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Scheer wins

Canada’s Conservative Party picks social conservative as new leader

Canada’s Conservative Party picks Andrew Scheer in a nail-biting race

In a huge upset, Andrew Scheer is the newest leader of the Conservative Party.

The Saskatchewan member of Parliament, and former speaker of the House of Commons, managed to overcome frontrunner Maxime Bernier, despite a quiet, and underfunded, campaign.

Scheer, a quiet, no-frills politician from the prairies, will be an odd fit going up against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Scheer ran on a campaign that largely echoed many of the policies and priorities of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, in a clear sign that the party membership weren’t quite ready to take a huge jump into the unknown. Scheer gets high marks from the Campaign Life Coalition, a pro-life lobby group, but, like his predecessor, he has also pledged to not re-open debates around abortion and gay marriage.

Yet his promise to leave behind divisive social issues could be made harder by the strong showing of the party’s socially conservative base.

The nail-biting result of the race, which boasted a crowded field of 13 candidates — including TV personality Kevin O’Leary, who quit and yet came in 11th place — went down to the very last ballot, leaving centrist Erin O’Toole as the kingmaker.

The incredibly tight results were a clear sign that Bernier, the brash self-styled libertarian from Quebec, failed to crystallize the membership after O’Leary, the one-time frontrunner, endorsed his campaign.

The results were also a stark reminder that the unified Conservative Party, which has been helmed by Harper for most of its existence — a leader who forcefully forbade social conservatives from agitating for pro-life or anti-gay issues too publicly — still had a powerful social conservative lobby in its midst.

As the first ballots came in, it became clear that victory was further from Bernier’s grasp than expected.

Moderates in the race posted disappointing results, with former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt placing eighth, and reform-minded MP Michael Chong coming fifth.

O’Toole, who became a late-stage consensus candidate for many establishment Conservatives came third — which many on his team admitted, the night before, was the likely outcome. Yet he captured just half the points of his nearest rival, Scheer, and little more than a third of the frontrunner, Bernier.

The result that shocked many in the room was the impressive support for avowedly social conservative candidates Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost.

As the ballots wore on, it became increasingly clear that the two had tapped into an undercurrent of support amongst family-minded Conservatives, even though their message — unapologetically pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and hostile towards affording more rights to transgender Canadians — is considered well outside the mainstream.

Both Trost and Lemieux, in their closing speeches the night before the results were unveiled, made a forceful pitch for a Conservative Party that is willing to rehash the social debates that many in the party want to move on from.

Even Rona Ambrose, the immensely popular interim leader, pitched a Conservative Party that can reach out to a broader swath of Canadians, spending much of her outgoing speech as leader talking about women’s issues and telling her party that it must be a large tent — pointedly mentioning “whether you’re straight or gay.”

Kellie Leitch, who ran an avowedly nationalist campaign that was frequently compared to Donald Trump and took up much of the airtime at points in the race, posted a dismal result.

The way in which the votes were tabulated, which gave all of Canada’s 338 ridings equal weight, regardless of members in the riding, no doubt led to the surprising results.

Cover: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

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