OTTAWA—Andrew Scheer is not setting out to remake the country.
In a series of five “vision” speeches over the last two months, Scheer has charted a moderate course aimed at blunting Liberal suggestions he’s a radical.
He’ll axe the Liberal government’s carbon tax, sure. But he’ll replace it with a hard cap on industrial emissions that would resemble it for most major polluters.
Scheer would take a more aggressive approach with China, currently Canada’s largest rival on the world stage, with Beijing only too happy to reciprocate the federal Conservative leader’s tough talk.
He wouldn’t rush to balance the budget after four years of Liberal deficit spending, promising to get back to black after five years rather than two, as he initially pledged. That’s aimed at countering attacks that, like Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Scheer will cut services and put public servants out of a job.
The point, according to Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos public affairs, is not so much to lay out what a Conservative government would do in Ottawa — but what it would not do.
“(Scheer’s) campaign is not going to be about the Conservative vision … his campaign is going to be the anti-Trudeau,” said Bricker on Friday.
“Conservatives don’t elect activist governments … for his coalition, plugging some of those holes and not planning fantastical programs from Ottawa is a good position for him.”
Bricker said Canadians are looking for three things from the Conservative leader — confidence, competence and dignity after four years of the Trudeau government.
“The overall atmosphere is underperformance (from the federal government),” Bricker said.
According to public polling, Scheer’s party is in a good position as the fall federal election looms into view. CBC poll tracker puts the Conservatives at 35.3 per cent, well ahead of the governing Liberals’ 29.9 per cent.
The opposition leads the government in most regions of the country, according to the polls. Liberal sources expect the party to lose upwards of 10 seats in Atlantic Canada. Quebec remains a question mark — while the Liberals believe they can pick up seats in the province, the Conservatives are also bullish about their chances in the Quebec City region.
Here’s the pitch Scheer is taking to those voters:
Scheer talked a tough line on China in his foreign affairs “vision,” while stating that Canada can no longer rely on the United States as a lock-step ally. A Conservative government would restart talks with the Americans, however, on a shared continental ballistic defence shield.
Despite their opposition to the Liberal-negotiated free-trade agreement with the Trump administration, the Conservatives will vote to support the deal, should it come before the House of Commons before the coming election.
Scheer pitched his environmental plan as the best chance Canada has to reach the 2030 Paris climate change agreement targets — but offered no specifics about how much his initiatives will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A Conservative government would reintroduce the popular Harper-era home retrofit tax credit, force polluters emitting more than 40 kilotonnes to pay into clean tech research and development, and launch a venture capitalist program for “green” technology.
A key aspect of Scheer’s economic pitch is a cross-country energy corridor for pipelines, with the intention of making Canada an “energy independent” nation.
While Scheer acknowledged that the top-line economic indicators are solid under the Liberal government, he said Canadians still have anxiety about their economy.
“People are barely getting by. And they’re definitely not getting ahead,” Scheer said
“What good is a supposedly strong economy if hard-working people aren’t benefitting from it?”
But Scheer’s economic “vision” speech had little in the way of actual economic prescriptions.
Scheer used his immigration speech to stave off criticism that the Conservatives are intolerant or unwelcoming to newcomers, though he offered no details on what immigration levels would look like under a potential Conservative government.
Scheer has pledged to eliminate interprovincial trade barriers and promised to do away with the “top-down” Ottawa-centric approach between the federal government and the provinces. In that effort, he has key allies in Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ford in Ontario, along with conservative governments in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier