This column is an opinion by Kory Teneycke. A former director of communications for prime minister Stephen Harper, he managed the recent Ontario PC Party Campaign and is currently a partner at Rubicon Strategy. Teneycke has declared he will remain neutral in the federal Conservative leadership campaign and has recused himself from work Rubicon is providing for the Peter MacKay campaign. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
We can add the undead wandering the halls of Parliament to the litany of COVID-19 horrors.
I am referring, of course, to Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, whose political body went cold on Dec. 12 when he resigned in an effort to stave off an avalanche of negative stories about his personal expenses and poor election performance.
In normal times, when a leader steps down you say some kind words and bury them with dignity a short time later. But as we all know, there is nothing normal about these times.
The reanimation of Scheer was made possible by the government’s repeated mishandling of its response to the COVID crisis. Be it Trudeau’s attempt to obtain the power to tax-and-spend without Parliamentary approval for 18 months, or the performance of Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who spent weeks telling Parliament travel restrictions were ineffective, the need for Opposition scrutiny has rarely been greater.
It means Scheer will likely continue to be leader for many more months. It is quite possible to imagine Andrew Scheer celebrating another Christmas at Stornoway.
While the Conservative Leadership Organizing Committee has indicated the race is on pause until at least May 1, it is hard to imagine life will have returned to normal in a month.
Far more probable is that we are in a prolonged period of social isolation and economic disruption. Until we have a mass-distributed vaccine, will we be in a position to hold campaign rallies and have candidates flying around the country shaking hands and kissing babies? Unlikely.
So for as long as this zombie apocalypse continues, the Conservatives will have a zombie leader at the helm.
What happens to the Conservative leadership race when the COVID crisis is over? That is a difficult question to answer today.
Two things you are never supposed to do in political communications is make predictions and talk about hypothetical situations. But this is punditry, so I’m going to do both.
If the race ends up being delayed into 2021, there will be huge pressure on the Conservative Party to start the race over again.
If we are in lockdown for that many months, the campaign will have been “paused” for longer than it will have been on. As the saying goes, a week can be an eternity in politics. It is safe to say the political situation will be very different than it was pre-COVID.
The issues facing the country will have completely changed. Every level of government will be under a mountain of debt, and the global economy will likely be in an economic depression. The type of leadership the country will be looking for could be quite different in that scenario.
We will see some political leaders who have distinguished themselves through their performance, such as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Premier Doug Ford (for whom I am campaign manager, full disclosure). Others will have demonstrated poor judgment and have their leadership questioned.
And let’s be honest, the field of candidates in the Conservative Leadership race is a bit underwhelming.
Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole are both eminently qualified, but as I’ve pointed out previously, any contrast between them is more a function of marketing than substance. For the second time in a row, a number of leading candidates – John Baird, Rona Ambrose, Pierre Polievre, Brad Wall – took a pass on running. Any one of those names would have been an instant front-runner in the current race.
Since we’re having fun with hypotheticals and making bold predictions, perhaps Andrew Scheer will continue to perform strongly through this crisis and will attempt to rejoin the living by running for the leadership again himself.