Could Andrew Scheer really lose his seat this election?

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Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

If there is any riding in this year's federal election that warrants strategic voting by left-leaning electors, it's surely Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's district of Regina-Qu'Appelle. 

Last week, an editorial in the Saskatchewan Herald asked "Could Andrew Scheer Lose His Seat to the NDP?" drawing attention to the fact that efforts to unseat Scheer "have taken on a new energy" following a national surge in NDP support.

"One always hopes for grassroots movements to really take off suddenly, and I'm kind of feeling that right now," NDP candidate Ray Aldinger told rabble.ca. "It feels positive."

Of course, every party leader can theoretically lose their seat in the House of Commons -- just ask former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. However, two important factors have sparked discussion about the possibility of Scheer losing his riding this election, even though it remains an unlikely outcome.

First, Scheer's district encompasses 12 First Nations. As both the local MP and leader of the Conservatives, Scheer has alienated himself from many of those Indigenous communities.

For example, his party sparked outrage when it voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2018. That move, some local First Nations leaders said, followed Scheer's long track-record of ignoring their concerns.

"There is a lot of concern in First Nation country of Mr. Scheer," David Pratt, a vice chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan, told CBC this month. "We don't feel he has done a good enough effort of reaching out to First Nations in his own home riding."

"If he didn't want to engage as an MP and Speaker of the House, who is he going to engage as the prime minister?" added Pasqua First Nation Chief Matthew Peigan.

Some Indigenous activists in Regina-Qu'Appelle are now reportedly campaigning for an NDP victory.

Second, Scheer's share of the vote in 2015 amounted to less than the NDP, Liberal and Green votes combined. In theory, if enough Liberal and Green voters decided to rally behind Aldinger, they could form an anti-Conservative voting bloc large enough to deny the Tory leader a seat in Parliament.

Scheer losing his seat would throw the Conservatives into disarray, regardless of how many seats the party wins overall on election day. On the one hand, some Liberal voters might be tempted by that prospect enough to strategically vote NDP, in hopes of locking out Justin Trudeau's main competitor for prime minister (it's easy to imagine some strategists at Liberal headquarters would be thrilled by that outcome, too). However, persuading several thousand Liberal voters -- in addition to at least a few hundred Greens -- to throw their support behind the New Democratic contender is a tall ask.

"The rural portion of this constituency has not voted for an NDP member since the late 1970s," noted Howard Leeson, political science professor at the University of Regina, adding that he thinks the prospect of progressive voters uniting behind the NDP is "not likely, but not impossible."

Jim Farney, also a political science professor at the University of Regina, agrees.

"'It's one of those ridings where there would have had to have been some sort of formal agreement between the NDP and the Liberals to not run candidates against each other,"' he told rabble.ca. "'If there was only one candidate from the centre or centre-left running against Scheer, then yes, it would be a very close race."'

"I don't see the possibility of those progressive parties co-operating enough to bump Scheer off, but I could be wrong," he added.

Besides the logistical challenges associated with pulling off such a feat, it's also not necessarily accurate to assume that all Liberal voters prefer the idea of an NDP MP over a Conservative.

Given that fact, creating a formal alliance behind a single "progressive" candidate is tricky, and perhaps not even desirable -- especially if it means watering down policies in an attempt to appease centrist liberals.

So, Scheer's seat appears to be safe -- at least for the time being.

"He won last time by a fairly sizeable margin, and it's hard to see how that changes this time around," said Farney. "As it is with that vote splitting, I think he's in a safe seat."

However, Farney said, both the mobilization of local First Nations and Scheer's lack of roots in the district could mean that Scheer becomes vulnerable down the road.

"I think if you mobilize Indigenous folks in the riding, they'd move against Scheer, but I don't know how strongly," Farney explained, adding that, having served as House Speaker and Opposition leader, Scheer can hardly be considered a local champion.

"Both because of his biography and because of the types of roles he's had in Ottawa … he's not deeply integrated into the province's politics. That dynamic might play in a little bit, too. He's not spent his career as a constituency MP."

While this factor likely won't be enough to cost Scheer his seat this time around, it might put him at risk in the event of a left-wing surge in a future election.

"If there was some sort of real landslide against the Tories, I don't think his riding would be particularly insulated," said Farney.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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