As It Happens

Accusations of 'secret slush fund' for kids' tuition led to Scheer's downfall, says Conservative insider

What led to Andrew Scheer's decision to step away from the leadership of the Conservative Party leadership? MP Michael Barrett and strategist Kory Teneycke have opposing views on the matter.

Scheer announced Thursday he would step down as Conservative Party leader

Conservative Members of Parliament applaud party leader Andrew Scheer after he announced he will step down as leader on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
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Transcript

Kory Teneycke, Stephen Harper's former communications director, says he believes Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader of the Conservative Party as a direct result of revelations he used money from party coffers to pay his children's private school tuition.

"It's routine for party leaders to expense things like clothing or ... [things] that are related to one's party leader activities. It's not normal to expense private school tuition for your children. It's in no way related to your duties as leader of the party," Teneycke, who has been openly critical of Scheer's leadership, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"So I think it's disconcerting to find out that there's a secret slush fund … subsidizing the leader's lifestyle."

Scheer announced Thursday he would be stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party. He will stay on until a new leader is chosen, and will continue to represent his riding of Regina-Qu'Appelle "for the near future."

The party's executive director, Dustin van Vugt, said that Scheer and his family were presented with "a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa." Those funds included schooling, said van Vugt.

Kory Teneycke, the former communications director for Stephen Harper, says a "vigorous debate" is part of the process in choosing a new Conservative Party leader. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Sources told CBC News attacks from within the party were undermining Scheer's leadership, including intentions by someone to leak a report that the party had paid for his children's private school tuition.

Scheer's office confirmed to CBC News 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, along with some other expenses. That cost was described as "minimal," but amounted to thousands of dollars."

Michael Barrett, Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, said he didn't believe Scheer's decision to step down was influenced by the revelation, if the compensation was offered by the party and approved as stated.

He's been a vocal supporter of Scheer since he was chosen as Conservative leader in April 2017 through to the party's loss to Justin Trudeau's Liberals in October.

Michael Barrett, Conservative MP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, has been a vocal supporter of Andrew Scheer. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"People should approach public life cautiously, because once you're in it, you know, some people believe that nothing is off limits, [including] our families, and that's tough," he said.

Barrett said that Scheer may have felt his role as leader of the Official Opposition also unfairly dragged his family into the public spotlight, and that stepping away would be in all of their best interests.

"Andrew had my support leading up to the April convention and he has my support now until a new leader is selected and whomever the members choose to be our leader," he said.

How to resolve inter-party divisions?

Barrett is a supporter of Stand With Scheer, a website and Twitter account in favour of Scheer remaining as party leader following the election.

It was formed in opposition to Conservative Victory, a website and non-profit run by some Conservatives including Teneycke, which called on Scheer to step down and make way for another leader to be chosen.

Barrett said he would have preferred disagreements within the party to be handled "in a discreet way" rather than in public and on social media.

After weeks of mounting criticism of his election performance, Andrew Scheer announced today he is stepping down as Conservative Party leader. 1:25

"I think that the diversity of opinions in our party makes us very strong. But I don't think that putting infighting on the front pages of the newspaper or on political panel shows, I don't think that makes us stronger," he said.

Teneycke instead vouched for a "vigorous debate" as part of the process in choosing a new leader.

"I think public debate and public scrutiny and public discourse is how we get the best ideas and the best leaders. And so I don't think we should shy away from that process," he said. 

Andrew Scheer, his wife Jill, and their children arrive to a voting station on election day. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Teneycke declined to speculate on whether any heavy hitters who did not run in the last leadership would attempt to succeed Scheer. But he has high hopes for whoever takes up the mantle.

"I think whoever wins the Conservative Party leadership will have … the Vegas odds behind them that they'll be the next prime minister of this country," he said.

"So I think I think people of character and accomplishment will come to the fore and in one to put their name forward to be candidates."


Written by Jonathan Ore with files from CBC News. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong.

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