Conservatives hang on to symbolic victories as bid for majority fails

REGINA — With Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer thwarted in his bid for a majority government Monday, his supporters clung to major symbolic victories as proof the political tide in Canada had turned in its favour.

Raucous cheers erupted from the floor of Conservative headquarters in Regina over word that longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale — who represents a Regina-area riding — had gone down in defeat to a Conservative candidate.

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And Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative MP and leadership candidate who broke from the Tories to launch a libertarian-populist party of his own, also lost his seat in the Quebec riding of Beauce to the Tories.

Small victories perhaps, but they went far Monday night to improve the moods of supporters who had been on the edge of their seats as mixed results rolled in from Atlantic Canada.

Star Conservative candidates failed to scoop up big wins in Nova Scotia, while two former Conservative MPs from New Brunswick will be returning to Ottawa.

"When I see the numbers fluctuate so wildly on here, I just have to calm myself down and go, 'It's not over 'till it's over.'" said Conservative supporter Melanie Burns, whose family recently moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario.

"The West usually prevails in the end and that's what I'm banking on."

Headed into the election, the Conservatives had been counting on national anger and frustration with the Liberal government as the key motivating factor this election.

What they hadn't seen coming was the rise of the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec. It was in that province that the party had been hoping for major gains this campaign.

Scheer and Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet have been locked in a struggle for Quebecers' support the entire 40-day campaign.

A sore spot for the Conservatives in the province is their pledge for a national energy corridor that would ferry gas and electricity across the nation; Blanchet accused Scheer of wanting to force a pipeline across the province, for which there's little support in Quebec.

But another issue was Scheer's personally socially conservative views. Party insiders were frustrated in the early days of the campaign when Scheer was repeatedly attacked for them, but floundered in his response.

Then there was Ontario. A Liberal attack strategy of repeatedly linking the Conservatives federally to the provincial party led by Premier Doug Ford paid off; one Conservative organizer said he heard about Ford at one out of every seven doors.

One casualty of that: Longtime Conservative MP and deputy leader Lisa Raitt. She lost her Toronto-area seat to a former Olympic athlete running for the Liberals.

Raitt had also challenged Scheer for the party leadership in 2017, and was installed as deputy leader in a bid to unite the social-conservative and more progressive wings of the party.

The question of Scheer's leadership did hang in the balance Monday night. Under the terms of his party constitution, after failing to form a majority government he will face a leadership review at the party's next convention.

One of his constituents, Adrienne Ivey, said the results Monday were not what they were hoping for, but Scheer should stay on.

"He's been a leader for a very short time, so I think that experience is a good thing and it's only onward and upward from here."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2019.

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