By David Ljunggren and Andrea Hopkins
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s official opposition Conservatives on Saturday chose a little-known, 38-year-old leader to fight a 2019 election against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but only after a fierce contest that revealed internal divisions.
On the 13th and final round of balloting, many more than political observers predicted, former House of Commons speaker Andrew Scheer edged out ex-foreign minister and favorite Maxime Bernier by 51 percent to 49 percent.
Scheer is younger and much less well-known than the 45-year-old Trudeau, an avowed feminist who took power in November 2015 promising a more inclusive kind of politics. Polls show the Liberals are still well ahead of opposition parties.
Scheer must now try to heal a rift between the socially conservative wing he represents and others who prefer a more centrist approach.
“We all know what it looks like when conservatives are divided. We will not let that happen again,” Scheer told a televised news conference after the final results were announced in a Toronto convention center.
“Imagine what we will do when we are all working together. We can’t go through another four years of Justin Trudeau.”
The race had moments of Trump-like populism with a reality TV star and a candidate critical of immigration getting early attention. But Scheer and Bernier were more mainstream politicians, suggesting the wave of populism that swept Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency will not extend to Canada.
The right-of-center Conservatives held power for nearly a decade under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the center-left Liberals won in 2015.