The video on YouTube posted a few years ago seemed promising: Andrew Scheer, now Canada’s Conservative leader, was surrounded by his wife and five children, hamming it up for the cameras and introducing himself to voters. It was direct, fun and endearing.
Fast forward to a spiritless national campaign where Scheer has seemed evasive, stiff and downright cold at times. The main contender to lead a new government after Canada’s general election, he was up against a humbled incumbent: Justin Trudeau and his fading political brand. But the conservative leader has yet to define his own.
In a recent Forum Research poll, Scheer’s approval rating comes in at just 27 per cent with Trudeau still hanging on to an approval rating 12 per cent higher. It’s not hard to figure out why.
Scheer’s message during this campaign was simple and stinging: You can’t trust Justin Trudeau. But in earnest, he has also had a hard time convincing voters they can trust him.
For one thing, Scheer campaigned as an average Canadian guy. Until it turned out that he is also American. He never told voters he was a dual Canadian and American citizen until just a few weeks ago. He says he is in the process of renouncing his citizenship but still, it’s one of the reasons Canadians haven’t quite known what to make of this conservative leader.
A devout Catholic, Scheer is both fiscally and socially conservative, but has promised not to change some of Canada’s more progressive laws. Although unapologetically pro-life, he is adamant that he will do nothing to change pro-choice laws in Canada. Although unwilling to declare support for gay marriage, he says he won’t try to change that law either.
His extreme pragmatism can also leave a confusing message – his backing of the new US, Canada, Mexico trade agreement offers a good example: “It’s quite clear that Justin Trudeau did cave to Donald Trump,” says Scheer during a campaign press conference in an attempt to swipe at the trade deal, but then repeated that he would approve the deal anyway if elected prime minister.
Such personal attacks have characterized his campaign. “Mr. Trudeau, you are a phony and fraud and you do not deserve to govern this country,” Scheer said during his opening salvo in one of the national debates. But that hasn’t helped him gather popular support for his policy pitches of cutting taxes, balancing the books and keeping middle class jobs in Canada.
“Scheer, he’s is a Conservative, the word conservative says it all. He wants to cut, cut, cut,” said one uninspired voter in a Montreal suburb.
And in country where the climate crisis seems ever more top of mind, Scheer has struggled to articulate a policy that doesn’t look complacent at best, negligent at worst. He forceful asserts that he is no climate denier, but his proposals to roll back carbon taxes and restrictions on Canada’s energy industry have not gone over well with voters.
Rewind back to the YouTube video. It is hard to reconcile the soft-spoken, affable father at ease in his living room, with the awkward, almost robotic campaigner Canadians have seen during this campaign. Scheer had a few weeks to shine ahead of Monday’s vote. But his downbeat campaign may prove to have been a failure with voters.