OTTAWA — During marriage prep courses at their Roman Catholic church, Andrew and Jill Scheer picked up two tips they say have sustained their 14 year partnership: Learn to move past old fights and make it easy to say sorry.
So, when Jill gets a speeding ticket while Andrew is in the passenger seat, as happened recently? That, he lets go.
The ongoing trials of Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau? As leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew’s not dropping that one any time soon.
But the line of separation between politics and home life for the Scheers is set to get a little less sharp in 2018 as the Conservatives move to position Andrew as the next best leader for the country.
Neither he nor Jill will ever achieve the stratospheric personal celebrity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and the party knows it.
So they’re going a different route — working on policies they say are more reflective of everyday Canadians than the Liberal path, and presenting a leader with a family more representative of them too.
The Scheers insist that part isn’t just optics.
Last week, Andrew lobbed a zinger over at Trudeau in response to the Liberals’ plan to buy used fighter jets.
“If the prime minister is so keen on buying fixer-uppers, will he come over? Because I’ve got an old minivan I’d love to show him,” he said.
He wasn’t joking. Two days earlier, Andrew pulled up for an interview at the east-end Boston Pizza where the duo used to date in a dark blue minivan. Moments later, Jill pulled up in another.
“We’re very normal, average Canadians,” says Jill.
“Five kids, I guess that’s a bit exceptional, but other than that we’re down to earth.”
While Andrew’s happy to dive into a political discussion about populism or about changing the culture on Parliament Hill to encourage more women to speak up about sexual harassment, Jill holds back from weighing in at any length.
She’s political, she said, but only to a point.
“I’ve been really busy raising five kids. I joked once that until they interrupt Treehouse to bring us breaking news, I won’t probably catch everything,” she says.
While Andrew often draws comparisons with former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, watching the Scheers as a couple brings to mind the easy chemistry between the Trudeaus.
Over nearly an hour, the 38-year-olds finish each other’s sentences, tease each other to the point of blushing over parenting pitfalls — they once nearly drove off without one of the kids — and clearly delight in the happy relationships they have with their family.
Andrew relishes the opportunity, he says, to take a step back from the cut-and-thrust of the House of Commons when he gets home.
“I’m in this bubble in Centre Block and we’re all agonizing over where we’re going to put the comma in a statement . . .” he says.
“He’ll come home and say something and I’m like, ‘That’s not a thing, nobody is talking about that,’” Jill interjects.
Still, she’s begun slowly stepping into her own spotlight.
This fall, Jill hosted her first solo event on Parliament Hill to raise awareness of the worldwide bone marrow registry, after her nephew needed a transplant and struggled to find a donor in 2016.
Over the next year, she expects to travel more with Andrew as well, often with the kids in tow.
They made two political tours together over the past summer, partially as a chance to spend quality family time ahead of the move to Ottawa.
It was also an early test run of Brand Scheer, with the family’s daily activities chronicled on the party’s social media accounts.
“It’s not just good for the family dynamic, but it also helps to showcase that side that’s not just a political side for me,” Andrew says.
Though Andrew might be in daily direct competition with Justin Trudeau, Jill says she’s never thought of herself as up against Sophie.
“I never think of it as us versus them,” she says.
“I just always go about my business and I’m just going to always be me.”
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press