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.”