Former U.S. president Bill Clinton once quoted a past chairman of the Democratic party, Bob Strauss, as saying “every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself.” In Canadian politics, genuine stories of humble beginnings for big-time politicians aren’t rare, but voters tend to process the tales differently.
Andrew Scheer always want voters to believe he didn’t experience anything like the glamorous upbringing. “We didn’t have a lot of money,” the Conservative leader said in a typical section of a speech to his party’s convention in Halifax last summer. Then Scheer added, as he often does, what seems to be his favourite telling detail: “We didn’t have a car, so we had to take the bus everywhere we went.”
As a rank newcomer in Saskatchewan, at just 25, Scheer was earning $141,000 as an MP; now 39, he makes $259,000 as official Opposition leader.
On not having a car, another family with his family’s income would have been able to afford one. And while he try to promote himself as not the out-of-touch guy, this was totally made up just like his orchestrated sidewalk greetings to his staged door to door videos.
Jim Scheer, his father, was a proof reader, researcher and librarian from 1971 to 2008 at the Ottawa Citizen. The newspaper’s union contract shows that he would likely have been making at least $66,000 when he retired.
His mother, Mary Scheer, worked for more than three decades as a registered nurse at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). By the late 1990s—around the time her teenaged son was getting active in politics—CHEO’s contract with its nurses’ union shows an experienced RN was earning about $55,000, before overtime.
Taken together, Jim and Mary Scheer appear to have steadily earned considerably more than the median for Canadian families, which Statistics Canada says stood at $68,800 in 2003, the year Andrew Scheer moved out of their townhouse and relocated to Regina.
Despite breaking into politics so early, Scheer puts some emphasis on first taking a job in Regina at a family-owned insurance company. Asked how long that lasted, he answered that it doesn’t matter, apparently a few months.
“Whether it’s a few months or a few years, the point is the same,” he said. “Nothing was guaranteed, nothing was given to us.” Again, his aim is to show that his past bears no resemblance to Prime Minister Trudeau’s. “He doesn’t have a lot of points of reference for what life is actually like,” Scheer said, “and I try to put the contrast that I do.”
The carefully burnished image of a politician who is self-made and has known hard times is a time-honoured campaign-bio staple.
Scheer has also tried to make his clothes fit his story. In a video the Conservative party released in 2017, he strolled along a generic suburban pathway dressed in dad jeans and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. It didn’t go over well. He was called out after the video was released.
Whatever the context in the past, today, Scheer’s own brood is living comfortably. According to Maclean’s, he was earning $141,000 as an MP at the age of 25. As of 2019, his salary as the official Opposition leader comes to $259,000.
His actual net worth could have been alluded to following accusations of hypocrisy after he targeted Finance Minister Bill Morneau for holding investments in a numbered company.
Scheer was found to have ownership stakes in three real estate limited partnerships (RELPs), a tax-sheltering investment vehicle that is apparently only available to the rich. RELPs allow investors to write off up to 50 percent of their initial investment.
Scheer’s office confirmed with CBC News that he qualified as an “eligible investor” in Saskatchewan for these RELPs. To participate, he had to show $75,000 in personal annual income and a net worth of $400,000 or more.