Memo To Andrew Scheer

Don Newman’s advice to the Conservative leader to remember who his real opponent is

Mr. Scheer: The next time Justin Trudeau says he will not take part in a debate during the election campaign, do what he does and don’t show up.

What? You will say. I am not afraid of the Canadian people. I will show up anytime and anywhere to hold the Prime Minister accountable. Canadians deserve to know that that elite, trust fund kid is trying to avoid accountability for the past four years that he has been in office.

Well that might have seemed like a good idea when you accepted the MacLean’s-City TV debate on September 12th before finding out whether the Liberal leader would be taking part. But when you found out that Trudeau was skipping the affair, it was not too late for you to still make all of the claims that he was scared of you and wouldn’t debate, and then have said you wouldn’t show up either.

Mr. Scheer, you are one of two party leaders who will be the Prime Minister of Canada after the votes are counted on October 21st.  It is you and Trudeau people want to see head to head to help them decide which one of you it should be. In any debate no matter how many other party leaders are taking part, it is you and he that are the main show, the other are just the supporting cast.

And when you showed up on September 12th, look what happened. Without Trudeau there was no “big kids” table at the debate. Instead you had to sit, figuratively speaking, at the small kids table with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. And of course they did what small kids always do when a big kid is with them and outnumbered; they ganged up to try and take you down a peg – or even two.

And by and large they did. While you repeated your well rehearsed lines from your TV commercials castigating the missing Liberal leader for things that were true, partially true and untrue about Trudeau, while looking directly into the camera and ignoring the other people on the stage, Singh and May spent most of the evening beating up on you. And since both of them are well to the left of you politically but have relatively the same positions on most issues, much of the time you were getting it from both sides.

It didn’t help matters that Elizabeth May has been doing election debates since 2008. And Singh, who most people thought had disappeared off the political landscape along with his party, was surprisingly effective. In fact, because of the low expectations and his better than anticipated performance, it was probably Jagmeet who gained the most from the evening.

Still he and May are fighting for third place in this election, and a distant third at that. You and the elusive Justin are fighting for the real prize and all the marbles. It may be too late to get out of the Munk Foreign Policy debate on October 1st, that Trudeau has also declined, but know that you will have to be with the little kids again. Your goal needs to be to try and make sure that when the real debates start with Trudeau present on October 7th that Canadians haven’t already decided that you too are a little kid.

 Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.