Andrew Scheer remains convinced that a prime minister can hold conservative views on divisive issues like same-sex marriage and abortion and still be trusted by Canadians not to impose them on the country.
But the Conservative leader also knows that if those views prove to be the reason he failed Monday to convince voters otherwise, they could cost him his job.
In an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, Scheer said a wide-ranging analysis is now underway into what worked and what didn’t for his party in an election that kept them relegated to Opposition status despite the myriad scandals that have plagued Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
“I believe you can have both of those positions: you can have a personal view and you can acknowledge that in Canada, the prime minister does not impose a particular viewpoint on Canadians,” he said of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
In other words, while it’s no secret where he stands, his personal opinions should be beside the point.
“I believe that Canadians understand that any number of people can have a different point of view on these issues. What’s important to them is to know whether a prime minister will make changes or seek to make changes,” he said.
“And my assurances to Canadians was that as prime minister, these types of debates would not be re-opened.”
Still, the Conservative campaign was badly bruised over the course of the 40-day campaign for failing to mount a robust rebuttal whenever Scheer’s rivals sought to exploit his deeply held convictions.
The pummelling from other party leaders, pundits and the media went on for a week before Scheer plainly stated his pro-life perspective. His position on gay marriage remains murky: it has evolved since 2005, when he gave a speech in the House of Commons that the Liberals exploited before the campaign to great effect, but precisely how remains unclear.
Those criticisms are now being funnelled back to Scheer as the internal campaign post-mortem continues. But there’s an external one as well — the Conservative membership will gather in April to decide whether he should stay on as leader.
Scheer said he knows his future is not guaranteed.
He expected to be held accountable, he said, and he’s glad the tough questions are being asked by both Conservative MPs and the party’s grassroots. He said he will point to the bright lights: an increase in seats and a historic win in terms off the popular vote.
“My message to them will be: we have made improvements, we have made gains. It is not satisfactory, we need to do better, but that I and my team, we are focused on finding out what worked and what didn’t, and how to improve next time. We are going to be looking at all aspects of this.”
Scheer’s social conservativism was a perpetual line of attack from the Liberals during the campaign, a race whose tone and negativity Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said this week he regrets.
Scheer dismissed Trudeau’s comments as insincere.
The Tories had launched negative attacks of their own on Trudeau, including circulating unfounded innuendo about Trudeau’s time as a teacher, and making up a claim that the Liberals and NDP were conspiring to hike the GST in order to finance their promises.
Those attacks weren’t offside, Scheer insisted, but will nonetheless be examined as part of the party’s internal review.
“Our campaign ended up with results that we are not satisfied with,” he said.
“So we’re going to be going back and taking a look at what did resonate and what didn’t, but at the same time I think it’s appropriate to point out the false statements that another leader is making.”
Scheer said he has spoken since Monday with former prime minister Stephen Harper, who has been talking with many senior Conservatives this week for a debriefing. The party is framing the results as akin to Harper’s first election as Conservative leader in 2004, when he too reduced the Liberal government to a minority.
Harper would go on to win his own minority in 2006, clinching a majority five years later.
As for how long the Liberals will hold on to power, Scheer said he wants to hear a throne speech that lays out a plan to get natural resources to market, and an acknowledgment that deficit spending needs to get under control.
In other words, he said, the fate of the government lies with Trudeau himself.
“We’ll see what he comes forward with,” Scheer said, citing concerns the Tories have had with the way Trudeau acted in the last Parliament, including shutting down inquiries into the SNC Lavalin affair.
“We’ll see what type of attitude he has towards the work that Parliament can do.”
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
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