Caucus decides to defer leadership question until April
Atlantic Conservative MPs are standing behind their leader after deciding to carry on with Andrew Scheer at the helm.
Tories from across the country gathered in Ottawa for their first caucus meeting which didn’t conclude until late in the evening on Wednesday.
During the seven-hour affair, MPs and Senators decided against voting to enact rules that would have given them the ability them to expel Scheer as party leader.
New Brunswick MP Rob Moore said he believes that was the right decision.
“The worst thing we could do now is a bunch of navel-gazing and infighting. We have a democratically elected leader, we got more votes in the last election than the Liberals, we’re the only major party that increased our seats [...] in light of all that we need to work together to focus on our jobs and not on speculation around leadership,” he said.
Nova Scotia MP and former Progressive Conservative MLA Chris d'Entremont said he believes decisions surrounding party leadership ought to be made by the party as a whole.
“We pride ourselves in being a grassroots party, we have lots of great people who have supported our party, who worked hard in the election [...] we have associations that work really hard, they're the ones who have to make that decision, not the caucus,” he said.
The decision to defer the Scheer question to a leadership review already scheduled for April doesn’t mean MPs don’t have concerns. D’Entremont said there was an airing of grievances by members to address some of the issues surrounding the election, and plenty of discussion on how to move forward with the lessons learned this time around. He described the meeting as a rollercoaster.
“I think everybody took ahold of that, but I think we came out as a unified caucus and one that wants to move forward and get into parliament and start fighting on behalf of Canadians,” he said.
The results of the election has thrust the question of Scheer’s capabilities as a leader into national discussion, notably the way he handled questions on controversial social issues during the campaign. The party has even hired former Harper cabinet minister John Baird to scrutinize the campaign.
During a panel discussion in Washington last week, former Tory cabinet minister and longtime Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay said that Scheer gave away votes by failing to clarify his stance on same-sex marriage and abortion. Those issues “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross," he said.
But Moore said he believes the preoccupation with those issues was more on the minds of media and their opponents than the party’s base or even average Canadians.
“I can tell you when I'd go door to door, no one was talking about those issues [...] they were talking about affordability, they were talking about healthcare, they were talking about wanting a clean environment,” he said.
Moore reiterated that both abortion and same-sex marriage are legal in Canada and have been some time, and while neither issue is going to be re-opened by the conservative party, he believes that politicians are entitled to their personal beliefs.
“We are the only party in Canada where someone can have their views and be included in our party. We know with the Liberal party, they won't let someone be a candidate unless they're pro-choice and that’s not the Conservative party way,” he said. “We have people who are pro-life we have people who are pro-choice, and we accept that if you're going to be a national party you have to have people with views that are reflective of the nation.”
With no date set for a return to Parliament, members of the Conservative party are pushing for things to reconvene before Christmas.
“There are a number of things that were outstanding before the election that remain outstanding, the impact of the carbon tax on Atlantic Canada, the impact on the government's energy policies on jobs and on people's ability to make ends meet and affordability,” Moore said.
D'Entremont said he and many of his colleagues are “chomping at the bit” for things to get started.
“Number one is let's get in there and test the confidence of the Prime Minister. He has the smallest mandate of any prime minister in recent history,” he said. “We really want to get in there and bring the issues that we heard during the election to the floor of Parliament, and we can’t do that if we're not in parliament yet.
Other media has reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will decide on the timing for the return to Parliament after meeting with opposition leaders next week. He is set to unveil his cabinet on Nov. 20.