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ALAN HOLMAN: Note to Tories: Canada’s an urban country

 Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaks at a press conference in Regina, Saskatchewan, October 22, 2019.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images

Ever since the election, newspapers and the internet have been full of stories about the federal Conservatives looking to dispose of their leader.

It seems to be the standard operating procedure with the Tories; name someone a leader, give them one election to prove themselves, if they don’t win, give them the boot. None of this three strikes and you’re out nonsense. A Conservative leader gets to swing at one pitch, and if he doesn’t hit it out of the ball park, then he’s out of the ball park.

Poor Andrew Scheer, he went into the election with 95 seats and finished with 121. He increased the Tories popular vote by half a million votes – 5.6 million in 2015 under Stephen Harper, 6.1 million in 2019 – that was 200,000 more votes than the Liberals got.

But the Liberals got 157 seats, and he only got 121. LOSER!!

At least that’s how a lot of the Tories see it, and they want a new leader. Right now. ASAP.

Some of them didn’t even wait for the election to end. About two weeks before the vote, there were Tories in Toronto

touting Peter MacKay as a replacement for Andrew Scheer. Mr. MacKay denied this. And, he quickly went down to his old riding in Nova Scotia to help out. In spite of his valiant efforts, the Liberals still won the riding by 7,500 votes.

Since the election, MacKay’s name is frequently mentioned by those who want a leadership change. He continues to deny he wants to succeed Mr. Scheer.

But on Tuesday while participating in a panel in Washington, Mr. MacKay, using a hockey analogy, said Mr. Scheer’s election campaign was

“like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”

Which makes one wonder what election Mr. MacKay was watching. While neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Scheer had particularly strong campaigns, throughout the election period Mr. Scheer was virtually tied with Mr. Trudeau in all the polls. When the ballots were counted on Oct 21, Mr. Trudeau got 33 per cent of the popular vote and Mr. Scheer got 34 per cent. Only Mr. MacKay could construe that as a breakaway.

In Ontario, where Mr. Scheer needed to make serious inroads in order to win, the Conservatives only got 36 of the province’s 121 seats. But much of the Liberal success there can be blamed on the anti-Conservative sentiment engendered by Premier Doug Ford’s provincial Tory government.

Ontario also illustrates a problem the Conservatives have. Six million votes are not something to be sneezed at. But it is where those votes come from that really counts. The Tories have become a rural party with very few seats in the cities. Unfortunately for them, Canada is now an urban country.

Except for Albert and Saskatchewan, the Tories did poorly in the cities. They only won five of the 22 ridings in the greater Vancouver area, and they only won two of Winnipeg’s eight seats. They were shutout in downtown Toronto, and almost shutout in the 29 seats of the 905 area surrounding Toronto. They didn’t get any seats in downtown Hamilton, Windsor, London or Ottawa. Though they won five of the eight seats in the Quebec City area, they didn’t get any of the 30 seats in the greater Montreal area. In Atlantic Canada, they didn’t win any urban seats.

Focusing on their perceived leadership ‘problem’ is too easy. The Conservatives have bigger problems. If they are serious about forming a government, the Conservatives need to find out why their party is such an anathema in urban Canada, and then do something about it.

It may well be that they don’t want to change. That they aren’t interested in policies that will appeal to urban voters. That’s fine. But Conservatives need to understand that, no matter who their leader is, they can’t form a government if they can’t win in the cities.

It’s not Sir John A.’s Canada anymore, and it hasn’t been for some time.

 Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at:

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