Scheer told close confidants he didn’t know if he could give the job his all

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Scheer told close confidants he didn’t know if he could give the job his all


OTTAWA—Andrew Scheer told a small group of close advisers and MPs Wednesday morning that he was done.

Badly damaged after a disappointing election campaign, facing open criticism from senior conservatives, and having just returned from difficult meetings with the party’s grassroots, Scheer told close confidants he didn’t know if he could give the job his all.

“In order to chart the course ahead, this party and this movement need someone who can give 100 per cent to the effort,” Scheer told the House of Commons Thursday.

“After some conversations with my kids and loved ones, I felt it was time to put my family first.”

Scheer had been on the road for months — first during the gruelling election campaign and then in an uphill battle to save his job. A close friend told the Star that, after having some downtime with his five children and wife, Jill, Scheer began to question if he could put in the work required to stay on as Conservative leader.

“Family,” Chris Warkentin, a Conservative MP and Scheer ally, told reporters when asked what was behind Scheer’s decision.

But Scheer’s surprise announcement Thursday that he would step down came as several media outlets were chasing down a story about the embattled Conservative leader using party funds to subsidize his children’s private school tuition.

Conservative Party Executive Director Dustin van Vugt confirmed Thursday that party donors “covered costs associated with moving (Scheer’s) family from Regina to Ottawa,” including a “differential in schooling costs” between the two cities. Van Vugt said “all proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people.”

But a Conservative source told the Star that the Conservative Fund’s board did not know party money was being used to school the Scheer children, and were in the process of looking into the matter when Scheer announced his resignation.

“They would not have approved those expenses if asked,” the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

Those close to Scheer were adamant that revelations Conservative donors’ money was paying for the Scheer’s education costs had nothing to do with the timing of his decision to step down.

But it was another in a long line of controversies that have hounded Scheer since October 21, when the Conservative campaign failed to match the electoral expectations set by Scheer himself. And using party funds to pay for private school tuition further complicated Scheer’s attempts to project himself as a regular guy who understood Canadians’ struggles to make ends meet.

Pressure had been mounting in Conservative circles since the party’s disappointing election results for Scheer to step aside. While the party increased their seat count compared to 2015, the Scheer campaign failed to make expected grounds in Ontario and Quebec – two provinces crucial to the Conservatives’ chances at winning back power.

One Conservative activist told the Star the anger amounted to a “civil war” within the party — one that would only end with Scheer’s resignation.

The Conservative leader went on a “listening tour,” meeting with the party’s grassroots, activists and failed candidates to hear their criticism of his campaign. In meetings in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, he got an earful — and further demands to step aside.

Facing continued anger, Scheer fired two senior staff — Brock Harrison, his communications director, and chief of staff Marc-Andre Leclerc, who also served as his deputy campaign manager – at the end of November. But Scheer’s leadership suffered another blow the following week, when respected former cabinet minister Ed Fast let it be known he refused a spot in Scheer’s shadow cabinet — saying the leader deserved to be surrounded by people who “fully support his leadership.”

Amidst the open sniping from within the Conservative family, Scheer told those loyal to him that they were not to anonymously trash other party activists in the media, according to longtime friend and campaign manager Hamish Marshall. That meant those agitating for Scheer’s removal had the field to themselves, while his supporters were comparatively quiet.

Some of the party’s elder statesmen — including Stephen Harper himself — urged patience while the party conducted its post-mortem review of what, exactly, went wrong with the campaign. John Baird, a former cabinet minister widely respected in the Conservative movement, had not yet completed that review when Scheer made his announcement Thursday.

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The post mortem is expected to touch on policy issues like climate change, on the inability to put to rest questions about his social conservatism, or on reported issues with the campaign’s ground game and use of data.

But whatever failings the party identifies with Scheer’s campaign his decision to step aside Thursday means the Conservative civil war has ended.

Now, the next battle begins — to determine who will lead the party into the next election.

Alex Boutilier

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