Scott Reid, an Ottawa-area and long-serving Conservative MP says that under outgoing leader Andrew Scheer he was “sacked” from his role as critic for democratic institutions after breaking ranks and voting in favour of cannabis legalization.
In a blog post sharing his ideas for the future of the party given the upcoming leadership contest, Reid also opens up about his 2018 experience of being ousted as the Conservatives' leading voice on democratic reforms, in making his case for why he thinks the party has become too “dictatorial” when it comes to centralized caucus discipline.
Reid says that he was removed by Scheer from his role as critic for democratic institutions in the Conservative “shadow cabinet”— the roster of critics for the various ministerial files — two months after he voted in favour of the Liberal’s marijuana legalization legislation, Bill C-45 in November 2017.
Prior to the vote Reid says, when he surveyed his constituents on whether they were supportive of legalization, 55 per cent of the 3,000 respondents wanted him to vote in favour, so he did. He was the only Conservative to vote in support of the bill at the final House of Commons vote on the bill, others did abstain.
Reid says that while his caucus was divided on the issue, there was no vote in caucus about the party’s position and instead “the leadership simply imposed a decision from above.”
“Had I voted against my constituents, I would have destroyed my credibility as my party’s spokesman on democracy issues,” Reid said in the post.
Prior to the vote, but after he published the results of his riding survey, Reid says he was “summoned” to Scheer’s office and informed that he either vote against the bill, resign his critic role and share a pre-drafted Leaders’ office press release explaining why, or be fired. He turned down the option to step down, and was told he’d be relegated to the backbenches so long as Scheer was at the helm.
Two months later, in January 2018, Scheer issued a press release announcing Reid was out of his shadow cabinet role, and after a reporter called to ask what the reason was, Reid admits he “lied,” out of loyalty to the leader, stating it was about balancing time and responsibilities he had with his family’s business.
Reid’s father founded the company Giant Tiger, a discount store chain that has locations across the country.
“Caucus discipline is certainly a real thing, as are the practices of stripping MPs of committee assignments or conveniently-situated offices as punishments,” Reid writes, talking about what he’s seen and experienced happening when MPs disobey the will of the leader, vote with either their conscience or will of their constituents. He said that by the end of the last Parliament “had become as dictatorial in its demands, and as opaque in its management practices, as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.”
“It is a sign of just how craven our political culture has become, that there will be some people who will say that I was right to lie to a journalist in January 2018, and am wrong to come clean about it now at the tail-end of 2019,” Reid writes.
CTV News asked Reid for an interview but, according to his office, he is unavailable as he is currently out of the country. He remains off of the Conservative party’s critic roster.
Scheer’s office told CTV News in an email that it has “nothing to add,” to Reid’s comments.
The overall purpose of the blog post was not about airing this story of his ouster, rather he was writing about how he thinks it’s time for his party to take the lead on democracy issues. In the post he also calls for the Conservatives to advocate for an elected Senate, defend the current first-past-the-post electoral system, and assert that the only “reasonable alternative” would be proportional representation if it was decided on in a referendum with a fully-designed proposal.
First elected in 2000, Reid represents the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, Ont. and this post is billed as the first in a series of continuing essays on the three planks he sees as central to a contemporary Conservative party. Posts on equality inclusiveness and civil liberties; and the economy and the environment are still to come.
Over the holiday lull a handful of Conservatives have initiated informal online discussions about their ideas for the future of the party in light of Scheer announcing his intention to resign once a replacement is named.
This has included fellow MP Michelle Rempel, who has floated some criteria for eligibility in the upcoming race and suggested it’s time for the party to offer free memberships.
While top-down leadership complaints and whipped votes on key issues are common across party lines, Conservative strategist and former Scheer campaign staffer Jamie Ellerton said it comes with the reality of the post-mortem phase.
“One of the things you will see is an ongoing desire amongst Conservatives across the country to be able to speak out and have more democratic engagement as opposed to top-down style leadership,” Ellerton said, noting that this is part of the broader discussion going on about “the kind of party that the Conservative party wants to be, and the values and principles it’s going to stand for.”
Freshly-defeated MP Lisa Raitt is now at the helm of an effort to elect Scheer’s replacement, as the co-chair of the organizing committee for the upcoming race. In an interview with CTV News, Raitt said that while differing policy positions should be allowed and expressed within a party without reprimand, at the end of the day there needs to be some unity around the direction the party is headed.
“It’s important to have the discussions internally, but then once a decision is made, like a vote, then you move forward and you support the positon of the party,” Raitt said.