Wel­come to the big tent

Sackville Tribune - - OPINION -

An­drew Scheer has nowhere to go but up in At­lantic Canada. With a hos­tile bloc of 32 Lib­eral MPS sit­ting across from him in the Com­mons, the new leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada is well aware of the chal­lenges ahead.

He must win back tra­di­tional Tory sup­port across the four At­lantic prov­inces, which voted solidly Lib­eral in 2015, if he hopes to un­seat Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his Lib­eral Party.

Just how does Mr. Scheer go about this oner­ous task?

First, he must separate him­self from his for­mer party leader and men­tor Stephen Harper. Sug­ges­tions that Mr. Scheer, who served four years as Com­mons Speaker un­der Mr. Harper, is a clone of the for­mer PM – but with a mean­ing­ful smile – will do lit­tle to en­dear him­self to the re­gion.

The last fed­eral election was a re­pu­di­a­tion by At­lantic Cana­di­ans of Mr. Harper and his poli­cies. There was a long his­tory of hos­til­ity to­ward Mr. Harper, who alien­ated this re­gion while leader of the Cana­dian Al­liance with com­ments about a “de­featist at­ti­tude” in At­lantic Canada. Many Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives felt Mr. Harper hi­jacked their party in a merger with his Cana­dian Al­liance.

Mr. Harper’s poli­cies as prime min­is­ter an­gered many At­lantic Cana­di­ans. Un­pop­u­lar changes to em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, which pe­nal­ized sea­sonal, pri­mary in­dus­tries, were among the most re­pres­sive.

Mr. Scheer has promised to stay away from di­vi­sive de­bates on sub­jects such as abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage, which he per­son­ally op­poses. He prom­ises to bal­ance the books, re­move the HST from home heat­ing bills, lower busi­ness taxes, re­peal the Lib­eral car­bon tax plan, sup­ports the En­ergy East pipe­line and deny fund­ing to uni­ver­si­ties that don’t al­low full free­dom of speech. He terms rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism as a threat to all Cana­di­ans and promised to recom­mit Cana­dian fight­ers to the bat­tle against ISIS.

Those po­si­tions should gen­er­ally find a warm re­cep­tion in At­lantic Canada. It’s a good start for

Mr. Scheer but he must be­come a fa­mil­iar face in the re­gion. He can’t be seen as a Western Cana­dian, rightwing ex­trem­ist. He must ad­dress bread and but­ter is­sues here, ex­press his po­si­tion on fish­eries mat­ters and the re­gion’s role in the fu­ture of the coun­try – other than as hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter.

There is much hope for Mr. Scheer, a 38-year-old fa­ther of five. De­spite his youth, he’s a Com­mons vet­eran, win­ning a seat at age 25 by de­feat­ing NDP stal­wart Lorne Nys­trom. He al­ready has a na­tional ap­peal by car­ry­ing the ma­jor­ity of con­ven­tion del­e­gates in B.C., Saskatchewan, On­tario and At­lantic Canada.

He’s a solid, at­trac­tive leader – with­out po­lit­i­cal bag­gage – of­fer­ing a clear choice to Cana­di­ans. But he must quickly put aside sug­ges­tions that he is heir to Mr. Harper’s legacy. He must put a pro­gres­sive el­e­ment back into the Con­ser­va­tive party. He has two years to de­velop a cred­i­ble gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing.

He must be­come a com­pas­sion­ate Con­ser­va­tive, able to bring Cana­di­ans of var­i­ous re­gions and back­grounds into his “big tent.”

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