Party of who?

All eyes on An­drew Scheer as Con­ser­va­tive con­ven­tion set for Halifax

The Western Star - - ATLANTIC -

Af­ter a week of in­ter­nal cau­cus squab­bles, Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer will try to re­fo­cus the spot­light on try­ing to con­vince Cana­di­ans his party is a gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing.

Party mem­bers from across the coun­try are pre­par­ing to gather this week for their first pol­icy con­ven­tion since Scheer was elected chief last year.

The three-day event be­gin­ning Thurs­day in Halifax comes on the heels of a week of headaches for the Op­po­si­tion party in Ot­tawa, in­flicted prin­ci­pally by Que­bec MP Maxime Bernier. Af­ter tweet­ing his view that pro­mot­ing too much di­ver­sity is bad for Canada, sev­eral mem­bers of the party — in­clud­ing Scheer him­self — de­nounced the no­tion, lead­ing to ques­tions about whether Bernier would be booted from cau­cus.

Scheer has de­murred from opin­ing on these “in­ter­nal cau­cus matters.’’ But dis­cus­sions are bound to erupt among grass­roots party mem­bers at the con­ven­tion about the open rift be­tween the two MPs, who came within a ra­zor’s edge of one an­other in last year’s lead­er­ship race.

Party of­fi­cials had hoped to fo­cus the con­ven­tion on un­veil­ing some of Scheer’s vi­sions and pol­icy ideas in ad­vance of the 2019 elec­tion cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to se­nior in­sid­ers. A speech by the leader planned for Fri­day night of the con­ven­tion is be­ing pro­moted by or­ga­niz­ers as the high­light.

But the Bernier de­bate could threaten to knock Scheer off mes­sage and serve as a dis­trac­tion from the of­fi­cial agenda — all of which would be­come fod­der for the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als, said Con­ser­va­tive strate­gist Tim Pow­ers.

“This con­ven­tion can’t be­come the next great Halifax ex­plo­sion,’’ he said.

“A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to want to try to fig­ure out what is go­ing on with Bernier and how that may im­pact party unity and for­tunes go­ing for­ward ... so the chal­lenge for Mr. Sheer and his team is go­ing to be to try to bring the spot­light back on the party as an en­tity that’s ready to com­pete with the Lib­er­als.’’

At is­sue is not only a per­son­al­ity dis­pute be­tween two high­pro­file mem­bers of the party, but also a de­sire by some within the mem­ber­ship to con­demn the Trudeau Lib­er­als’ so-called “virtue sig­nalling’’ — the pub­lic flag­ging of moral cor­rect­ness, says Con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Alise Mills.

This frus­tra­tion with Justin Trudeau’s ap­proach is the rea­son Bernier’s tweets crit­i­ciz­ing the prime min­is­ter for “ex­treme mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism’’ are res­onat­ing with many Con­ser­va­tives, Mills said.

“Di­ver­sity wasn’t the real is­sue, it’s the virtue sig­nalling and what Cana­di­ans seem­ingly are will­ing to ac­cept in place of real pol­icy and thought­ful­ness.’’ But while such dis­cus­sions likely will play out in some way at the con­ven­tion, mem­bers will also vote on six dozen pol­icy res­o­lu­tions, in­clud­ing sev­eral that prom­ise to spark lively de­bate.

One res­o­lu­tion pro­poses to scrap sup­ply man­age­ment of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, an is­sue that will high­light the ScheerBern­ier squab­ble as they have taken op­pos­ing stances.

Other res­o­lu­tions deal with reg­u­lat­ing abor­tion, re­peal­ing gen­der iden­tity leg­is­la­tion “which com­pels Cana­di­ans to ut­ter made-up pro­nouns like ‘ze’ and ‘zir,’ and at­tempt­ing to change the word­ing of the party’s pol­icy pro­mot­ing equal­ity for women to equal­ity for ‘’Cana­di­ans.”

The party mem­ber­ship has ap­proved 74 res­o­lu­tions for con­sid­er­a­tion, di­vid­ing them into three lists to be de­bated by groups of del­e­gates in work­shops. Only about 10 res­o­lu­tions from each work­shop will then be pre­sented for de­bate by the en­tire mem­ber­ship.

Mills says she hopes the de­bates, and res­o­lu­tions passed, will re­flect the party’s be­lief in small gov­ern­ment — “that we’re get­ting out of the way of Cana­di­ans liv­ing their lives and we’re do­ing that with eco­nomic and fis­cal and so­cial pol­icy.’’

Ja­son Li­etaer, a Con­ser­va­tive strate­gist who worked in Stephen Harper’s war room in 2011, says he be­lieves all the talk of divi­sion and in-fight­ing within the party will be put to rest once Tories ac­tu­ally gather Thurs­day in Halifax.

The event will rally the troops and act as the soft launch of the 2019 elec­tion, Li­etaer said.

“This is an elec­tion readi­ness kind of thing and I think peo­ple will be look­ing at Mr. Scheer and tak­ing the mea­sure of him,’’ he said.

“Most of the mem­bers, like me, want to see him do­ing well and know that he can be com­pet­i­tive and has got a chance to win the next elec­tion.’’

CP PHOTO

Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer makes his way past re­porters as he leaves a cau­cus meet­ing on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa on June 13, 2018.

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