Federal Election 2019

The Staggering Mediocrity of Andrew Scheer

Scheer never apologizes for anything. Not for his dual citizenship hypocrisy, his homophobia, lying about his résumé, lying about carbon pricing, pandering to Yellow Vest bigots, or anything else.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 18, 2019

In late 2016, I did a strange thing: I joined the Conservative Party of Canada. The party was in serious danger of electing a paranoid, xenophobic extremist as its leader, and I felt a moral obligation to do my part to stop the global wave of neo-fascist right-wing populism from washing over Canada.

While I disagree sharply with much of conventional conservative politics, I recognize that it represents a legitimate perspective in a liberal democracy and that a significant plurality of Canadians identify as conservatives. To put it bluntly, Canada can't afford for one of its major parties to spiral down the rabbit hole of bigotry, nativism and conspiracy theories.

My first choice for leader was Michael Chong, a principled conservative who spoke consistently and forcefully against xenophobic populist fearmongering and openly challenged his own leader's concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office. Chong also supported carbon pricing, a quintessentially conservative approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that economists broadly support.

Meanwhile, the other candidates were blowing the racist dogwhistle with a "Canadian values test" or grinning nervously as followers in Alberta chanted "lock her up" about then-Premier Rachel Notley, or threatening to eliminate agricultural supply management.

Everyone's Second or Third Choice

Enter Andrew Scheer, a nondescript socially conservative MP who was first elected in 2004 at age 25 and served under Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the Speaker of the House of Commons from 2011 to 2015. In 2016, he announced his candidacy to be leader of the Conservative Party after Harper stepped down.

Everyone's second or third choice, the bland career politician secured the nomination on the 13th ballot, where he finally edged past 50 percent support against runner-up Maxime Bernier, who lost the leadership with 49 percent for his aggressive libertarian platform.

Bernier, of course, was until then best known as the disgraced former Cabinet Minister who accidentally left secret documents at his girlfriend's apartment. As soon as Scheer won the leadership, Bernier rage-quit the Conservatives and formed his own People's Party of Canada to advance a more radical agenda of privatization, deregulation, regressive taxation and xenophobic white nativism.

Xenophobic Dog-Whistling

Often described as "Stephen Harper with a smile," Scheer represents a direct continuation of Harper's politics and he still consults regularly with his mentor.

While less overtly racist than Bernier's People's Party, Scheer's Conservative Party is playing the same xenophobic, nativist game, albeit using politer language. Scheer keeps repeating the false claim that there is some kind of refugee crisis on the border, a claim that has become such an article of faith among Conservatives that facts no longer matter.

Likewise, rcognizing that Canadian conservatives are suspicious of immigration, Scheer shamelessly panders to xenophobic paranoia about the United Nations Global Compact on Migration, claiming falsely that the non-binding agreement somehow cedes Canadian sovereignty on immigration (it does no such thing).

Earlier this year, Scheer heaped uncritical praise on the Yellow Vest "United we Roll" convoy, a contingent of angry conservatives ostensibly in support of new oil pipelines and opposed to carbon pricing, but also suffused with conspiracy theories, anti-environmentalism, science denial and violent white nationalist bigotry.

Prominent sign in the 'United We Roll' Yellow Vest convoy
Prominent sign in the 'United We Roll' Yellow Vest convoy

Scheer extolled his Yellow Vest supporters on the same stage that infamous white supremacist Faith Goldy also spoke to them.

As part of his fearmongering about refugees, who represent a tiny proportion of annual immigrants to Canada, Scheer recently vowed to close the "loophole" in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the USA, which states that refugees who enter Canada have a right to apply for asylum.

This is not a "loophole" but rather a fundamental human right that Canada has promised to protect for refugees who come to Canada looking for safety from violence and oppression. The real problem is that the Safe Third Country Agreement assumes the USA is a safe country, and that is no longer true under Trump.

We already know what happens when free countries close their hearts and their doors to refugees, and history will not be kind to Scheer's shameless fearmongering, but he knows that nearly half his party voted for the openly racist Bernier and he needs to shore up the white supremacist wing of his party.

Undaunted by decency, Scheer dog-whistled the Yellow Vest movement again this week with a particularly diabolical campaign poster showing him shaking hands with a man in a backwards ball cap, golf shirt and khaki pants and wearing a yellow vest.

Andrew Scheer literally shaking hands with a Yellow Vest
Andrew Scheer literally shaking hands with a Yellow Vest

Of course, the Conservatives tried to gaslight people who criticized this by suggesting that the man was just a worker wearing a safety vest, but no one can take this seriously. Indeed, it rather seems that being implausible just makes it a more ingeniously exasperating troll.

