, and obligation—my duty—to educate my children,” Scheer once said in an interview, which later got dredged up by the Liberals.
But surely he, an avowed fiscal conservative who spent ample time attacking Liberals for charging the public purse, would know that asking his party to pay for an expensive school would be a bad look.
He must have been awfully motivated to avoid Ontario’s public school system. Even its Catholic school system must have offended Scheer’s sensibilities, despite him being Catholic.
It’s worth wondering whether the province’s sex-ed curriculum, which “controversially” added sections acknowledging the existence of trans people and introduced children to the concept of sexual orientation in Grade 5, had a role to play.
But no matter, now, Scheer is in the wind.
There will be a reflex by Tory partisans to chalk this debacle up to yet another unscrupulous politician living high on the hog. No lessons to learn, here, beyond: We must watch the till closer.
The party insists that Scheer’s resignation has nothing to do with the private school affair. And, honestly, we should listen to them. There are so many disastrous aspects of Scheer’s leadership, that focusing on that one issue would be a real tragedy.
The Conservatives went into the last election with a leader who refused to speak to queer people— much less march in their fruity (I can say this!) parades—and he danced around the issue of abortion. On both issues, he insisted he wouldn’t drag Canada back to the 20th century, but seemed baffled at the idea that maybe women and queers are interested in progress.
And everyone in Scheer’s party stood next to him, smiling, insisting it was the mean ol’ media’s fault for dredging up these boutique issues, like the safety of trans people or access to healthcare for women. Dear Leader could do no wrong.
Nor was there a party revolt when Scheer introduced a climate change policy written on the back of a Swiss Chalet menu in crayon, promising that he’ll invent technology to solve the problem. Even after independent modelling showed Scheer’s plan would actually increase CO2 emissions, Scheer and his soldiers pretended their plan worked, carbon pricing didn’t. This, in an election where more Canadians than ever before considered the environment their top priority.
When Scheer got caught paying off a lobbying firm to attack the far-right dumpsterfire, The People’s Party, he couldn’t even own up to it. Then it turned out he was hiding his dual citizenship. And maybe fudging his resume.
This is to say nothing of the time he spent campaigning with the Yellow Vest movement and going hard after refugees—before, finally, seeming to realize that playing that game might backfire.
Some in the party woke up to just how bad he’d been, but much too late. Queer members stood up to point out the sheer insult of working to elect a leader who didn’t seem to give a shit about them. Long-time organizers and third-party meme-makers got together to organize a campaign to get him gone.
A real airing of grievances might have been nice, had it been left to continue. Maybe the party would have had a chance to really stack up its options: Do we want a closet social conservative, trying desperately to skirt issues of faith and sexuality? And, if no, then what do we want?
Maybe that will still happen. And I’m sure plenty will come out of the woodwork, now, to say they had known about Scheer’s ineptitude all along. But what does it say about the Conservative caucus that party loyalty came before all matters of principle? Or, maybe more crucially for the partisans, above electability?
It seems pretty likely that instead of taking stock of what the party has become, and assessing what they want it to be, they will collect Andrew Scheer’s coat from the bedroom, make awkward chitchat as he puts his boots on, and wish him well as he heads off into the snow.
He will leave with the report detailing his own incompetence, and how the party let it happen, tucked under his arm.
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