Former cabinet minister John Baird’s external review of the Conservative Party of Canada’s election performance is just one part of what Conservatives are calling a sweeping effort to get at the reasons behind the party’s recent defeat.
Within hours of being named chair of the external review, Baird — who served as minister of foreign affairs in Stephen Harper’s cabinet — began conducting interviews, starting with senior campaign staff.
Conservative sources say Baird’s tone in these interviews has been forward-looking but serious, and his questions appear intended to get an honest assessment of what went wrong and help the party mount a more successful campaign next time.
And Baird’s mandate isn’t limited to the party itself. Sources say he’ll be asking outside professionals to offer their own critiques of the 2019 campaign plan.
“I think Mr. Baird’s a great choice,” B.C. MP Mark Strahl told CBC News. “I think he is someone who’s passionate about conservative politics. He has a record of service to the country and to our movement and wasn’t a part of the campaign so he can provide a unique perspective.”
Strahl also said that Baird, being from Ontario, is in a good position to learn the reasons behind the party’s poor performance in Canada’s most populous province.
“He has a good perspective on what’s happening in this part of the country and that’s where we need to improve in the next election,” he said.
As part of the same lessons-learned effort, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s planned ten-province “listening tour” will start in Mississauga and Brampton — two cities in the so-called 905 belt around Toronto where the party failed to win the ridings it needed to form government.
The party narrowly retained the Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill seat held by Conservative MP Leona Alleslev; the former Liberal MP crossed the floor in September 2018 to sit with the Conservatives.
But in the traditionally blue riding of Milton, Ont., the Conservatives lost their deputy leader. Incumbent Lisa Raitt was defeated by Liberal candidate and four-time Olympic medal winner Adam van Koeverden.
Meeting with the membership
In an email to Conservative MPs, party Executive Director Dustin van Vugt said Scheer will visit all ten provinces before the end of the year.
“This will be a useful tool to help him gauge what the on-the-ground feedback is from the grassroots up, something he felt necessary for us to have the most fulsome picture of the campaign,” van Vugt wrote in the email, obtained by CBC News.
This tour across Canada also will give Scheer some much-needed time to press the flesh with the party members who will decide whether he stays on as leader at the biannual convention in April in Toronto.
The third part of the Conservative Party’s post-mortem of the 2019 campaign will be an internal review chaired by van Vugt, CBC News has learned.
“I’ll be talking with members like you, campaign volunteers, workers, campaign managers, and taking back their advice, and what they felt worked, and what didn’t. That will be compiled to present to our leader, Andrew Scheer,” van Vugt wrote in the email.
A need for speed
The full internal/external review could take about two months to complete. Strahl said the party can’t afford to slow-walk the process.
“Andrew Scheer was quite clear that we don’t want this to drag on and on. We could be facing an election … at any time in a minority Parliament,” he said.
“So we’re looking to have that done thoroughly, but as quickly as it can be done thoroughly. We don’t want to just have a surface review. It needs to be a deep dive. But that needs to be done with some urgency because we don’t know how long this Parliament will last.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to decide when Parliament will resume after speaking with opposition leaders next week. He’s set to meet with Scheer on Tuesday.