Conservatives move sideways


At this writing, the result of the election on Tuesday in Nova Scotia was not determined.

The outcome of the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership vote last weekend is also unclear.

Andrew Scheer, an MP from Saskatchewan of limited profile who was Speaker of the House of Commons until the Conservatives were defeated in 2015, has been chosen to lead the party into the next election.

The way Scheer overtook perceived front-runner Maxime Bernier with barely half the ballots on the 13th count reflects how Bernier was so few party voters’ second choice under the ranking system. Scheer is among leadership candidates who were young enough and attracted enough voters to lose this time and win next time. Bernier may not be able to make that claim.

This was a long and protracted process for the Conservatives to elect a leader. Now the work for the party really begins.

Scheer faces at least three challenges. He needs to unite the party’s various factions, despite how much money it keeps raising. He needs to fashion policies that make the Conservatives electable, and he needs to provide a style that’s more appealing than the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, applied and be at least as competent as interim leader Rhona Ambrose was.

Some Conservatives will have lingering questions about why Ambrose was not a leadership candidate. She earned high praise for how she softened the party’s tone that was so harsh during Harper’s tenure, while ensuring the party’s MPs fulfilled its role as the Official Opposition. More recently, she explained her interim leadership would precede her departure from federal politics.

The Conservatives need to fashion policies that appeal to the party’s base to hold it together and beyond that base in order to grow its appeal. Parties can win a majority of seats with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote under the current system, but it is not the way to campaign.

If those policies align themselves too much with Scheer’s personal views, their time in opposition will be longer. Conservatives may also question the method they used to select a leader if Scheer cannot widen his appeal. The intrigue of more customary delegated leadership conventions can raise a party’s profile.

Time is on the Conservatives’ side. The governing Liberals have lost some of their lustre while so many of their election promises have been deferred or abandoned.

The Conservatives are capable of regaining seats they lost in 2015. The Liberals will not sweep all of Atlantic Canada’s seats, and seats in suburban areas in southern Ontario could also be in play.

A federal election may be at least two years away. The Conservatives have plenty of time to prepare.

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