Though he is no longer leader of the Conservative Party or Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, Andrew Scheer says he plans to stay on as an MP and run in the next election. If he follows through, he’ll join a short list of past party leaders who have decided to prolong their parliamentary careers after giving up one of the top political jobs in the country.
On Sunday, Scheer told reporters that he will run for his seventh consecutive term as the MP for the Saskatchewan riding of Regina–Qu’Appelle, which he has represented since 2004.
That is already a long time to have served in office. Most past leaders who have resigned their positions as prime ministers or Official Opposition leaders while still holding a seat in the House haven’t attempted re-election, putting Scheer in a small minority.
Only one-third of past prime ministers or Official Opposition leaders have run for re-election after resigning their posts. Scheer will become just the eighth to do it.
It’s a largely modern phenomenon. Alexander Mackenzie, Canada’s second prime minister, stuck around after he resigned the Liberal leadership in 1880. No party leader attempted to stay in office after losing the leadership for another 70 years after that — Progressive Conservative leader John Bracken attempted re-election after stepping down as leader in 1948.
The others in whose footsteps Scheer is following include former prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Joe Clark and former opposition leaders Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stéphane Dion.
Some of these people had long careers in Parliament after their resignations. Mackenzie stayed on as an MP for 12 more years — the longest post-leadership career to date, narrowly beating out Diefenbaker. (Diefenbaker, however, successfully attempted re-election four more times, beating Mackenzie’s record by one.)
Day and Dion also stayed on for many years after their resignations, though they had cabinet posts to keep them busy for part of the time.
Others had only brief stays in Parliament after their resignations. Manning remained as an MP for one more election and for less than two years after failing to secure the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. Bracken was defeated in the 1949 election, less than a year after he gave up his post as Official Opposition leader.
Length and success of pre-resignation career a factor
Not surprisingly, the success of a leader’s time in office appears to have played a role in determining whether a resigning leader tries to prolong it. Those who have served as Official Opposition leaders or prime ministers and have run again after resigning have averaged only 1.9 election campaigns as party leaders, compared to 2.9 election campaigns for those leaders who decide to go off into the sunset.
As is the case with Scheer, half of those leaders who stayed on after resigning lost their one and only elections as leaders. Leaders like Mackenzie and Clark stayed on after losing their second campaigns.
Diefenbaker — to whom Scheer has looked to for political inspiration — was an exception. He already had waged five campaigns as PC leader when he resigned in 1967 and he was ready for more. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the leadership race that was meant to find his replacement.
Leaders with better track records have tended to leave politics with winning legacies. Official Opposition leaders and prime ministers who did not seek re-election as MPs after resigning won about 53 per cent of the elections in which they were party leaders. Those who tried to prolong their parliamentary careers had an election-winning record of just 27 per cent.
Future political prospects for former leaders differ
A number of party leaders who never served in one of the top two offices in the land stayed on as MPs after resigning, including former NDP leaders Tommy Douglas and Alexa McDonough. After resigning as Green leader in November, Elizabeth May said she’ll seek re-election as an MP.
But the prospects for MPs in federal parties that have never been close to government are different from those enjoyed by MPs belonging to the parties that contend for power in every election — as the Conservatives can be expected to do whenever the next vote is held.
Scheer has said that he wants to be part of the team that replaces Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. If that happens, presumably he would like to be around the cabinet table in an Erin O’Toole-led Conservative government — a place he never reached during Stephen Harper’s tenure.
There’s no guarantee he will get that opportunity. Bracken lost his first post-leadership re-election bid and Mackenzie and Manning never got another chance to be in government. After a 16-year stint on the opposition benches, the PCs had only been back in office for a matter of weeks when Diefenbaker died in 1979.
That doesn’t mean Diefenbaker was idle in the meantime. He spent much of his time as an opposition MP sniping at Robert Stanfield, his successor as PC leader. He also proved to be a critic of Clark when he took over in 1976.
Others, though, had more success. Day served in a number of cabinet portfolios under Harper, including public safety and international trade and as president of the Treasury Board. Both Clark and Dion served as foreign affairs ministers; Clark held the office for most of the Brian Mulroney era. Dion served in the role for less than two years before taking an ambassadorial posting in Europe.
Clark, of course, also had a second act as PC leader in 1998.
So, there is certainly a chance that Scheer will have a second chance at a high-profile political job in the years to come.
He definitely has the time for one. At 41 years old, he is the youngest former leader to try to stay on as an MP. Clark, who had perhaps the most successful post-leadership career, was only two years older when he resigned as PC leader. The others averaged nearly 60 years old, with Diefenbaker topping the list at 72.
We haven’t seen the last of Andrew Scheer, politician. But how much more we’ll see of him will depend on the success and generosity of O’Toole as Conservative leader — and, if Scheer sticks around as long as his idol Diefenbaker did, on whoever replaces O’Toole as well.