OTTAWA — New Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was warmly embraced by his caucus Monday in a strong show of unity, but notes of discord are already apparent between him and at least two former leadership rivals.
Ontario MP Michael Chong, who ran on a platform to impose a revenue-neutral carbon tax arguing that the Conservatives need to address environmental concerns, sat with his hands in his lap as Scheer told his colleagues the Liberals’ carbon tax “is just a cash grab.”
“We will repeal it and we will defend the rights of provinces to not impose a carbon tax,” Scheer said to loud applause.
Chong also did not clap when Scheer said: “Conservatives realize that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to all Canadians.” He later told HuffPost Canada he is comfortable with the term and noted that he’s used it before.
When asked before the speech how he would work with Scheer despite their different environment viewpoints, Chong told reporters:
“I think my track record shows that I have always been a loyal Conservative, but always somebody who is willing to fight for the ideas that I believe in.”
Chong quit former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet in 2006 because he could not support a motion calling on the House of Commons to recognize Québécois as an independent nation within Canada. Chong believed the motion equated civic nationalism with ethnic nationalism.
Liberals tried to brand Scheer as an extremist
The Scheer camp attempted Monday to deflect another issue — the influence of the social conservatives in handing him the party’s leadership. Over the weekend, Liberals tried to brand Scheer, a practicing Roman Catholic and a social conservative, as an extremist.
"He won because of the social conservative wing of the party, so he will be under pressure to reopen those debates," Liberal whip Pablo Rodriguez said.
Scheer voted to oppose gay marriage and against expanding transgender rights. He voted in favour of all anti-abortion motions brought forward in the House.
Tory MP Garnett Genuis tried to argue Monday that Scheer’s victory was not owing to the backing of the social conservative caucus. In a HuffPost Canada blog, Genuis outlined how Scheer won the leadership on the last two ballots Saturday:
“About two-thirds of [social conservative Brad] Trost's voters went to Scheer, and a third went to [Maxime] Bernier. … Scheer then got about three-fifths of Erin O'Toole's voters, to Bernier's two-fifths. These things in combination were enough to push Scheer over the top.
“Some have said that Scheer won because of social conservatives — but it's actually much more correct to say that he won because he was able to cut both ways and gain momentum from across the conservative spectrum. He did much better with Trost's (likely) more socially conservative voters AND with the more progressive voters who generally made up O'Toole's voter coalition.”
The party confirmed Monday that 118,137 ballots were counted in the 13th round to determine the winner. Scheer received 62,593 votes, Bernier had 55,544.
Leadership contender Kellie Leitch made no mention Monday of her call to screen newcomers for so-called Canadian values, but she came to Scheer’s defence, saying she didn’t think his support among social conservatives made him less electable among women voters.
“Andrew Scheer had support from across our party. That is why he is leader of our party today. The Conservative party is made up of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds,” she said, adding that she “absolutely” planned to run again in 2019.
Scheer may be trying to create distance between himself and social conservatives, but Trost, who finished fourth Saturday with 14.3 per cent of party members’ support, told HuffPost he thinks the influence of social conservatives is now stronger than ever.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer receives a standing ovation from his caucus in Ottawa on May 29, 2017. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Noting Scheer’s “outstanding voting record” on social conservative issues, Trost said while he and fellow social conservative Pierre Lemieux “were the perfect candidates for social conservatives, Andrew wasn’t; he is more in the middle but he is not hostile. And he is open not just to people like myself but other people who share maybe more moderate views but similar views.”
“We are happy,” he added.
Social conservatives “trust” Scheer, Trost said. “I trust him to be fair and democratic about it....
“I had a good working relationship with Mr. Harper; I have an outstanding relationship with Andrew. [But] will he support me on everything I want to do? Absolutely not.”
Scheer took great pains during the campaign to distance himself from any suggestions that he would reopen the abortion debate or gay marriage.
Brad Trost speaks to the Tory convention on May 26, 2017. (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
But he did court the social conservatives’ support — support he now wishes to play down.
Earlier this month, Genuis read a note from Scheer at the “March for Life” on Parliament Hill saying that the leadership candidate was “sorry” he couldn’t be there but, as “someone who is pro-life,” thanked each and every one of them for making their views known.
More on new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer
“I’m proud to be running for leader of the Conservative party to become a prime minister under whom all Conservatives would be welcome in my caucus.”
Genuis said that Scheer pledged, when he becomes prime minister, to support Cassie and Molly’s Law, an amendment to the Criminal Code to protect women and their unborn children from violent attackers. The Liberals and New Democrats believe that bill would pave the way for limits on abortion rights.
MP reads Scheer message at anti-abortion rally
Scheer also suggested he would stop funding abortions in developing countries, saying such assistance was part of Trudeau’s “ideological agenda.”
“‘I hope you will stand with me, and with the overall majority of pro-life members of Parliament, and include me at or near the top of your ballot. Thank you.’ That is from Andrew Scheer. Thank you and God bless,” Genuis said, as he stopped reading from his BlackBerry.
Several other Tory MPs used their time on stage to call on social conservatives to vote for “solidly pro-life candidates.”
“There are three of them: Pierre Lemieux, Brad Trost, and the candidate I support, Andrew Scheer,” Manitoba MP Ted Falk said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer receives a standing ovation from Rona Ambrose and other MPs in the House of Commons on May 29, 2017. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
The Liberals, who were announcing financial support to court gay travellers, suggested Scheer will be unfriendly to the LGBTQ2 community.
Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger noted that her government is “a strong supporter of Pride parades right across this country.”
Trudeau, she said, “set the standard last year when he participated at the Toronto Pride Parade, the first ever for a sitting prime minister.
“What was special about it was the fact that it was natural for him. He had been marching in Pride parades right across the country, including in Montreal, Vancouver for many, many years.”
Pride parades, Chagger added, are “important economic tourist events for our cities” and “celebrations of Canada’s open, accepting and diverse culture, and there is nothing more important than that,” she said.
Scheer non-committal about Pride parades
Over the weekend, Scheer was non-committal about walking in gay Pride parades, when asked by Global’s public affairs program “The West Block”.
Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, Trudeau’s special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues, said the prime minister marched in the Pride parade to “demonstrate inclusion.”
“It matters to kids who are thinking about committing suicide. It matters to kids who have been kicked out of their homes by their parents because they’re intolerant of LGBTQ2 kids,” Boissonnault said. “I expect all leaders of parties in this country not just to be prepared to march in a parade, but to actually march in a parade and be fully inclusive of all Canadians. We’re talking about millions of LGBTQ2 people in our country. This is not a fringe.”
On Monday, Scheer tried to make a show of party unity, telling the caucus: “Our team is united, positive, and focused on delivering for every-day Canadians and their families in 2019.”
The new leader offered his former challengers a speaking slot during question period and most were assigned new seats on the opposition’s front bench. Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, who received 0.41 per cent of support and came in 14th place, received a seat in the second row. Trost was placed in the third row — away from the camera shots.
Scheer’s press secretary, Marc-André Leclerc, said the new leader would announce his new shadow cabinet when the House resumes in September.
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