Con­ser­va­tives up­beat about work ahead

The Beacon Herald - - NATIONAL NEWS - STEPHANIE LEVITZ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS CANA­DIAN PRESS

WIN­NIPEG — Fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives emerged Fri­day from two days of meet­ings, up­beat about the task ahead of hold­ing the Lib­er­als to ac­count and strength­en­ing their own party.

The work be­gins in earnest al­most in­stantly as Que­bec Con­ser­va­tives plan to rally next week in the Que­bec rid­ing just va­cated by long­time Tory stal­wart De­nis Lebel.

The by­elec­tion there will be an early test for new Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer and could be a tough one to pass: Lebel won Lac-Saint-Jean in 2015 with just 33 per cent of the vote.

But the Con­ser­va­tives feel wind in their sails thanks to a pro­posal by the Lib­er­als to make changes to a tax code they ar­gue cur­rently al­lows wealthy busi­nesses to get out of pay­ing tax. But busi­nesses in nearly ev­ery sec­tor of the econ­omy have said they are the ones who will take the real hit — and the Con­ser­va­tives are har­ness­ing that out­rage.

“They are hear­ing from ev­ery kind of small busi­ness across Canada, ev­ery kind,” said Scheer of the Lib­er­als.

“They are ig­nor­ing them. The Lib­eral ar­ro­gance on this is as­tound­ing.”

Along with de­vel­op­ing the lines of at­tack they’ll use against the Lib­er­als come the re­turn of Par­lia­ment, the Con­ser­va­tives are also think­ing farther down the road to how they’ll as­sem­ble and roll out their own pro­pos­als for the 2019 elec­tion.

Elec­tion strat­egy was part of the dis­cus­sion at the fall plan­ning meet­ings, with the Que­bec by­elec­tion not the only one on the hori­zon.

In­ter­imCon­ser­va­tive­lead­erRon­aAm­brose’s seat is empty in Al­berta. Saskatchewan Con­ser­va­tive MP Gerry Ritz and former Lib­eral cabi­net min­is­ter Judy Foote from New­found­land and Labrador both re­cently an­nounced their re­tire­ments.

Those three are con­sid­ered se­cure holds for their re­spec­tive par­ties, but Que­bec could be a com­pet­i­tive race. Ex­pect to see Tories on the ground there of­ten in the com­ing months. The by­elec­tion has not yet been sched­uled.

The Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date is Remy Le­clerc, a former so­cial worker who spent the last decade work­ing for Lebel. On Thurs­day, the Lib­er­als nom­i­nated a pop­u­lar lo­cal mayor, Richard He­bert.

“It’s a rid­ing that’s im­por­tant for us to win,” said Que­bec Con­ser­va­tive Maxime Bernier.

“We’re only 11 MPs in Que­bec, we need to be more mem­bers of Par­lia­ment from Que­bec if we want to win the next elec­tion.”

The party elected 12 MPs in 2015 — in­clud­ing Lebel — their best show­ing in the prov­ince un­der former leader Stephen Harper.

It came largely at the ex­pense of the col­lapse of sup­port for the New Democrats, with Tories pick­ing up seven of their seats.

Lebel’s nar­row fin­ish in a rid­ing he’d held for 10 years, how­ever, was also due to a drop in NDP sup­port and a con­se­quent boost for the Lib­er­als. The pat­tern of NDP votes going to the Lib­er­als re­peated it­self over and over again in the 2015 elec­tion and in some places cost the Tories seats.

Con­ser­va­tive deputy leader Lisa Raitt said the smaller NDP vote in At­lantic Canada, as well as in the Toronto area, were fac­tors for her party’s re­duc­tion to Op­po­si­tion sta­tus. The party an­a­lyzed re­sults like that across the coun­try dur­ing their morn­ing ses­sion Fri­day.

But just as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is ir­ri­tat­ing former Con­ser­va­tives with mea­sures like a re­view of the tax code, so too will he have to ad­dress the former New Democrats who came his way, she said.

“Mr. Trudeau has bro­ken a lot of prom­ises those NDP voters counted on and he’ll have to atone for those as well,” she said.

An un­known for the Con­ser­va­tives, how­ever, is who the New Democrats will select as their new leader next month.

Deepak Obhrai said he gave his fel­low MPs an as­sess­ment Fri­day of the po­ten­tial im­pact of can­di­date Jag­meet Singh. Obhrai called him a di­vi­sive fig­ure in the Indo-Cana­dian com­mu­nity.

“If he does be­come leader, which I’m not sure, then there is a very big po­ten­tial of many Jack Lay­ton-type NDPers look­ing for a new home,” Obhrai said.

JOHN WOODS/THE

Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada leader An­drew Scheer speaks at his shadow cabi­net meet­ing in Win­nipeg, Thurs­day. Scheer opened a two-day meet­ing of Con­ser­va­tive MPs and sen­a­tors by ham­mer­ing on the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to end what it calls un­fair tax ad­van­tages for the wealthy by chang­ing el­e­ments of the tax code.

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