Tories divided over Andrew Scheer’s future

Andrew Scheer

Given the number of scandals that plagued the Liberal government during its first term in office, many said that the last federal election was Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s to lose. Following his Oct. 21 defeat, the Conservative party has been divided over whether he should step aside. But the Jewish-Canadian supporters of the party who The CJN talked to agree that he has been a strong advocate for Jewish issues.

Peter Kent, the longtime Tory MP in the riding of Thornhill, is not Jewish, but around 37 per cent of his riding is. He said that he “absolutely” supports Scheer as the party’s leader going forward. He also said that his Jewish constituents have been very supportive of the party’s stances on Israel, under both former prime minister Stephen Harper and Scheer.

“That support has been very public and very consistent and, again in this election, very strong,” he said.

Kent believes that the Conservatives have demonstrated that they are stronger supporters of Israel than the Liberals, despite suggestions that the two parties basically have the same policy toward the country.

When Harper was prime minister, Kent said, Canada would not have abstained from some of the United Nations votes relating to Israel, as the Liberals have. And last year, during the Gaza border marches, Kent said Scheer immediately condemned Hamas, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “demonstrated the sort of Liberal moral equivalency we’ve seen over the decades,” by calling on all parties to exercise restraint in his initial statement, before clarifying his position a week later.

Marty Morantz, the MP for Winnipeg’s Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–Headingley riding and the only Jew in the Conservative caucus, also said that Scheer should continue as party leader.

“The Conservative movement remains strong and motivated under the leadership of Andrew Scheer. The fact is that, in the last election, no party earned more votes than the Conservative party,” he wrote in an email to The CJN.

Morantz also expressed support for Scheer’s stances on Israel, and said that his Jewish constituents feel the same way.

Chani Aryeh-Bain, who was the Conservative candidate in Toronto’s Eglinton-Lawrence riding, said the people she has spoken to are divided on whether they think Scheer should continue to lead the party. Some of them said his message did not resonate with the electorate well enough to convince a sufficient number of people to vote for him.

“People felt that he wasn’t passionate enough about the entire campaign. They needed him to come out stronger, to really state his case, that they felt was lacking and therefore it was hard for them to get behind him,” she said.

But others, including some prominent Conservatives, think one election isn’t enough of a chance for a party leader to establish himself – even Harper didn’t win his first time around, they point out.

For her part, Aryeh-Bain is in no rush to make a decision on Scheer’s future, as the party’s leadership review won’t take place until April.

“I want to take the approach of wait and see. I want to see what happens over the next five months in the minority government Parliament and see how Scheer leads on the different issues that will come up,” she said.

But regardless of whether people think Scheer should stay or go, Aryeh-Bain said she couldn’t think of a single Jewish supporter who took exception to his positions on Israel and other Jewish issues, including moving the Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem and combatting anti-Semitism.

Ira Walfish – an advocate for Jewish issues who, along with Aryeh-Bain, went to court to try to get the federal election date moved so it wouldn’t conflict with Shemini Atzeret – said Scheer’s biggest obstacle was probably the timing. It’s very rare for a first-term majority government to lose power completely in the next election, he said.

Even so, he thinks Scheer may need to make some changes to his next campaign, if he does continue as leader – but not to his stances on Jewish issues.

“He’s a very supportive candidate. And, you know, ultimately, whether there’s someone out there that would be better to win the election, I think is debatable,” he said. “And when it comes to supporting our issues, I’d say he’s excellent.”

Murray Kline, who voted Conservative in the last election, agrees that Scheer was impressive in his defence of Israel. He pointed to a specific moment during the debates when Scheer went head-to-head with Green Leader Elizabeth May.

But Kline, a fiscal conservative, does not believe Scheer is the right leader for the future of the party. For one thing, Kline didn’t like the party’s platform of temporarily staying in deficit, although he acknowledges that economic policies are not necessarily a reflection of the party’s leader.

But more than that, Kline doesn’t believe Scheer can connect with enough members of the Canadian public – specifically, with women.

“You get caught up in your own little world of your political beliefs and you tend to hear what you want to hear. Well, after the election, I talked to a whole bunch of people,” he said. “I didn’t realize it, but there’s a lot of women out there who said, ‘I could never vote for Andrew Scheer. He’s not for women.’ ”

Kline thinks Scheer should resign quickly, so the party can put another leader in place.