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The importance of being earnest

Jordan Bateman: Andrew Scheer’s communications style is both his greatest strength and biggest weakness
(Andrew Scheer Flickr)

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was in town Friday morning, speaking at a sold-out breakfast sponsored by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. For B.C.’s business community, it was a chance to see the man who – mainly through the arrogant ineptitude of Justin Trudeau – is now leading the polls to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Before the event, there was the usual handwringing in the conversations around the room. Is Scheer doing enough to capitalize on Trudeau’s LavScam blunders? Is he tough enough to survive the vicious election battle to come? Is his team doing enough to get him out and about with the media and public?

And the question that dogs every opposition leader everywhere, all the time: does he have the royal jelly necessary to win? Can you picture him in the big job?

I can.

There is no doubt that Scheer is very different in personality and tone from Justin Trudeau. Scheer is incredibly earnest – a Prairie dad of five who came up from modest roots. He’s not a fashion plate. He’s not famous for his socks. He’s not doing yoga poses or “accidentally” photobombing weddings and proms.

Listening to Scheer, he reminded me of some of the other dads on my kid’s hockey team. He just seems genuinely nice. He’s the dad that you stand next to at the boards and have a few chuckles with as the game unfolds. He’s the one who slips out at intermission and buys some coffee – and is kind enough to ask you if you want one too.

He’s definitely smart, but he’s not bombastic. He exudes politeness, not politics.

If Team Trudeau tries to tie him to Doug Ford as a way to win seats in Ontario, I don’t think it will work well. They are very different – it’s hard to find much in common in tone between Ford and Scheer. Ford is loud and blustery and shoots from the lip; that isn’t Scheer’s style.

He’s not pithy or quippy. This may be his biggest challenge in getting his message out to the ever-skeptical media. He’s not a soundbite machine.

Scheer presented a broad economic vision – lower taxes, less red tape, balanced budgets as a way to reduce interest costs, and limited government intervention in the economy (only in smart, necessary ways). It’s a big shift from the runaway spending brought in by Trudeau and Bill Morneau.

He spoke positively about the port, about the need for pipelines, and got loud applause when he said foreign, anti-oil interests need to stay out of Canada’s national debate on pipelines. All great points, but none said in a really catchy way that would grab the media’s attention.

This lack of soundbites was most acute when Scheer was asked about the alt right and bigots who seek to influence Canadian public policy. Scheer gave a thoughtful answer that could not be construed as anything other than condemnation for such fringe elements. But it wasn’t clippable for the media – he didn’t just come out and say something like, “Bigoted extremists have no place in the Conservative movement and I stand against their corrosive, evil ideology.” That’s a clip the media can play and would go a long way in blunting Team Trudeau’s lies that somehow Scheer is encouraging such people.

But Scheer doesn’t talk in soundbites. He’s too thoughtful. That’s the downside of his authenticity; he’s genuinely an earnest guy.

In politics, there is a pendulum that swings. Americans voted in the cerebral Barack Obama after two terms of the folksy George W. Bush. Then they followed the reserved Obama with the populist Donald Trump. In B.C., the kind-of-nerdy Andrew Wilkinson succeeded charismatic Christy Clark, who succeeded the oft-cold policy wonk Gordon Campbell. When changing leaders, people often elect the opposite of the current officeholder.

Given the choice this fall between the overly dramatic current Prime Minister and the earnest Prairie opposition leader, my suspicion is that many voters will be attracted to Scheer’s modest, quiet leadership style.

Scheer needs a few more soundbites, but don’t discount the importance of being earnest in this campaign.

Jordan Bateman has a long history of public policy work, championing small business and fiscal responsibility. Currently the Vice President, Communications & Marketing for the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), Jordan also served six years as the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and was a two-term Langley Township Councillor.