Socially Regressive

But Scheer isn't just pandering to white nationalists and climate denialists. He is also working hard to lock down the socially regressive wing of the Conservative Party. During his run for the party leadership, Campaign Life Coalition praised his "perfect voting record in the House of Commons" for their agenda and approvingly noted his refusal to march in Pride parades and his oppositon to gender identity rights and doctor-assisted suicide.

Indeed, anti-choice groups celebrated his election as party leader in 2017, despite his stated opposition to introducing new legislation to restrict abortion rights. Scheer still refuses to say what he would do if a private member brings forth such a bill.

Andrew Scheer at an anti-choice rally in Saskatchewan
Andrew Scheer at an anti-choice rally in Saskatchewan

In 2005, Scheer argued against Canada's civil marriage law, saying that accepting same-sex marriage was like "count[ing] a dog's tail as a leg" and that redefining marriage would have "ramifications" that were "far-reaching".

To this day he refuses to disavow this belief, let alone apologize for it, saying only that he wouldn't reopen the debate.

Meanwhile, Scheer has been consistently on the wrong side of history as social equity and inclusion have advanced. In 2016, he voted along with some (but not all) of his fellow Conservative MPs against Bill C-16, an act to extend the Human Rights Act to include transgender persons.

In 2017, Scheer voted against M-103, a non-binding Parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia and all forms of discimination (Chong was the only Conservative leadership candidate who voted for it).

Last year, Scheer sat in protest and played with his phone when the rest of the House of Commons celebrated a successful private member's bill to make the lyrics of O Canada gender-inclusive by standing and singing the new lyrics, which changed "In all thy sons' command" to "In all of us command".

Challenged on why he sat for the National Anthem, Scheer argued that he was opposed to the change, which he called "a political statement."

Not as Advertised

In the lead-up to the 2015 election, the Conservatives tried hard to paint Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a pretty-faced lightweight with the tagline "Just Not Ready" and flippant remarks about his hair. That strategy backfired badly in 2015, but the Conservatives have since shifted their attack to the new tagline "Not As Advertised" as Trudeau has stumbled through several scandals of his own making.

The "Not As Advertised" line is particularly unfortunate for Scheer, however, as voters have learned more about the man behind the bland smile.

First, we learned that Scheer lied about being an insurance broker before entering politics. It turns out he only worked in an insurance office for six or seven months and was never accredited as a broker, but that didn't stop him from lying about his qualifications for the past 15 years.

Scheer clings to the everyman persona his previous job gives him, since it allows him to pretend that he's some kind of small businessman and not just another career politician.

Then, we found out that Scheer has dual citizenship with Canada and the USA, despite a history of attacking political opponents by pointing out their dual citizenship and questioning their loyalty to Canada.

Having dual citizenship doesn't say anything by itself about a person's character. But attacking someone else's dual citizenship sure says something, and attacking someone else's dual citizenship while hiding one's own dual citizenship says even more.

The hypocrisy is that Scheer and the Conservatives attacked Michael Ignatieff for working in the US and attacked Tom Mulcair and Michaëlle Jean for their dual citizenship, suggesting cynically that they might not be fully loyal to Canada.

When Scheer was confronted about his own dual citizenship, he claimed he didn't mention it earlier because no one asked him about it. No apology, just deflection.

No Apology, No Accountability

This goes to a deeper problem: Scheer never apologizes for anything. Not for his hypocrisy, his homophobia, lying about his résumé, lying about carbon pricing, pandering to Yellow Vest bigots, or anything else. He demonstrates no accountability or personal growth.

Every one of us has a history of stumbles, fumbles and failures. It's how we deal with them that reveals our character. Do we take responsibility, apologize, make amends and try to change? Or do we deny, deflect and defend?

Scheer has shown us who he is and, as Maya Angelou wisely advised, we should believe him the first time.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 19, 2019 at 10:40:18

Of course, the Conservatives tried to gaslight people who criticized this by suggesting that the man was just a worker wearing a safety vest, but no one can take this seriously.

Kevin's comment: Huh? There is precisely zero in the image suggesting that the man is a member of the "Gilets Jaunes" movement. Are you seriously trying to say that it is no longer acceptable to show an image of a worker wearing a safety vest? Do you know how many jobs require such a garment?

I am no fan of Mr. Scheer and do not intend to vote for one of his party's candidates. But in my opinion, this criticism of his advert is going too far. And it invites someone to throw back the words, "Elitist demonization of the working class."

