Local MP 'punched in the stomach' by resignation of federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer
Scheer to serve as party leader until new one is selected
A local Conservative member of Parliament feels like he "got punched in the stomach" after learning of party leader Andrew Scheer's resignation.
James Bezan, MP for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, was in Ottawa attending the current session of the House of Commons, and was on hand for Scheer's official announcement Thursday morning.
"All of us were quite shocked by it," Bezan said. "I know that this was an incredibly difficult decision for him to make."
Bezan had worked with Scheer since 2004 and the two were close, he said, adding that he hugged Scheer after he told his caucus about his plan to resign.
"He has been very passionate about leading the country and replacing Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. He's been very passionate about keeping our party united," he said.
The expectation was that Scheer would continue on that path in the new year with the upcoming leadership review, after taking a breather over the holiday season, according to Bezan.
"I thought he was committed to it, and he was going to work hard to get the support of our party to let him stay on in the role," Bezan said, adding that he was preparing to make an endorsement video for Scheer.
There are rumours that Scheer resigned after he was caught spending party money to pay for his children's private school tuition.
Bezan said he knew nothing of those allegations, adding that Scheer made the decision so he could be closer to home with his family.
Candice Bergen, MP of Morden, Man. and Conservative house leader, was also surprised by Scheer's resignation, but believes "100 per cent" that he resigned for his family, because "he's that kind of person," she told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.
"When he talks about his family, talks about the toll that this job has on family and relationships, and running for Prime Minister, being the leader of a party and looking at what's ahead, it really is hard," said Bergen.
Scheer's office confirmed that the Conservative Party was paying the difference between the cost of private school tuition for Scheer's kids in Saskatchewan and the higher cost of tuition in Ottawa, plus some other expenses.
"Shortly after Mr. Scheer was elected leader, we had a meeting where I made a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa," Dustin van Vugt, executive director of the Conservative Party, said in a media statement.
"This includes a differential in schooling costs between Regina and Ottawa. All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people."
Bergen said it's important for the party to hear from people who agree and disagree with how money is spent, because those conversations may dictate what kind of expenses are paid for in the future.
"I don't have a huge problem with it at all if all the rules are followed," she added.
"I think it makes sense when someone is moving their family to Ottawa, that things might be more expensive. And if the party has a fund for that and follow the rules and everything is signed off on, I personally, would accept that from the information that I have."
Regardless, Bergen wants the party's focus today to remain on how Scheer has helped the Conservative party.
"He's kept us united. He has helped us win more seats; he has helped us win seats right across the country, and I think it's really important that we express that gratitude. And then, as a party, we stay united as focused," Bergen said.
"This internal fighting and nitpicking, and picking this and picking that, isn't helpful to any of us."
As for the vacancy at the top, Bezan figures most party members are going to take a day to digest the news, and said it's too early to say where people will now direct their support.
"We'll see what the new year brings as we go into this process," he said, adding that the first step will be hearing from national council about how the leadership race will work out, given the upcoming Conservatives policy convention in April 2020.
Bergen is concerned the leadership race could set the party back a bit before the next election, but believes it presents an opportunity for Conservatives to shake things up.
Scheer, who was first elected into the House of Commons when he was 25, is staying on as party leader until a new one is selected.
'This is kind of a pattern of the Conservative party'
Christopher Adams, a political scientist based at St. Paul's College, was partially surprised by Scheer's resignation because the rhetoric pointed to him being around for another election, and there were no successors waiting for him to move on.
"The day after the election, he had a very energetic... press scrum, and he talked about the number of votes the party got being quite high, and that they're poised for the next election, and it's a minority government that they're facing," Adams said. "The view was that this was a stepping stone to the next campaign."
Adams was also partially not surprised, however, citing Scheer's inability to win tight ridings and that the Conservatives have a history of dumping its leaders after losing an election.
"This is kind of a pattern of the Conservative party, that if you don't succeed at a time that the party members expect you to succeed, then it's time to move," he said.
"I think Andrew Scheer felt that, and I'm sure his personal life was somewhat in turmoil as a result of knowing that, when he'd report to work with his caucus, that there's some people wanting him to step down."
Bezan said that the party is aware of some members outside of the Conservative caucus that may be out for the leadership position, but those within caucus stand behind Scheer all the way.
Some names floating around include Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay and Ontario's transportation minister Caroline Mulroney, Adams said.
There could be support for an MP from Ontario generally, he added.
With regards to how Scheer's resignation affects the Liberals, Adams warned it may not be all good for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, noting that new leaders tend poll better coming off of a party convention.
Given that there is currently a minority government in Ottawa, Adams said "a new leader who can really rally public support across the country" could force an early election.
Pallister weighs in
While speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dodged answering whether he has any preference of who takes the reigns of the federal party.
"It's a tremendously difficult situation that Mr. Scheer faced," Pallister said, then thanked Scheer for his service.
"As leader, he gained seats in the last election. It wasn't enough, I suppose, to satisfy many in the Conservative movement, but nonetheless he should be respected and honoured for his contributions to public life in Canada."
Ultimately, Pallister said he respects Scheer's decision.
with files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Austin Grabish, Power & Politics