OTTAWA—The introspection tour continues for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as he moves to reorganize his staff and correct course for the next campaign — which could be for his own leadership.
In addition to letting go two of his top aides on the weekend, the contract for Hamish Marshall, Conservative campaign manager for 2019, has expired and there is no indication who will be in charge of the next one.
Marshall told the Star Monday in an interview he was hired to direct the 2019 campaign only, and never intended to remain in a permanent position within the Opposition leader’s office.
A longtime friend of Scheer’s since they worked as political staffers in Ottawa in 2001, Marshall said he had “no idea” whether he’d be asked to, or would want to, lead another campaign for Scheer.
He said his priorities now are to spend time with his young family — he has two children including a six-month-old son — and throw himself back into his business at One Persuades, a Toronto-based communications, strategy and data services firm where he is a partner.
The end of Marshall’s contract leaves open the possibility that the Conservatives could turn to another person to lead the party’s efforts in the next election which could come as soon as within two to three years.
First, Scheer has to win over the doubters in his own party.
Scheer headed to Montreal Monday night to face a group of 75 candidates and campaign managers unhappy that the Conservatives’ federal election campaign failed to break through in Quebec.
It’s part a series of meetings Scheer is holding to sound out party members — he heads to Alberta Friday — and comes days after Scheer dismissed his chief of staff Marc-André Leclerc and communications director Brock Harrison on the weekend. Scheer is also expected to announce his House of Commons leadership team and his shadow cabinet of ministerial critics before he travels to the United Conservative Party Convention later in the week.
It may be too little and too late for some of Scheer’s critics in Quebec.
The firing of Leclerc, Scheer’s key aide responsible for Quebec, comes a full month after the election dealt a blow to party hopes to win up to 25 seats in a province where the NDP was collapsing. Instead, the Bloc Québécois outperformed the Tories, the Liberals clung on to seats that Scheer aimed to take, and Scheer’s team barely held ground, with several high-profile local candidates like Olympian Sylvie Frechette and a former Trois-Rivieres mayor losing their bids.
A Quebec party insider, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said Quebec party members are angry and will vent their concerns to Scheer face to face.
The Scheer campaign was seen as overly centralized and disconnected with on-the-ground realities in Quebec, he said. Aside from Scheer’s own trouble answering questions on abortion or LGBTQ rights, and his wobbly debate performances, there were communication and “collaboration” problems between the central campaign and local candidates. Many only learned what the leader’s policy announcement of the day was as it was announced, with no material provided for them to explain how it would play out in Quebec.
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Scheer’s office declined to say specifically why Leclerc and Harrison, described as “very good friends” of the leader’s, were dismissed, only that Scheer had come to the decision that “changes needed to be made,” and that people should see he is serious doing whatever it takes to win the next time round.
The Conservative party has just posted delegate selection rules for its coming policy convention in April, where the party’s constitution requires Scheer to face a mandatory vote on whether there should be a leadership review. The threshold for avoiding a leadership review is a bare 50-per-cent plus one majority.