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After two conventions in 2000 in Ottawa, Reform was recast as the Canadian Alliance, and Scheer shifted to work on Manning’s campaign to lead the rebranded party.When the Albertan patriarch of populism was upset by B. MP Stockwell Day for the Alliance leadership, Scheer stayed on to work in Day’s operation on the Hill in correspondence and communications.During this period of upheaval, Scheer combined studying history and political science at the University of Ottawa with his party work on the Hill, while still living at home.

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Canadian Alliance candidate Preston Manning (right) gives a high five to Andrew Scheer, then of the University of Ottawa Canadian Alliance Club during a stop in the Manning campaign headquarters in Ottawa, Monday, July 3, 2000.

(Jonathan Hayward/CP) He arrived on Parliament Hill at a watershed moment.

The big headline, “Secret firing squad executes Ceausescus,” wouldn’t have held much interest for many kids.

But for Scheer, who was elected leader of the federal Conservatives in May, the story was gripping.

Reading that report from Romania, he recalled in a recent interview, fired his interest in politics in a new way.

It said the ousted dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena had been tried and convicted by a military tribunal on Christmas Day.

The early partisan experiences of Scheer, Marshall and their peers were dominated by the struggle to reconstitute an alternative to the Liberals that actually stood a chance of forming a government. MP Chuck Strahl, now 60, watched Scheer and his cohort internalize the lesson that unity was imperative. He went through the angst we all went through,” Strahl says.

“It was obvious after the ’97 election that as long as there were two small-c conservative parties trying to destroy each other, the Liberals would win every election,” Scheer says. “It was unproductive, it was cranky, it was bitter.” The way those formative experiences inscribed the danger of schism on Scheer’s political DNA defined his leadership run. When he was trailing Kevin O’Leary (who eventually dropped out) and Maxime Bernier (the odds-on favourite after O’Leary’s exit), some of Scheer’s campaign strategists urged him to get tough.

“You’d hear chatter around a conference call,” says Strahl, who chaired Scheer’s campaign, “and then after a few minutes, Andrew would come on and say, ‘This is why this will not work: the party will not accept us attacking a front-runner for personal aggrandizement.’ ” Scheer’s bet that casting himself as a unifier would work better than exploiting divisions paid off.

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