Lib­er­als quick to pounce,

New Tory leader’s far-right val­ues pro­vide strong am­mu­ni­tion for Trudeau


OT­TAWA— Andrew Scheer’s vic­tory speech was pep­pered with at­tacks on Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

But on Sun­day, the two spoke by phone in the af­ter­math of Scheer’s win, one that now also makes him the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion leader in the House of Com­mons.

Trudeau called Scheer from Italy, where the prime min­is­ter is cur­rently on a state visit fol­low­ing the G7 sum­mit.

“They dis­cussed is­sues of im­por­tance in­clud­ing mak­ing Par­lia­ment work for Cana­di­ans and the im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship with the United States,” read a state­ment from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.

“They agreed to meet in person in the com­ing weeks.”

De­spite the pro forma call, the Lib­er­als have not wasted time at­tack­ing Scheer ei­ther, painting him as an ex- trem­ist, with his call for an end to fed­eral fund­ing for uni­ver­si­ties who don’t guar­an­tee free speech on cam­pus.

They also re­leased a new video about pos­i­tive pol­i­tics Sun­day, draw­ing on a two-year-old speech from Trudeau to show­case him as an in­clu­sive leader, in an ap­par­ent con­trast to Scheer’s so­cially con­ser­va­tive roots.

It’s likely to be some time be­fore Scheer and Trudeau face off there how­ever, as the prime min­is­ter is out of the coun­try for most of the com­ing week.

Still, Scheer is ex­pected to lead off ques­tion pe­riod on Mon­day, af­ter a morn­ing meet­ing with the 98 other mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who make up his cau­cus.

The out­come of Satur­day’s lead­er­ship vote didn’t sub­stan­tially change the gov­ern­ing party’s nar­ra­tive.

“If you look at it, at the end of the day it was a con­test be­tween the far-right so­cial con­ser­va­tives and the far-right eco­nomic con­ser­va­tives and the far-right so­cial con­ser­va­tives won the day,” summed up Que­bec Lib­eral MP Pablo Rodriguez.

Still, Scheer’s not a mod­er­ate or a pro­gres­sive in the vein of fifth-place fin­isher Michael Chong or A-lis­ters such as Peter MacKay and James Moore who didn’t run, any of whom Lib­eral in­sid­ers said might have pre­sented more prob­lems for them.

And Lib­er­als said they have plenty of am­mu­ni­tion against Scheer, start­ing with the fact that he owes his squeaker vic­tory over Maxime Bernier largely to the sup­port of so­cial con­ser­va­tives who want to re­open di­vi­sive de­bates about abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage. Scheer, a so­cial con­ser­va­tive him­self, in­sists he wants to fo­cus on the is­sues that unite Con­ser­va­tives, not di­vide them. But Rodriguez pre­dicted he won’t have much choice.

“He won be­cause of the so­cial con­ser­va­tive wing of the party so he will be un­der pres­sure to re­open those de­bates,” Rodriguez said.

And then there’s Scheer’s own record when it comes to abor­tion rights, gay rights or, most re­cently, a trans­gen­der rights bill.

“Make no mis­take about it, this is some­body who has voted against ev­ery sin­gle civil rights ad­vance­ment in the last 25 years,” said Toronto Lib­eral MP Adam Vaughan.

Worse, in Vaughan’s view, Scheer is now pro­mot­ing a new brand of so­cial con­ser­vatism with his prom­ise to cut off fund­ing to uni­ver­si­ties that fail to pro­tect free speech by al­low­ing stu­dent protests to shut down things like events with pro-Is­rael guest speak­ers or meet­ings of those who op­pose abor­tion.

“He’s some­body who wants to be in charge of the thought po­lice,” Vaughan scoffed.

“Aca­demic free­dom and the abil­ity for uni­ver­si­ties to self-gov­ern are as fun­da­men­tal to the func­tion of democ­racy as just about ev­ery other com­po­nent of the demo­cratic sys­tem. You can­not have free and open de­bate if you’re be­ing told who should talk and who shouldn’t talk.”

In ad­di­tion to the so­cial con­ser­va­tive wedge the Lib­er­als in­tend to drive, they ac­cuse Scheer of want­ing to roll back the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s mid­dle-class tax cut, re­ward the wealth­i­est 1 per cent and for­sake any plan to com­bat cli­mate change.

In one re­spect, Lib­er­als think Scheer’s nar­row win over Bernier may have been a bless­ing in dis­guise, at least when it comes to Lib­eral for­tunes in Que­bec. Bernier’s op­po­si­tion to sup­ply man­age­ment cost him sup­port in his home prov­ince, but he prob­a­bly would have fared bet­ter in Que­bec in a gen­eral elec­tion than Scheer.

“It’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge for (Scheer) in Que­bec,” Rodriguez said. “No­body knows him.”

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