Andrew Scheer may be getting hot — okay, warmish — at just the right time. The most recent Nanos Research tracking poll has him as preferred prime minister, ahead of Justin Trudeau for the first time since May. A year ago, Trudeau was out-polling the Conservative leader 41 per cent to 25 per cent when respondents were asked who they would like to see in the Prime Minister’s Office.Before anyone gets too carried away, the differential between the two realistic candidates for the top job is well within the margin of error. In addition, we’re still three weeks away from election day and at this point in 2015, Stephen Harper was leading Trudeau in the same Nanos poll.But the trend lines are clear — Scheer’s stock has risen and Trudeau’s fallen since the campaign started. The Conservative leader seems to be growing into his role and more people are starting to believe he really could become prime minister.Scheer is often compared to former Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark who once quipped: “I’m not the greatest but I’m the best available.”Related Scheer won’t say if costed platform will be out before next week’s debates Scheer accused of breaking law, falsely claiming he was once an insurance broker Canada Conservatives’ Scheer pulls ahead of Trudeau in polls in wake of blackface scandal He has risen like a grey blur through Conservative ranks to take the top job and is still learning how to be comfortable speaking about himself.On his tour around the country, he has hardly provoked hysteria – crowds have been modest and restrained. He often sounds like he’s giving grace at a Rotary luncheon when speaking from the teleprompter, though he is much better at informal gatherings in bars and halls where his geniality and wry sense of humour win through.By contrast, Trudeau is a natural politician — he has grip-and-grin politics “stored like muscle memory in the tissue”, in the words of former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Comparatively, it’s a tin whistle versus a trumpet.But the Conservative advertising campaign — that Trudeau is “just not as advertised” — has been vindicated by the Liberal leader’s own behaviour. He has tried the patience of people who once supported him, time and time again. If they are not yet angry at him, they are disappointed.American public opinion guru, Frank Luntz, once said the voters would rather vote for someone who they trust than someone they agree with. “Being a straight shooter is important. The keys are consistency and stability,” he said.While many Canadians have come to question Trudeau’s authenticity, Scheer is as principled and predictable as he seems. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to reporters in Toronto on Oct. 1, 2019. Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press He should have been more forthcoming on the issues that have dogged him but the reality is apparent — he is a career politician, who worked for six months in the insurance business (does it matter to anyone outside the press gallery whether he was technically a “broker”?); he’s a father of five who believes in the sanctity of life and marriage between a man and a woman but has pledged not to legislate on either issue.Alberta premier Jason Kenney introduced him from the back of a pick-up truck in Edmonton last Saturday and one comment in particular resonated with the crowd. “This is a prime minister we will never have to be embarrassed about. He won’t be apologizing all the time,” Kenney said.Scheer’s strategy has been to focus on the concerns of people who might vote Conservative and leave the Liberals, NDP and Greens to fight over issues like climate change. The calculation was made that more votes would be gained campaigning against the carbon tax than would be lost.Fortunately for the Conservatives, affordability concerns are clear and present for the more than half of Canadians who live paycheque to paycheque. A new poll by BDO Canada suggests 53 per cent of Canadians have little disposable income, 57 per cent are carrying credit card debt and 38 per cent of 35-54 year olds have no retirement savings.Conservative strategists must be concerned that the Liberals have come to the affordability game late and are throwing billions of dollars at voters in the form of increased benefits. Scheer cannot compete with that level of spending, particularly since he has pledged to balance the budget within five years.While many Canadians have come to question Trudeau’s authenticity, Scheer is as principled and predictable as he seemsBut he is rolling out policy on a daily basis that is likely to find favour with people living paycheque to paycheque who may not be as disposed as Justin Trudeau to using Canadian taxpayers’ money to save the world.Scheer said Tuesday as prime minister he will cut $1.5 billion from the foreign aid budget — 25 per cent of the total — and redirect the money to domestic causes. Few embattled Canadians are going to quibble with “middle and upper income countries” and “hostile regimes” being deprived of money that could be put towards a tax cut.There’s not much Scheer can do about being outspent by Trudeau, beyond pointing out the folly of living on borrowed money. His focus is to continue to present a credible alternative to voters, should they decide they have tired of the Trudeau show.Scheer needs to start feeding off the energy of those crowds, as his rival learned years ago. There are three weeks, and three debates, remaining and the Conservative leader is looking tired. As Timothy Crouse recalled in his classic account of the 1972 presidential election, The Boys on the Bus, leaders’ tours combine “the incestuousness of a New England hamlet, the giddiness of a mid-ocean gala and the physical rigours of the Long March.”In the bubble of the bus, it is hard to know whether anyone is listening, beyond the committed partisans. It’s too early to say Scheer is punching through but he will be encouraged at the small signs of progress that suggest he is a genuine contender.• Email: | Twitter: read more

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