The Rime of Andrew Scheer

Lisa Van Dusen/For The Hill Times

(Editor’s Note: This column was filed before the Conservative caucus voted Wednesday to forego an immediate leadership review).

Rime (noun): An accumulation of frost on an exposed object.

I learned about the propensity of Canadian Conservatives to devour their leaders the way children absorb the alphabet, Grimm’s Fairy Tales or what snow is — in a way so foundational that I cannot recall how old I was when I knew that Dalton Camp was a name not to be mentioned in the presence of my father, Tom Van Dusen, who had been John Diefenbaker’s adviser and biographer.

Was Dalton Camp a wilderness retreat near Maniwaki? An incorporeal goblin? I had no idea. I just knew, before I learned left from right, that whatever it was, it was verboten. The tale of Diefenbaker’s public humiliation in the events of 1966-67 as he was dislodged from the Tory leadership was my earliest imprint of political drama. Camp’s tactical investment in replacing the flawed, larger-than-life leader with the more technocratic and, it transpired, less electable Robert Stanfield still stands as a lesson in the laws of both unintended consequences and karma.

In later leadership cycles, there were — as there have been in all political parties — instances of critical mass mobilization for the deposition of less than “mania”-worthy Tory standard-bearers. The effectiveness of those efforts has been judged by history based on both subsequent political outcomes and public manifestations of disloyalty. Which makes the current feeding frenzy around Andrew Scheer’s fate a little puzzling.

While one can be of a different partisan persuasion and vehemently disagree (as I do) with crucial elements of Andrew Scheer’s worldview — especially on reproductive rights and same-sex marriage — the manner in which he’s being trolled toward the exit seems both heedless of his humanity and, as a politico puzzle, counterintuitive to minimizing the damage of the Conservative showing on Oct. 21.

Even in this age of previously unthinkable norm obliterating, the lack of restraint and respect for protocol in the clamour for Scheer’s head on a pike is remarkable. The usual expressions of gratitude for personal sacrifice in representing the party during a grueling campaign; even the predictable, widely-understood-to-be-wildly-hypocritical, post-defeat statements of loyalty by rivals have been upstaged by graphic and ineluctably viral news noshes apparently meant to signal his political unviability in the most expeditious, irreversible way possible.

There are arguments to support the proposition that — despite his adding 23 MPs to the Tory caucus and winning the popular vote — Scheer’s negatives (let’s not call them a “stinking albatross” in deference to Coleridge’s true meaning, funnily enough, that it wasn’t the albatross but rather the shooting of it that incited the curse in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), including his momentum-blowing disquisition on minority governments in the final days of the campaign, are irreparable.

But, as veteran Conservative strategist Yaroslav Baran points out in the new issue of Policy Magazine (shameless plug — I’m associate editor — but really, read it here:, Conservatives should heed the 1980 George Perlin book The Tory Syndrome, named for the Party’s habit of devolving, post-defeat, into a circular pissing match.

The Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday is armed, per Michael Chong’s Reform Act, with the new nuclear option of an immediate leadership review if 30 of the 150 caucus members demand it. Otherwise, Scheer will face one in April at the party’s convention.

However that plays out, it might be more generous and also more strategic in the long term for his detractors to default to boilerplate calls for a period of soul-searching and vigorous consultation rather than living down to the clichés and burying Scheer in a way that will define partisan regicide for a new generation.

A brief postscript: Years later, after Dief’s passing, my father and Dalton were able to work together in Brian Mulroney’s PMO. But it did take years.

Lisa Van Dusen is associate editor of Policy Magazine and a columnist for The Hill Times. She was Washington bureau chief for Sun Media, international writer for Peter Jennings at ABC News, and an editor at AP in New York and UPI in Washington.