Not everyone who wears a safety vest is a member of the Gilets Jaunes movement. Sometimes the person is just a construction worker, garbage collector or school crossing guard. To misquote Sigmund Freud, sometimes a vest is just a vest.

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted October 20, 2019 at 09:34:22 in reply to Comment 130411

Kevin, I must respectfully disagree with you. Scheer and his team know exactly what they're doing here. The photo is inarguably a dog-whistle to the xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee movement exemplified by the Canadian Yellow Vest movement, which is distinct in several important ways from the French Gilet Jaunes movement from which it takes its titular symbol.

The man in the photo is not a construction worker. He's a guy wearing a backwards ballcap, a golf shirt and khakis - and a yellow vest, for some reason, even though they're standing in a downtown Toronto public square.

He's not wearing a crossing guard uniform:

Toronto crossing guard uniform

Or a garbage collector uniform:

Toronto garbage collector uniform

Since Scheer is already under heat from hiring the founder of Rebel Media as his campaign manager, heaping praise on the Yellow Vests in their United We Roll demonstration, fearmongering about the UN Migrant Compact and so on, he certainly knows that posing with a man in a yellow vest will necessarily be overloaded with all of this context.

The fact that he did it anyway instead of actively avoiding anything that might seem to indicate support for the Yellow Vests tells us that he does so deliberately. The Conservatives are nothing if not extremely savvy and sensitive about image and messaging, and it strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that this is an innocent image of a worker. It's a dog-whistle delivered with implausible deniability.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2019-10-20 09:39:56

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 20, 2019 at 19:40:28 in reply to Comment 130414

Dear Ryan,

I strongly disagree with the goals of the Canadian "Yellow Vest" movement, and also of its French "Gilet Jaunes" predecessor. And I am not voting for a candidate of Mr. Scheer's party. But have we really arrived at the point where a fairly common crossing guard's vest is something that is politically unacceptable to show in a political advertisement?

The vest worn by the man shaking hands with Mr. Scheer is yellow with a unique and very distinctive orange stripe with a silver centre. A quick Google search shows that this unique and distinctive yellow vest is a pattern that is fairly commonly worn by school crossing guards.

See this photo

And this video

And this photo

And here

And this photo

And this photo

I could keep posting links, but I trust that the point has been made. This pattern of vellow vest with an orange stripe that has a silver centre is a fairly common school crossing guard vest.

Now, I would agree with you if Mr. Scheer's photo had a "Yellow Vest" demonstration in the background. Or any other hint whatsoever that the man was a member of the "Yellow Vest" movement.

In the absence of any evidence that points to the man being a member of the "Yellow Vest" movement, it is my belief that we should apply St. Augustine's Rule of Charitable Interpretation. In other words, of reasonable alternative interpretations, we should select the one that is the most positive. In this case, Mr. Scheer has clearly stated that he did not intend to show a member of the "Yellow Vest" movement. In the absence of contrary evidence, the most charitable interpretation is to take Mr. Scheer at his word.

After all, there are plenty of other reasons to not vote for a representative of his party. Many of those reasons are mentioned in your article, and I agree with them. So maybe we can let this one go.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2019-10-20 19:41:59

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted October 21, 2019 at 08:11:09 in reply to Comment 130416

I know it's really hard for religious people to peer through the veil of deception but you so need to try harder...

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 22, 2019 at 02:10:30 in reply to Comment 130424

... or else find actual evidence of deception. No matter what one's religious beliefs may be, it is perhaps a good idea to assume that they are telling the truth unless there exists actual evidence of deception.

Otherwise it would be hard to go through life with an underlying default assumption, "I am being lied to by everyone, all the time."

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted October 22, 2019 at 11:03:11 in reply to Comment 130425

it is perhaps a good idea to assume that they are telling the truth unless there exists actual evidence of deception.

I agree, which is why am guided by Andrew Scheer's repeated deception on matters both large and small and his steadfast refusal to admit or apologize for anything, while openly and repeatedly pandering to Yellow Vest extremists. He has lost the benefit of the doubt, and his campaign people - including his campaign manager, who literally founded Rebel Media - are way too smart not to have done this photo deliberately.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 22, 2019 at 15:12:19

It was a perfect photo. Sorry, I meant IT WAS A PERFECT PHOTO WITH A CONSTRUCTION WORKER!

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By Ryan (registered) | Posted October 23, 2019 at 19:34:30 in reply to Comment 130429

There was no quid pro quo. Excuse me, there was no quid pro quo. Some people say there was the most no quid pro quo ever!

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2019-10-24 10:34:08

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