Photo: Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado/flickr

It was only the morning after the night before, but by early yesterday Canada’s corporate media seemed to have reached a solid consensus about the new leader of the federal Conservative Party: Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper with a human face!

Naturally, this wasn’t exactly the way they put it. The way most corporate media outfits summed up the change atop the Conservative Party of Canada was that Scheer, the Saskatchewan MP and former Speaker of the House of Commons chosen by the Tories after several hours of faux suspense the night before, is Harper … with a smile.

As if a smile will make much difference!

Well, you have to give it to whatever is left of Canada’s “elite” media — conservatives all, presumably, to a man and woman — their faith in the notion the Canadian electorate is pretty dull and easy to fool is boundless.

These are, after all, the media corporations that before the 2015 federal election sent orders to their supposedly independent local franchises to run editorials supporting Harper or whoever the local Conservative was, or which, like The Globe and Mail, advised B.C. readers from its new Toronto aerie high above King Street East to hold their noses and vote for Christy Clark. The results? Not that effective.

So the thought that a new Stephen Harper with a human face will fix everything, restoring God to His heaven, order to His universe and Tories to Ottawa is a bit of a reach, even for them.

Never mind that in October 2015, the same voters sent the grimly self-righteous Harper and his neoliberal government packing, presumably fed up with its harsh tone, destructive market fundamentalism, and anti-science, anti-labour, anti-immigrant and anti-social policy agenda.

If we roll out the same policies advocated by a spokesperson with a less sinister smile and a modicum of charm, they seem to think, all will be well. Don’t count on it, if your definition of all’s well means Conservatives in power in the nation’s capital.

There are those, of course, who might argue that Justin Trudeau, the prime minister whose Liberals were restored to government after a decade in the wilderness on Oct. 19, 2015, is the one who should be described as Stephen Harper with a human face.

But they are mostly New Democrats still labouring under the impression their own party would act differently in government, notwithstanding the 2015 policy platform of their current leader, now reduced to interim status partly as a result.

Regardless, as an understanding of just who the unexpected Scheer actually is, the realization is already dawning on a lot of voters that while he may have a nicer smile than Harper, in some ways he is could even be worse.

The former Conservative prime minister paid ritual obeisance to the unchanging attitudes of his party’s social conservative base, but it’s said here he never really had any intention of doing anything about them. In truth, he was a dogmatic market fundamentalist ideologist, pure and simple, and the only thing self-evidently genuinely religious about him was his quasi-religious faith in the Almighty Market.

When it comes to so-con dogma, Scheer may or may not be closer to the real thing than Harper was, but he certainly owes the party’s social conservative base a heck of a lot more than Harper did. It was their votes, after all, that pushed him over the top.

On climate change and First Nations policies, it is true, he is a virtual clone of Harper. On science and labour, we don’t know yet for sure, but don’t hold your breath hoping for anything better.

And while like Harper, Scheer has said he won’t revisit the country’s abortion laws, he has thrown a bone to the social conservatives by proposing tax breaks for home and private schoolers.

But that may not be enough for the party’s so-cons, who are bound to be feeling their oats after pushing Scheer over the top Saturday. How will he say no when CPC social conservatives demand he re-open such divisive cans of political worms as the debates over abortion and same-sex marriage?

Well, hope springs eternal for Conservatives, just like the rest of us. But social conservatism is ballot-box poison in most parts of this country, and that’s only going to become more pronounced as time rolls on.

Mr. Scheer is almost certainly bright enough to recognize this, but he can only do something to remedy the problem by alienating the angry, volatile, religious zealots who got him elected and now surely feel they have the right to tell the party what to do next. If he does that, chances are they’ll stay home on election day.

If he turns out to be the true believer Harper wasn’t, on the other hand, he can push policies in good conscience that will send the majority of Canadian voters screaming back to the Liberals and Trudeau.

Unlike former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, mentioned in this space yesterday, Scheer is not exactly showing up at a point in Trudeau’s career when voters are righteously sick of the prime minister, the way there were of his dad, Pierre Trudeau, in the late 1970s. At least, that is, until they got a short glimpse back then of Conservative government in action.

So despite Scheer’s supposedly human face, don’t bet the urban farm on him getting very far on the strength of a nice smile.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado/flickr

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...