In a major speech to delegates at the Conservative policy convention in Halifax, Andrew Scheer said he is best positioned to take on Justin Trudeau in the next federal election, even as a former top Tory threatened to split the right-wing vote with an insurgent new party.
Scheer, who narrowly won the party leadership last year, said the conservative movement is united and on the move, racking up key election victories at the provincial level.
“We are certainly one big, strong, united, national Conservative party. And next year, we will be a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government,” Scheer said.
While he did not name Maxime Bernier — who dramatically left the party Thursday, calling it “intellectually and morally corrupt” while vowing to start his own — Scheer took a thinly veiled swipe at his former leadership foe by praising former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay at the top of his speech.
MacKay, who introduced Scheer to the convention audience, brokered a merger between his old party and Stephen Harper’s Canadian Alliance a decade and a half ago, a deal that led to much electoral success.
“Peter is someone who set his personal interests aside for the good of our party — who decided to build up and not to tear down — and our party is a living testament to his hard work,” Scheer said.
MacKay, a popular figure in the Conservative party, himself offered a full-throated defense of Scheer, saying he’s the leader who is actually in touch with the country’s middle class, a good-natured family man who espouses a brand of compassionate conservatism.
“Andrew carries a chequebook. He doesn’t have a trust fund,” MacKay said, in a reference to Trudeau.
The former senior Conservative cabinet minister brushed aside Bernier’s walk-out saying, like the weather in the Maritimes, it had already blown over. “That’s gone. That hurricane has passed.”
Scheer and his caucus colleagues have sought to discredit Bernier over the past 24 hours by saying his efforts are an ego-driven vanity project that will undermine Conservative electoral fortunes in 2019. They’ve also said Bernier has been a slacker as an MP since he lost to the Scheer.
Bernier questioned Scheer’s leadership style, suggesting Conservative party policy is now driven by the whims of polls and focus groups rather than on sound Conservative principles.
Scheer batted away such talk Friday, pointing to his own success in the leadership race — and the party’s come-from-behind byelection win in Quebec earlier this year — as proof he knows how to win.
“We didn’t win by compromising. We didn’t win by trying to impress people who will never like us. Or by changing who we are or what we believe in. We won the best way there is to win. The only way, as far as I’m concerned: We earned it. We worked harder.
“Our ideas were better,” he said, during a speech that was punctuated by frequent applause and chants of “Andrew, Andrew.”
Scheer said “more and more Canadians are seeing through Liberal deceptions” and their big government agenda.
“I remember when pundits were writing obituaries for conservative parties for not supporting a carbon tax. Now, they’re writing obituaries for parties who do. Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in Ontario are gone — thank you Ford Nation,” he said, to big applause from the Ontario Premier Doug Ford-friendly crowd.
Scheer also echoed a common theme of the convention, boasting about the Conservative party’s fundraising success in recent months. In the most recent quarter, the Tories raked in nearly twice as much money as the Liberals, but Liberal party officials have said the Conservatives spent more to actually collect those funds.
While Scheer acknowledged the ongoing tension over Bernier’s departure, he spent much of his speech attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for their perceived failings on major issues — and railing against the federal government’s plan for a national price on carbon.
“The Liberal party has finally shown its true colours. I’m talking about the real Liberal Party. The tax-hiking, rule-breaking, perk-loving, deficit-spending, debt-mounting, virtue-signaling Liberals Canadians have come to know and despise.
“Justin Trudeau tries to say Canada is back. I say the Liberals are back-back to ignoring the rules and abusing the privileges of power,” he said.