National Column: Conservatives’ spat a gift for Trudeau

by Tim Harper

Andrew Scheer is clearly facing a challenge to his leadership. So far, his response reminds us the Conservative Party leader made a fine Speaker of the House of Commons.

The problem for Scheer is that a Speaker could take his time and make a sage ruling based on arcane rules and precedent, but a leader needs to put out a fire quickly.

He tried in vain Thursday to put out the Twitter inferno launched by Maxime Bernier but is unable to take the matches away from the man he narrowly beat for the party’s leadership in 2017.

The larger problem for Scheer is that he alone cannot push Bernier into exile, where the Quebec MP would have to campaign for the leadership from the sidelines.

Under provisions adopted by the party after the last election, the power to remove an MP from caucus rests with the caucus itself.

But regardless of whether he’s been hamstrung by party rules, Scheer has given an uncommonly long leash to other caucus members who have taken to social media this summer to launch unsubstantiated and often outlandish claims and charges.

While Bernier was back at it Thursday, challenging the leader’s view on diversity, Scheer has been silent on social media eruptions from lesser-known Conservatives.

To be sure, Shannon Stubbs, Blaine Calkins and Denise Batters have none of the power or cachet of Bernier, so they were more able to fly under the radar.

Last week, Stubbs criticized Justin Trudeau’s appointment of counterterrorism and constitutional law expert John Norris as a Federal Court judge because Norris defended Omar Khadr, who she called “a confessed murderer and terrorist.”

“This is an utter embarrassment for Canada and the Canadian judicial system,” the Alberta MP tweeted.

Never mind that Norris that was appointed last February and Stubbs was summoning outrage six months later; her comments also showed a complete disregard for the role of defence counsel in this country.

Batters, a Conservative senator, had to apologize to Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, after she tweeted that the birthplace of the Saudi-born Alghabra was influencing his judgment in defending his government in the Ottawa-Riyadh diplomatic spat.

Calkins went one better, sharing a screen grab of a discredited 13-year-old blog accusing Alghabra of celebrating his nomination victory in Mississauga as a win for Islamic power spreading to Canada.

Calkins also apologized, saying he had cited a “poor source” and “was unsure about what I was reading.”

For good measure, Michelle Rempel, the party’s immigration critic, used a day when newspapers across the world fought back against Donald Trumpís portrayal of media as “the enemy of the people” to launch an unsubstantiated attack on the media.

After The Canadian Press concluded in its Baloney Meter feature that Scheer was “full of baloney” for his claim that we were in the midst of an asylum-seeker crisis, Rempel tweeted the “baloney meter is a spin tool for the Trudeau PMO.”

On Thursday, Scheer emphasized that his Conservatives have all been urged to play as a team, but he has too many players going offside.

That it should happen this summer is puzzling.

This is a party that has kept pace in the polls with the Trudeau government, has appeared to win public opinion on the asylum question (and won favour from immigrant communities who are unhappy about queue-jumping), and seems poised, with the help of some muscular provincial allies, to make carbon taxing a central question in next yearís election campaign.

But any team-like cohesion seemed to evaporate when the bell rang for summer vacation in Ottawa.

A summer of social media dog whistles makes it too easy for the Liberals to tie the party back to its odious snitch-line, anti-niqab stance of the dying days of the Stephen Harper government.

Trudeau took the opportunity to do just that Thursday, declaring that this all means the Conservative party hasn’t changed since the Harper days.

If we are hearing the honest views of Conservatives who see Islamists and terrorist-backing judges in their midst, then Scheer has a deep problem on his hands.

But if this is a discipline question, then Scheer has to take at least one page from the Harper playbook.

The former prime minister centralized all power and messaging and was widely criticized for it. But he kept the eruptions to a minimum.

Scheer will have to do the same – preferably with a caucus that chooses to have Bernier on the outside looking in.

Twitter: @nutgraf1
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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