After weeks of mounting criticism of his election performance, Andrew Scheer announced he is stepping down as Conservative Party leader.
The leader of the Official Opposition told the House of Commons choosing to resign was “one of the most difficult decisions” he has had to make, one that happened after long conversations with people close to him following the Oct. 21 election.
“In order to chart the course ahead, this party, this movement, needs someone who can give 100 per cent to the efforts, and after some conversations with my kids, my loved ones, I felt it was time to put my family first,” Scheer said, as his wife Jill looked on from the House of Commons gallery.
Scheer told the Conservative caucus of his decision to resign at the end of a Thursday (12) morning meeting to discuss the party’s position and strategy on the revised NAFTA deal, according to sources who were inside the room and who spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named.
According to sources, Scheer recounted a lengthy late-night conversation he had with his oldest son last week, saying it left him feeling he didn’t know his son well enough.
Scheer told caucus the job was taking a toll on him and his family.
There has been a split within the party over Scheer’s future ever since the election, when he failed to capitalize on the jaw-dropping, mid-campaign revelation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had repeatedly dressed in blackface.
Several failed candidates and party operatives have publicly questioned his leadership and suggested he should step aside.
Questions about private school costs
Sources told CBC News those attacks on his leadership from within the party were also undermining Scheer’s leadership. One of those attacks, as Global News first reported Thursday (12), involved someone preparing to leak a report that the party had paid for his children’s private school tuition — a move aimed at turning the party’s membership against him and forcing him out.
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.
His office insisted the tuition matter was not the reason for Scheer’s resignation.
“Shortly after Mr. Scheer was elected leader, we had a meeting where I made a standard offer to cover costs associated with moving his family from Regina to Ottawa,” Dustin van Vugt, executive director of the Conservative Party, said in a media statement.
“This includes a differential in schooling costs between Regina and Ottawa. All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people.”
Scheer, who was first elected to the House of Commons at age 25, will stay on until a new leader is chosen and will continue to represent his Regina-Qu’Appelle constituents “for the near future.”
Scheer said he will support his successor “100 per cent.”
“I believe in this party, I believe in our movement, I believe that we will be a government after the next election,” he said.
“Our Conservative team is always stronger when we are united.”
After he made the formal announcement in the House of Commons, he received a standing ovation on both sides of the aisle.
Trudeau praised Scheer’s family for making “significant sacrifices” and saluted Scheer’s work in politics, first as an MP, later as House Speaker and then as Conservative leader.
“I know the member opposite has shown tremendous strength and compassion as he has done that, through tragedies, difficulties, victories and more challenging moments, and I very much wish him all the very, very best in his next and exciting steps, whatever they may be,” he said.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also rose in the House to thank Scheer for his service.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford released a statement wishing Scheer luck.
“I wish Andrew Scheer all the best as he undertakes this new chapter in his life, and thank him for his service as the head of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and leader of the Conservative Party,” said the Progressive Conservative leader.
“I also want to take this opportunity to give my best wishes to Mr. Scheer’s wife Jill and their five children.”
Until this day, Scheer had given every impression of digging in and defending his leadership.
“I am 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 on Nov. 28.
“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.”
Supporters had pointed out that Scheer led the party through the election campaign to an increased seat count and a boost in popular support, but detractors said his campaign failed to capitalize on a series of Liberal scandals and missteps.
Scheer has been dogged by questions over his positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, which many people inside and outside the party say are out of step with the majority of Canadians.
Former cabinet minister John Baird was brought in to review the Conservative Party of Canada’s election performance. While thanking Scheer and his family in a tweet Thursday (12), Baird said that work continues.
In his statement in the House, Scheer said he will be asking the party’s national council to start the search for a new leader as soon as possible.
Party spokesperson Cory Hann said the council will form a leadership election organizing committee, which will set the rules, procedure, process and timelines for a leadership convention.