Canada’s Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, facing internal party divisions and a barrage of criticism for failing to unseat a weakened Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October elections, announced Thursday he was stepping down.
“I just informed my colleagues in the Conservative caucus that I will be resigning as the leader,” Scheer told the House of Commons, triggering a contest to succeed him only two years after taking on the role.
The party, he said in acknowledgment of internal strife and growing calls for him to quit, was “far too important for one individual.”
Reserved, fiscally prudent and a devout Catholic whose opposition to abortion and gay marriage goes against the Canadian grain, Scheer was largely an enigma at the start of the campaign, despite representing a district in Canada’s big-sky prairies in parliament since 2004.
He painted himself as a minivan-driving everyman: a father of five who enjoys a beer, watching football (his wife’s younger brother plays in the Canadian Football League) and “The Simpsons” television series.
The Conservatives picked up 26 additional seats in the election, while the Liberals were reduced to a minority in parliament.
But Scheer’s failure to clearly stake out positions on abortion and gay marriage and his strong pro-pipeline stance earned him strong rebukes from pundits and party members alike.
Trudeau, beset by ethics scandals and internal party feuding, was believed to be at his weakest ever and suddenly beatable as his support plunged to its lowest level in four years.
But, as former Conservative foreign minister Peter MacKay commented after the ballots were counted, “It was like having a breakaway on an open net and missing the net.”
He told a Wilson Center panel in Washington that Scheer’s personal beliefs — raised by the Liberals in the early days of the campaign — “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like a stinking albatross, quite frankly.
“And he wasn’t able to deftly deal with those issues when the opportunities arose,” he said.