Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has suggested the new leader of the federal NDP could be a more "authentic" champion for left-wing issues than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Scheer made the remark during a question-and-answer session after he addressed the Vancouver Board of Trade Thursday morning. Board chair Anne Giardini asked Scheer how the election of Jagmeet Singh as NDP leader could change the "competitive landscape" for Tories.
Scheer began by pointing out that Trudeau is now the oldest of the three main federal party leaders. Both Scheer and Singh are 38, while the prime minister will turn 46 next month.
I disagree with just about every single one of his positions but I have a tremendous amount of respect for who he is as a person.Andrew Scheer on Jagmeet Singh
"Finally we have two young leaders of a party and then we have the more senior Trudeau who is quite a bit older than us," he joked. "Jagmeet and I have a real opportunity to be a real voice for the younger generation of Canadians."
The Tory leader said he has spoken with Singh a few times and lauded him as a " very dynamic individual" with a "fascinating" personal story.
"I disagree with just about every single one of his positions but I have a tremendous amount of respect for who he is as a person," Scheer said.
However, the Tory leader said he is confident his message has the "potential to resonate" with different types of voters, including those on the left motivated by issues such as the environment or housing.
"The problem that Conservatives have had in the past is that we sometimes project the idea that we don't care about these issues that the left preoccupies itself with, those don't concern us," he said. "The reality is we do care. We just know that our solutions solve the problem."
He also seemed to concede that New Democrats have the potential to eat into Liberal support — something that would no doubt benefit Conservatives.
"I think Jagmeet will have an interesting opportunity to be a more authentic person on some of those issues. I think what Justin Trudeau is demonstrating is that he's not actually committed to some of these things. That a lot of it, he just pays lip service," Scheer said.
"So the NDP have an opportunity to highlight that but I'll let them worry about the dynamic there. I'm just focused on bringing my message out to as many people as I can."
The comments come a week after Trudeau called byelections in four federal ridings across the country. The race in the battleground B.C. riding of South Surrey-White Rock is already shaping up to be important. Both Scheer and Trudeau stumped for local candidates this week.
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Former Conservative MP Dianne Watts narrowly won the riding in 2015, beating a Liberal candidate by less than 1,500 votes. Watts resigned the seat in order to run for the B.C. Liberal leadership.
Tories have nominated former federal revenue minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who was defeated in another B.C. riding in 2015, as their standard-bearer this time. For their candidate, local Liberals acclaimed Gordie Hogg, a former White Rock mayor and former member of the B.C. legislature.
If Findlay loses, it would mark the second time in recent months that a previously blue seat turned red. Just last month, Liberals scored an upset win in the Quebec riding of Lac-Saint-Jean, held by former Tory minister Denis Lebel for a decade.
Trudeau pointed to the win as proof that voters are happy with his government's performance.
"Canadians are not buying what the Conservatives are selling," Trudeau told the House of Commons the day after the byelection win.
Voters in South Surrey-White Rock, as well as those in the Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster, Ontario's Scarborough-Agincourt, and Newfoundland and Labrador's Bonavista-Burin-Trinity head to the polls on Dec. 11.
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