This name that you don’t recognize is the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. His obscurity creates a challenge for him: he has to attract the attention of the media in a world of people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump.
There was a time when sharp and incisive criticism of the government would have done the job. Standing in Parliament day after day and pressing the government with an even-handed but ethically and logically sound series of questions designed to demonstrate that you understand the issues, and the consequences of policy, better than your opponent.
That’s not what Andrew Scheer is doing. His approach is instead to go for the headline and pander to his party’s baser instincts. If there’s a conflict between nations, his approach is to inflame the conflict. If there is a prejudice against a particular minority, his approach is to stoke that prejudice.
I have never agreed with conservatives but there was a time when I could respect them. But this approach – misleadingly called ‘populism’ in the media – doesn’t require thought or principle. You don’t need to wait until the facts are in or calculate the merits of different approaches.
Scheer has demonstrated this tendency for some months now but two cases in the last week lay open the bare bones of this strategy.
In one case, “Scheer says if he was prime minister he would fire Canada’s Ambassador to China John McCallum over his most recent comments on Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.” McCallum suggested to a Chinese-language audience that Wanzhou would have a good case against extradition to the United States.
We are being told in the media that the comments undercut Trudeau’s position that the government does not interfere with the administration of justice in Canada. Maybe it did, or maybe it represented a subtle way for the Trudeau government to underline its position and to recommend to the Chinese to trust the rule of law. We don’t know, and Scheer didn’t wait to find out, choosing instead to keep the chasm between China and Canada as wide as possible.
In a second case, following the RCMP arrest of two people in Kingston on terrorism-related charges, Scheer said it’s “clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined.” One person, a minor, remains in RCMP custody. The second person, a Syrian refugee, was not charged, has been released by the RCMP, and is to all appearances innocent.
We don’t know anything about the youth, because as a minor he cannot be identified. We can wonder, however, what enhanced refugee screening would have revealed about a teenager. More to the point, in cases like this, it is more common for youth to be radicalized in their new country. Refugee screening would have done nothing to prevent this.
But all of this is moot because Scheer didn’t even wait for the dust to settle to speak as though he already knew the outcome of the investigation.
In both cases, Scheer is taking the unthinking and irresponsible route in an effort to attract attention and gain media clicks. In doing so he is debasing not only his own party but conservatism in Canada in general. And he is making the re-election of Justin Trudeau more likely, not less.