The Current

'Tone deaf' to keep Scheer as interim leader after private school revelations: Conservative strategist

A Conservative strategist tells The Current that in light of revelations that Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer used party funds to help pay for his children's private school tuition, caucus should not have allowed him to stay on as interim leader.

Party insiders divided on whether private school funding was out of line

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer announces he will step down as leader of the Conservatives, Thursday December 12, 2019 in the House of Commons in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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A Conservative strategist says the party caucus "came across as absolutely tone deaf" by making Andrew Scheer interim leader, despite revelations he used party funds to help pay for his children's private school tuition.

"People know that there are going to be special exceptions to cover things like wardrobe," said Jamie Ellerton, a principal at the public relations firm Conaptus Ltd.

But he told The Current's Laura Lynch that "to pretend that grassroots donations — $50 and $100 dollars — are [for] subsidizing the leader's children's private education, I think just doesn't sit right."

"I think when most people hear that, they kind of recoil, and caucus kind of covering for that last night was not their finest moment," he said.

Scheer resigned in a speech in the House of Commons on Thursday, shortly before Global News published an article about the school funding. The report was confirmed to CBC News by Scheer's office. 

Andrew Scheer informs Parliament that he will be stepping down as Conservative leader, but will stay on until a new leader is chosen. 8:56

Following the resignation, the party caucus voted unanimously to keep him on as interim leader.

Dustin van Vugt, executive director of the Conservative Party, said in a media statement that he gave Scheer "a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa." 

But sources told CBC that Conservative Fund members weren't aware the private school funding, and that they were looking into it when Scheer resigned.

A party divided

Not everyone agrees Scheer stepped out of line by using party money to help send his five children to private school in Ottawa.

Peter Van Loan, a former Conservative MP, told Lynch that he didn't think it was what pushed Scheer to resign.

"I think it's a bit of a trumped up story," said Van Loan, who held a number of cabinet posts under Stephen Harper, including House Leader. He now works as a lawyer.

He said that parties do provide financial support for their leaders, typically for expenses like wardrobes and travel.

"I haven't seen it involve children's education before, but it's not out of the realm," he said.

"I think the bigger factor was electability."

Written by Allie Jaynes, with files from CBC News. Produced by Ines Colabrese, Howard Goldenthal and Max Paris.


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