As if the current federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer doesn’t have enough problems, he’s now being hobbled by the growing unpopularity of his Ontario counterpart, Doug Ford, the guy who has just taken the summer off. The Ontario Legislature rose last week and won’t return until October 28, four months from now. Somehow that all seems to fit a man who barely works a five-day week even when the Legislature is sitting.
Andrew Scheer’s major issue is his image. No one I talk to seems able to warm to him. He doesn’t have leadership qualities, say some. He’s weak, say others. As someone who worked for Robert Stanfield, I can commiserate about the focus on image. Stanfield’s backers would claim that if only every voter could meet him one-on-one, he’d sweep the country.
Scheer is also battling television ads sponsored by a furtive group called Engage Canada that appears to be union-financed. The ads focus on his “weakness” and how he’ll mimic Ford’s slash-and-burn policies. It’s not as if Ford’s going to campaign for Scheer; it’s not as if Scheer wants him. “I’m my own person,” Scheer told the Toronto Star. “I have my own style.”
Things used to be different in Ontario. Premier Bill Davis campaigned vigorously for Stanfield. During the 1972 federal election, Davis turned over his entire Big Blue Machine – everyone from top strategists to advance men and women who organized events. It almost worked. In 1972, the federal Tories won forty seats in Ontario, up from seventeen in 1968. In those days, a provincial premier like Davis was loyal, helpful and intelligent. Ford seems more vindictive than interested in any victory in Ottawa. Andrew Scheer will need a hugely successful election campaign to overcome all the negatives against him.