Politics

Harper's ex-campaign director joins voices calling on Scheer to quit Conservative leadership

As his foes within the Conservative Party mobilize to get Andrew Scheer out of the leadership well before the spring, Stephen Harper's former campaign director is warning him not to cling to the job.

Staying on wouldn't be 'in his best interests or the best interests of the party' - Jenni Byrne

Conservative Deputy leader Leona Alleslev looks on as Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons in West Block November 28, 2019, in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As his foes within the Conservative Party mobilize to get Andrew Scheer out of the leadership well before the spring, former prime minister Stephen Harper's ex-campaign director is warning him not to cling to the job.

"It looks like Andrew right now would like to remain as leader. I do not think, though, it is in his best interests or the best interests of the party," Jenni Byrne told CBC News Wednesday.

Byrne's comments reflect what seems to be a belief shared by many Conservatives opposed to his leadership — that they can't afford to wait until the scheduled leadership review vote at the party's next convention in April.

Party sources say that if Scheer can hang on until April, his odds of staying in the leadership are pretty good. If he gets a bare majority of party members at the convention to vote for his continued leadership, nothing in the party's constitution says he can't stay on.

Jenni Byrne: The debate over Andrew Scheer's leadership is "just consuming the party right now." (Michael Wilson/CBC)

This morning, Scheer announced the names of the MPs forming his inner circle of advisers and insisted again that he's "staying on to fight the fight that Canadians elected us to do."

"Now is not the time for internal divisions or internal party politics. That is an unfortunate part of the Conservative tradition in this country, but it's essential that we stay focused on the task at hand," he said.

"I will be making the case to our members that we need to stay united and focused, and will be seeking a mandate to do that in April."

'People are talking about it more'

Byrne suggested it might be too late to stifle the internal debate over Scheer's fate that is "consuming" the party.

"More people are talking about it more. There's more chatter, there's more people on the phone lines, there's more people that are willing to publicly come out and say, 'Although we like Andrew, we also want to be competitive in the next election,'" she said.

"Myself as well as other Conservatives would rather spend the time focusing on the Liberals ... and not having internal discussions about Andrew's leadership, because it's just consuming the party right now."

Byrne said she doesn't have a preferred candidate in mind, adding those discussions can't happen until Scheer is gone. She also said she's known Scheer for 20 years and insisted her position isn't based on personalities.

"We were, you know, kids in the Reform Party when we first met," she said.

"But I also care about the party and I do not think it is in the party's interests to spend the next five months having a debate about our internal leadership politics."

Scheer's foes are organizing

Efforts to eject Scheer seem to be ramping up. A new website bent on orchestrating his immediate ouster was launched Wednesday night.

The website Conservative Victory is intended to trigger a cross-country movement to convince Scheer to step down before April. The website was co-founded by Jeff Ballingall, who helped establish the Ontario Proud and Canada Proud websites that worked to defeat Justin Trudeau in the recent election.

"I think he needs to do the right thing and resign," Ballingall told CBC News.

"My phone's been off of the hook buzzing all this morning with people that want to help, whether it's by giving money or organizing before delegate selection meetings. Lots of people are coming out of the woodwork who were left in the dark under Scheer."

The Conservative Victory campaign is being led by Kory Teneycke, who was Harper's former communications director and was involved Maxime Bernier's unsuccessful Conservative leadership bid.

The campaign posted an anti-Scheer ad on Facebook today. Ballingall said the campaign is in the process of hiring organizers, crafting more ads and launching a social media push.

"The party needs to begin its rebuilding process and that's not going to begin under Andrew Scheer," he said. "His election performance was very disappointing but his post-election performance has been abysmal.

"He's had no direction, no passion, no conviction. It's quite alarming to see him just fumbling from one day to the next without any clear plan on how the Conservatives are going to win government next time around."

Speaking to CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Thursday, Scheer's former deputy leader Lisa Raitt — who lost her Ontario seat last month — said that if a potential leadership candidate is behind the Conservative Victory website, they should confront Scheer publicly now.

"It's really tough to see a way forward without knowing what kind of other leaders are available or not available," she told host Vassy Kapelos. "If this website that's been put out is being put there for somebody else to come forward eventually, then they might as well come out now so we can take a look ..."

Former deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt says the next few months will be an important test of Andrew Scheer's leadership. 7:16

Raitt said she still personally supports Scheer.

"Andrew's battling for his leadership. He says he's going to fight, so let's let him fight," she said.

Meanwhile, former Harper cabinet minister John Baird is still working on his external review of the party's election campaign performance. Multiple sources tell CBC News that Baird's review is not shaping up well for Scheer.

At a meeting in Ottawa Thursday night, Scheer heard from failed candidates and party operatives on what they thought went wrong during the last eleciton. 

Going into the meeting, Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre said he continues to support Scheer's leadership because "he's a decent honourable man."

"I think what Conservatives need to do is stand up, fight back and win," Poilievre said.

Watch: The National's At Issue panel discusses how long Scheer can remain Conservative leader

Despite mounting criticism this week, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says he will stay on and fight. The At Issue panel looks at how he is handling the pressure, how much support he has and how long he can last as leader. 11:48

Ottawa fashion designer Justina McCaffrey, who was the unsuccessful candidate in Kanata-Carleton, said that while she supports Scheer and thinks he would perform much better with a different backroom team behind him, his chances of beating Trudeau in the next election would require Scheer to undergo a significant makeover. 

It would "take a lot of people behind him and he would have to be that different person. There's all the issues around social conservatism, which is kind of complicated as well," she said.  

Asked whether she thought that Canadians would buy into a revitalized Scheer, McCaffrey said: "It would take Andrew Scheer a lot of losing weight, getting new clothes. This is the kind of stuff."

Baird is not through interviewing senior campaign staff and other party members, but sources say the message he has heard so far has been consistent: that the campaign was a failure and Scheer's performance was partly to blame .

Baird will deliver his report before Christmas.

About the Author

Hannah Thibedeau

Parliament Hill

Hannah Thibedeau is a veteran political reporter having covered the Hill for more than 15 years, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. She covers politics for CBC TV, CBC Radio and CBC Politics online.

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