Who's pulling the strings in the Conservative Party?

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Andrew Scheer speaks with Stephen Harper at 2018 Calgary Stampede. Photo: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

Not that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a stellar week.

His climb aboard the single-use plastics ban-wagon by 2021 was ill thought-out. It wasn't helped by his bumbling, stumbling response referring to water boxes when asked about how his family cuts back on plastic.

That gaffe gave Conservative leader Andrew Scheer the opening he needed to again attack the Liberal government's carbon tax plan as well as its Bill C-69, the pipeline assessment and review act. The carbon tax, he claimed, was both ineffective and a tax grab while the pipeline bill would rip the country asunder as good men awaited high-paying jobs in the oil economy forever.

But it wasn't a great week for him either -- and it was made worse by the dunderheaded tweet by his deputy leader Lisa Raitt who, in a now-deleted outburst, announced that there is "no solid connection between climate change and the major indicators of extreme weather, despite Trudeau's claim to the contrary."

That wasn't the only rogue Con tweet. Conservative Senator Denise Batters went off script by predicting that a power outage in Regina "is a preview of Canada's future" if the Liberals are re-elected because … oil.

Scheer looked like he's not in charge. He had to continually deny that he was getting help from provincial Con strongmen like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and, of course, Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Although help from Ford right now is like getting no help at all, especially considering the concerted campaign against the Ontario premier by third-party groups such as Engage Canada, which has been running attack ads depicting Scheer as weak and Ford as the spectral force behind him. Be very afraid, Ontario, is the message, because you could get two for the price of one.

All you voters out there in TV land, the ads claim, remember that Ford's the guy who cut everything from autism support programs to universities, cancelled alternative energy projects and an ambitious tree planting program while allowing developers to run amok over the province and its wildlife.

He is no longer the fella ya wanna have a buck-a-beer with, as poll after poll shows. Now he's the guy you see robbing your kids of their futures.

Which is what Ontario Conservative MPs have been hearing from constituents, including from former Ford supporters. His popularity has cratered so seismically that, aside from flipping freebie burgers at his Ford Fest plus performing for photo-op tractor rides at county fairs, he and his clapping seals are supposedly going to ground.


For five months, stretching until after the federal vote, the Ontario crew will ostensibly be safely tucked away in their ridings doing great things "For The People."

That's the plan, or so they say.

One thing is sure. They're counting on the short memory of Ontario voters to forget raucous demonstrations -- by teachers, library workers, senior citizens, school kids, parents, you name them -- in front of Queen's Park playing over and over again on a screen near you. Out of the legislature and in the hinterland, Ford's wrecking crew can't hurt any chance that Scheer may have at winning, with yet another cruel and seemingly capricious piece of legislation.

Just about every pundit and political cartoonist in the land believes that this has all been orchestrated by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. That he's the man in the background and backrooms concocting an evil plot to run pipelines from sea to sea to sea -- and the Gulf of Mexico too.

That's partly because of a profile of Scheer in L'Actualité, the French-language counterpart to Maclean's. In it, Scheer, along with his consigliore Hamish Marshall, a founder of the right-wing Rebel Media, are described as graduates of Harper's school of politics.

According to Carl Vallée, Harper's former press attaché, Scheer, Marshall and most Conservative strategists "grew up with Harper who taught them everything. In this sense … it's still Harper's party." What's more, the profile continues, Scheer rarely makes a move without consulting Harper -- as well as Kenney, a former senior cabinet minister in the Harper government.

Harper with a smile, as Trudeau dismisses Scheer.

He haunts us still.

But don't be fooled by Scheer's aw-shucks, blushing boyish dimpled face.

Behind it is a man who won't say if he would stop his MPs from introducing private member's bills to strike down women's reproductive rights, who inaccurately claims that the UN Global Compact for Migration would result in hordes of migrants and refugees landing on our shores, and who can't keep his most senior caucus members from tweeting idiotic alternative facts about climate change.

Scheer may be on show.

But he's not the man -- or men -- pulling the strings.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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