Can the Federal Tories Make a Comeback in 2019?

On Thursday evening, a little over 200 party supporters attended the Cumberland Colchester Conservative Association’s annual dinner in Truro. The keynote speaker was party leader Andrew Scheer, who is one year into the job.

This article is informed by that speech and a telephone interview with Mr. Scheer in the afternoon.

The attendees were mostly older Tories. Many were from other parts of the province, including all five contenders for the provincial Progressive Conservative leadership. There were lots of pictures taken, but few if any selfies.

Interim provincial leader Karla MacFarlane gave a nice introduction, highlighting that Truro native Robert Stanfield won four consecutive majorities and yet was able to remain humble, an attribute that she felt Scheer also exhibited.

Scheer spoke for about fifteen minutes without notes. Here are some of his policy positions:

  1. Pipelines: Buying out Kinder Morgan would not have been necessary if the government had acted earlier to remove regulatory uncertainty. Even now he feels there were ways to give the proponents clarity without nationalizing the project. If elected he would attempt to revive the Northern Gateway and Energy East projects, inviting the proponents to resubmit based on the original criteria, not the added ones concerning upstream emissions, among others. He argues that foreign tankers arriving with oil from Saudi Arabia or Venezuela are not judged on that basis. The logic of this analogy is not obvious.
  2. Climate Change: He agrees that reducing greenhouse gases is an important objective. The party is developing its policy and expects to reveal it in the coming months. It will not include carbon taxes, but will include incentives to reduce emissions.
  3. Trade: He is generally supportive of the Liberal government’s efforts on NAFTA. He feels it is important for the country to speak with a united voice. That said he feels the government should have developed deeper ties with like-minded US businesses as part of the lobbying effort. He does not disagree with the Liberals’ response to the steel and aluminum tariffs. He worries that this is going to hurt workers on both sides of the border and that, given the volubility of the Trump administration, it could easily spin out of control.
  4. The Border: Scheer is emphatic that Canada should welcome immigrants, of every race and religion, that come through the front door. He disagrees with the Liberals’ handling of illegal entrants at unofficial border crossings. He notes that those entrants are “jumping the queue” of immigration applicants, many of whom have been waiting for years, and that the resources that are tied up dealing with the illegal immigrants could otherwise have been dealing with regular immigrants, and genuine refugees trying to escape violence. He would like to treat the entire border as an official crossing so that those seeking to cross could be turned back. He is not clear how this could be implemented without cooperation from the Americans.
  5. Small Business: He criticized Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s proposals to change the tax regime for small businesses. It is true that the initiative was poorly designed and communicated, but the underlying inequity in favour of those tax payers remains.
  6. Taxes and Finances: Scheer stresses that he wants to communicate a positive vision for the country. He favours balanced budgets. He wants to get the maximum combined federal and provincial tax rates back down to 50%.

On the political side, Scheer is pleased with fundraising efforts that are bringing in money at twice the rate of the Liberals. He says he is getting interest from many excellent potential candidates. The polls have been turning in his favour recently, with the latest CBC poll tracker showing him ahead in popular vote.

When Justin Trudeau was speaking to the Liberal gathering in Halifax, he argued that while it was Scheer’s smile that people were seeing, it was still Stephen Harper’s party. That does not fit.

Harper’s leadership of the federal party was a burden to the provincial party. Local Tories wanting to get elected provincially did not want to talk about the federal scene. By contrast, the room in Truro received Scheer’s confident and positive message warmly.

That said, the Liberals won all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada in 2015 and the Tories are unlikely to change that by a lot in 2019.

There are always overlaps between provincial and federal politics. In the June 7th Ontario election, the Progressive Conservatives may once again snatch defeat from the certain jaws of victory under the incoherent leadership of Doug Ford. When asked, Scheer of course predicted that an NDP government would drive heavily indebted Ontario into even deeper trouble.

He did not comment on how things might turn out under a Doug Ford government. But federal Tories must be worried that a Ford government as chaotic as the Ford campaign would stain the federal brand. The 2019 federal election will be close and is likely to be decided by which way Ontario turns.


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