EDMONTON—Bernadette “Bernie” Bereziuk remembers that when the fresh-faced 25-year-old Andrew Scheer first started making the rounds in her town of Ituna, he had a lot of questions about farming.
“Because he was a city boy, he came from Ontario and he knew nothing about agriculture. So he wanted to apprise himself and educate himself on farming,” Bereziuk recalled.
“He was like a sponge — he just couldn’t get enough of it.”
But these days, the questions swirling around Scheer aren’t about agriculture, but about his political future.
Several high-profile former Conservative MPs have openly questioned Scheer’s leadership ability, stopping short of telling him to step down. But on Wednesday, the Globe and Mail reported on a campaign to push Scheer out. The campaign, which called for Scheer to “immediately step aside,” appeared on the website Conservative Victory, reportedly run by prominent Ontario-based Conservatives.
On Thursday, an Angus Reid poll found that 51 per cent of respondents said Scheer’s personal faith had a negative impact on their opinion of him, compared to only 24 per cent who said the same for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
After the campaign, Scheer was criticized for what were seen as nebulous positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. But while former cabinet minister Peter MacKay compared his positions on social issues to a “stinking albatross,” Scheer’s religious beliefs are one of his most positive attributes among supporters in his home base.
Bereziuk remembers when Scheer would come and shake hands and have coffee with locals in Ituna, which is in his constituency of Regina—Qu’Appelle. She said he’s returned many times over the years, which helped build her support for him.
“Any time I’d run into him at a function or whatever I’d ask him ‘Andrew how are things going, how’s Jill?’ ” she remembered.
‘Oh, good, I just came back from Ottawa, Jill’s pregnant again,’ ” he would respond, Bereziuk said with a laugh. Scheer has five children.
But apart from his personal connection to the community, Bereziuk said she respects Scheer because he’s been firm on his ideological beliefs.
“I like the fact that he said ‘This is what I believe, I’m not shoving it down anyone’s throat but this is who I am,’ ” she said.
“Shouldn’t we be entitled to our opinions?”
Dale Richardson certainly supports freedom of belief, but the 31-year-old former political operative from Regina who’s worked behind the scenes on numerous campaigns believes Scheer needs to modernize his stance if the Conservative Party of Canada has any chance of forming government in the future.
“I would say, for sure, the social issues are a problem,” said Richardson, who previously worked in the Brad Wall government and for the Saskatchewan Party as a communications director.
He said he’s been proud to support the LGBTQ community in recent years by attending Pride parades and believes it’s a political liability if politicians don’t. He praised Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe for attending a parade this past June in Saskatoon. Scheer has been steadfast in his refusal to attend Pride parades.
“In the short term and in the long run for sure, Conservative politicians like Scott Moe and Andrew Scheer, there is more benefit to them doing things like that, like going to Pride, than there is to not go,” Richardson said.
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“Part of me is kind of on the fence on, do you absolutely have to go to a Pride parade? Instead, can you just be unequivocal in your support for the LGBTQ2S community? It’s probably just easier or better if Mr. Scheer just goes to a pride parade,” he added.
That doesn’t jibe with Ted Deneschuk, president of the Parkland Right To Life organization in Yorkton, who said the No. 1 most important election issue for him is life (followed by the economy, health and infrastructure).
“I would be disappointed,” if Scheer took part in a Pride parade, Deneschuk said.
“I’m pretty strict on that. I think we should stand for the truth and what God has presented to us. I don’t think we should waver,” he added.
He said he’s in agreement with Scheer on his positions on abortion, same-sex marriage and gender identity. In particular, Deneschuk respects that Scheer said he would not bring up the abortion debate in Parliament, but he would accept the personal stance of caucus members.
“That’s the difference between moral values and civil values.”
It’s those unyielding positions on social issues that are a problem for the Conservative Party of Canada, argues Richardson, who is a fiscal conservative and has been a member of the party for three or four years.
But overall, he’s still a Scheer fan and supports him staying on as leader.
“I personally like him. I think he seems like a decent guy who loves his family … Frankly I think politics probably needs more people like him.”
But something needs to change if Scheer and the Conservatives are going to achieve electoral success, Richardson added. In light of changing demographics both at home and nationwide, he says the party needs to shift toward being more accommodating to those with progressive social values.
“In the conversations that I’ve had … I think most people generally liked what the Conservatives and Mr. Scheer put forward in the last election, some part of that recipe didn’t work in the places in Canada that you need to win elections,” he said.
“Some changes need to be made so he’s quite a bit more appealing to Canadians. And I hope that he’s able to do that.”