Politics

Baird report blames inexperienced staff, centralized control for Conservatives' election loss

An internal Conservative Party report on the party's performance in the 2019 federal election under Andrew Scheer blames inexperienced staffers and a decision to centralize control over the campaign in the hands of campaign manager Hamish Marshall, CBC News has learned.

'The buck stops with me' - former campaign director Hamish Marshall

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer struggled to answer questions about his citizenship and his private sector background during last year's federal election campaign, says an internal party report on the Conservatives' election performance. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

An internal Conservative Party report on the party's performance in the 2019 federal election under Andrew Scheer blames inexperienced staffers and a decision to centralize control over the campaign in the hands of campaign manager Hamish Marshall, CBC News has learned.

The lessons-learned report — described by one party source as "frank and extensive" — was drafted by former Conservative cabinet Minister John Baird. CBC News has spoken with multiple sources who have talked to Baird about the report's contents.

The report also cites problems with the Conservative Party's platform, its communications strategy and its candidate screening process, sources said.

It also includes "real world" examples of Scheer's difficulties during the campaign — notably, the Conservative leader's struggles to answer questions about his dual Canadian-American citizenship and whether he had falsely claimed to be a certified insurance broker.

Marshall told CBC News he hasn't seen the report and is not aware of its contents.

"I have always taken full responsibility for the campaign," Marshall said. "The buck stops with me."

CBC News reached out to Baird to comment on the story. But the former Conservative minister declined, saying any response should come from Scheer's office. 

After the story was published, Baird took to Twitter to say that despite there being areas where Marshall could have done better, "there was substantial praise for Hamish's leadership," and that he is certain the former campaign manager would agree with his report. 

As part of the party's sweeping post-mortem effort, former party executive director Dustin van Vugt was told to talk to party volunteers and campaign teams across the country about what went wrong.

But van Vugt left the job in December in the wake of pointed questions about the use of party funds to cover Scheer's personal expenses.

"Dustin's report was not finished," said Conservative communications director Cory Hann. "It will be finished, however, and delivered directly to the leader."

In early November, Scheer met with his new parliamentary caucus to listen to their concerns and attempt to explain why the party failed to win.

Scheer emerged from that meeting to announce that Baird would draft a post-mortem report. That report has gone directly to Scheer, according to his office. Scheer tweeted that he would "share feedback" with the next Conservative leader.

It's not clear how much of the report, if any, will be shared with the Conservative caucus. Their next meeting is scheduled for Jan 24-25 in Ottawa.

Scheer initially blamed the loss on campaign communication, not his party's policies. Baird's report found that a series of campaign stumbles by the leader had an impact on voters.

News emerged during the campaign that Scheer, who had said he was an insurance broker before entering politics, had never actually obtained the industry certification required to sell insurance.

Scheer has since acknowledged that he was accredited but never licensed to sell insurance at the Regina firm where he worked for six months before his election to Parliament in 2004.

Dual citizenship, LGBTQ2 and climate change

Scheer also spent weeks fielding questions about another piece of news that emerged during the campaign: that Scheer's father is an American by birth and passed along the dual citizenship to Scheer and his siblings.

The news prompted Scheer's critics to call him a hypocrite for raising concerns about former governor general Michaëlle Jean holding both Canadian and French passports in a 2005 blog post.

The Liberals managed to weaponize Scheer's past opposition to same-sex marriage and the fact that he had never marched in a Pride parade — raising doubts in the minds of some Canadians about his commitment to LGBTQ rights.

In an opinion piece published by the Globe and Mail after the election, Conservative strategists Melissa Lantsman and Jamie Ellerton said Andrew Scheer's "visible discomfort" with issues like same sex marriage during the campaign warranted serious introspection by the party.

"For the Conservative movement to grow, unequivocal support for LGBTQ people cannot be up for debate," they wrote.

Meanwhile, current Conservative leadership candidate Marilyn Gladu told CBC before the November meeting that the party's failure to offer voters a credible plan to tackle climate change also hurt its electoral prospects.

"The environment was a big deal," Gladu said. "And I did hear that people didn't think the Conservative plan was enough. So we need to do something there."

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