Farming 'street cred' may have been Andrew Scheer's secret weapon in Conservative leadership win

Conservative supporters in Saskatchewan are both surprised and happy to see a Regina MP become national Conservative leader, and it may have been the support of farmers that put him over the top.

Regina-Qu'Appelle MP is 1st Conservative leader from Saskatchewan since John Diefenbaker

Andrew Scheer celebrates after winning the leadership during the Conservative Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Conservative supporters in Saskatchewan are both surprised and happy to see a Regina MP become national Conservative leader, and it may have been the support of farmers that put him over the top.  

Regina-Qu'Appelle MP Andrew Scheer was elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada Saturday night, gradually picking up enough support during the evening's voting to overcome a strong early showing by Maxime Bernier, who had been considered a front-runner for the job.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said in a statement he was "very happy" to see Scheer's win.

"I know he will be a strong Conservative voice in Ottawa, and it was great to hear him state such a clear position on the Liberal carbon tax in his acceptance speech, saying he would repeal it.

"It's also pretty exciting to have the first Conservative leader from Saskatchewan since John Diefenbaker."

The power of dairy farmers

Franck Groeneweg, a grain farmer in Edgeley, Sask., said he's a strong supporter of Scheer's, and even he was surprised by the win.

"When we saw it happening from the first ballot to the last ballot, it was a nail-biter till the end," he said.

He said it may have been many little issues, rather than one big one, that put enough support behind Scheer. Like protection of supply management.

"I think when it comes to Maxime Bernier, he's somebody either you like or you don't like, and it showed, because Andrew Scheer was probably more second and third and 13th choice.

"I don't think [Bernier] realized how much power Quebec dairy farmers have and were able to put behind Andrew Scheer."

Franck Groeneweg, a grain farmer in Edgeley, Sask., said he supports Scheer's stances on a carbon tax and protection of supply management. (Radio-Canada)

Daniel Béland, an expert in public policy with the department of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees that Scheer's support from farmers helped him win.

"He's someone who's very attentive to needs of farmers and he showed that not only here in Saskatchewan, but also during the leadership campaign when he went to Quebec and he met with dairy farmers and he got the support of many of them, which is why he did so well in Quebec.

"I think he has a lot of street cred, as we say, among the farmers in rural communities."

A Harper-like vision

Though Scheer did not win with a wide margin, Béland said his vision of unifying the party has a lot in common with Stephen Harper's.

He said he thinks Scheer will emphasize similar priorities to Harper's, such as fiscal policy and the role of Canada in the world, and steer clear of risky, divisive issues like abortion.

"It's not easy to become prime minister when you're based in a smaller province like Saskatchewan, but John Diefenbaker did it," said Beland.

"So it's possible and I think Andrew Scheer is hopeful that he can make gains all across the country."

He'll have to reach out beyond the Prairies, to B.C., Ontario and Quebec, and develop a truly national strategy, Béland said, to have a shot at becoming prime minister.

With files from Radio-Canada