New Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer seems to embrace the notion he is “Stephen Harper with a smile” but says Canadians will see a much different style from him as he leads his party into the next election more than two years down the road.
“My approach will be different and I can connect with Canadians in a different way and bring out the positive aspects of Conservative policies,” Scheer told CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
“That’s one of the things that has frustrated me in the past with conservatives of different levels at various times. We have such a great story to tell. What’s better for low-income Canadians than a Conservative Party that’s always focusing on increasing prosperity, attracting investment, making it easier for businesses to hire and expand? What’s worse than a Liberal government that’s driving away investment, raising taxes and making it harder for those families to make ends meet to get to the end of the month?”
Scheer will be tasked with taking on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2019. He faces big challenges, including being relatively unknown to the electorate and trying to unite a heavily divided party. He’s on a cross-Canada tour trying to make a dent in both those barriers.
“We’ve got two years to make a case to Canadians about how the Conservative party can make Canada’s economy more dynamic and restore some sanity for taxpayers,” said Scheer, 38, the surprise winner in the May 27 leadership vote.
Maxime Bernier was long considered the front-runner in a crowded race that at its peak included 14 candidates. Scheer eked out the narrowest of victories.
Though he may not be a household name, Scheer has held some high-profile posts and is among one of the longest-serving Conservative MPs. He was elected in 2004 to his Regina riding at the age of 25 and named Speaker of the House in 2011, making him the youngest to hold that post in Canadian history.
He’s also been chair of the powerful Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the operations of Parliament and was named Conservative House leader by interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose in 2015. Scheer, a father of five, is generally thought of as a nice guy, even in the heat of politics, who is able to connect with ordinary Canadians.
He’s also socially conservative. He was raised in Ottawa by his Catholic parents; his mother, a nurse and his father, a librarian in the Ottawa Citizen’s newsroom. Despite his own personal views on the issues, Scheer has vowed he will not reopen debate on abortion, same-sex marriage or granting human rights protection to transgender people if he became prime minister.
He did not attend Toronto’s Pride parade, carrying on the tradition of Harper. Trudeau was the first sitting PM to march in the parade in 2016. When asked whether marching in the parade might have been a smart symbolic move, he said: “There’s a lot of different ways to show our support for fundamental human rights and making sure that Canada’s society treats everyone equally. The Pride parade is one that many people choose to use to express their support. There are others way to do that.”
Scheer says he will demand all MPs stand up in the House of Commons when it resumes sitting to publicly express their stance on the controversial $10.5-million payout to Omar Khadr.
“Conservatives will be expressing our sympathy for the real victims in this whole tragic ordeal and that’s the Speer family, the family of Christopher Speer, the medic who was killed on the battlefield. And Omar Khadr has confessed to doing that.”
He also believes it’s time Canada’s indigenous and northern affairs minister decides whether a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women requires a “complete reset.” Some families have called for a reboot of the process after the resignation of one of the five commissioners and a number of staff.
“There has been a lot of money spent so far,” said Scheer. “There’s been a lot of emotional engagement by the First Nations community. We don’t want to have to restart that process if we don’t have to.”
He says his riding includes 12 First Nations reserves, making him well aware of concerns for those living both on and off reserves.
“That’s where a lot of the conversation, I think, needs to focus on. What is causing people to lose contact or go missing? How can the community, both on and off reserve, better support these families and what kind of strategies can be employed by our police services and things like that.”