TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sauntered through the campaign starting gate Wednesday with a clear plan to make this election about your finances and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s ethics.
This is the sixth federal campaign for the 40-year-old Scheer but his first as Conservative leader, and his first order of business was reviving attacks on Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Scheer went on the offensive after a report in the Globe and Mail that said the RCMP has been examining potential obstruction of justice in the handling of the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but has been limited by the federal government’s refusal to lift cabinet confidentiality for all witnesses.
“We made the case that he has lost the moral authority to govern,” Scheer said, in a short interview at the Ottawa airport Wednesday morning.
Scheer said Trudeau has lied repeatedly about what he did to push former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to offer a negotiated settlement to the Quebec engineering firm, which is facing criminal charges over alleged corrupt dealings in Libya. By refusing to let everyone involved talk fully about everything to do with the matter, Trudeau is covering it all up, Scheer said.
But Scheer said his Conservatives offer an appealing alternative to the Trudeau Liberals, with a “vision for the country to put more money back into the pockets of Canadians and let them get ahead.”
Scheer took that message first to the riding of Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, which the Conservatives haven’t won since 1988. The seat was a Bloc Quebecois stronghold until 2011, when the NDP captured it in the “orange wave” across Quebec. With the NDP’s support in Quebec failing, the Conservatives see Trois-Rivieres as a definite chance for a pick-up. It’s one of a number of seats in the populated corridor along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City that are considered up for grabs come Oct. 21.
“We are going to win seats all over Quebec,” Scheer said.
His first day was detoured slightly by bad weather, forcing his plane to land in Quebec City and then take his campaign bus 90 minutes down the road to Trois-Rivieres. The sun and a couple of hundred Conservative supporters came out for his first campaign speech, but so did a handful of union protesters from the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
The small group of about a dozen protesters, some sporting signs reading “Stop Scheer”, blew whistles and horns in an attempt to disrupt Scheer’s speech. His supporters responded by starting to chant “Andrew” to drown them out, before police forced the protesters to move on.
Scheer brought some specific messages to Quebec, including reiterating his pledge to institute a single tax return for Quebec voters. Quebec is the only province where taxpayers must file provincial and federal tax forms.
The Conservative election platform will have other measures to help voters and lower the cost of living, he said.
Scheer also was asked to address some other issues that could move Quebec votes, including Bill 21, the province’s new secularism legislation, which forbids some public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Much like Trudeau, Scheer said he will leave the bill to the court actions underway provincially and let Quebec courts decide.
“For our part we will not proceed with this type of initiative at the federal level,” he said.
He would not directly answer a question about whether he thinks the legislation interferes with individual religious rights.
Scheer was also asked about a Quebec court ruling Wednesday declaring some parts of the federal assisted-dying law too restrictive and giving Ottawa six months to fix it. He said he hadn’t had time yet to review the decision but would respect the courts in whatever response a Conservative government would make.
Wednesday evening Scheer heads to the seat-rich Toronto area to help launch the Conservative candidate’s campaign in Vaughan-Woodbridge, a riding the Conservatives lost to the Liberals four years ago.
Scheer begins the 40-day campaign with polls suggesting the Conservatives are essentially tied with the Liberals and the NDP and Greens are fighting for third.