Six ways Conservatives look to break with Trudeau government

July 26, 2019

Canada under Andrew Scheer: six ways Conservatives look to break with Trudeau government

By NINA RUSSELL      
While he didn’t abandon the Paris targets as some speculated he would, he pledged to roll back almost every other Liberal environmental policy, starting with the carbon-pricing regime.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, in one of his first of five policy speeches, says he would push for a 'total reset' of Canada's relations with China amid tensions over the detention of two Canadians. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has sought to cast himself as a staunch defender of the border, the rights of gun owners, Canada’s foreign policy interests, and dairy farmers in the lead-up to the October election. 

Here are six ways the Conservatives would seek to break with the Trudeau government’s approach:

‘Total reset’ of relations with Beijing

In seeking to contrast his approach to diplomacy with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s, Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) levelled the critique that the government has prioritized “style over substance,” pointing to the rash of gaffes that plagued his India trip and inability to defuse tensions with China over the detention of two Canadians and the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. 

In his first of five policy speeches, Mr. Scheer said the Conservatives would instead position Canada to take a stronger stance against the threat it faces. He identified China as a bigger threat than Russia, arguing that, if elected, he would push for a “total reset” on Ottawa’s relationship with Beijing. That would entail scrapping Canada’s $250-million funding agreement with China’s Asian Infrastructure Bank, which provides loans to finance infrastructure projects in the Asia Pacific, and look beyond China to deepen trade relations in the region. 

According to Mr. Scheer, a Conservative government would “be forced to consider other trading partners” and reach out to democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. “My goal is better relations,” Mr. Scheer said. “My goal is more economic opportunity. But that can only come after we make a stand. And I will.”

In another departure with the current government, Mr. Scheer said that he’d follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

Carbon tax is out, green technology is in

Mr. Scheer has championed scrapping the carbon tax that’s become a rallying cry for conservative premiers against what they argue is federal overreach. His long-awaited climate plan—A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment—instead hinges on the development of green technology to help in offsetting carbon emissions. 

He promised to outsource responsibility for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to other countries through exporting clean Canadian alternatives to coal-reliant countries like China and prioritize developing clean technology, which can be shared with others.

While he didn’t abandon the Paris targets as some speculated he would, he pledged to roll back almost every other Liberal environmental policy, starting with the carbon-pricing regime. 

“Just last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that in order to reach Paris, the Liberal Carbon tax would have to be over $100 per tonne—in all 10 provinces, not just those Trudeau has forced his tax on,” Mr. Scheer said during the unveiling of his plan on June 19. “As an environmental policy, the carbon tax is—by every possible measure and projection—a failure of epic proportions.”

With a focus on developing Canada’s energy sector through pipeline development, Mr. Scheer has repeatedly stated that he will be repealing bills C-69, the feds’ legislative overhaul of the environmental assessment process, and C-48 on setting a moratorium on oil tanker traffic, if he is elected. He has railed against both C-69, which shifts focus to environmental and social concerns for the approval of major infrastructure projects like pipelines, and C-48, which bans oil tankers off the B.C. coast, claiming that they will kill jobs and worsen rising sentiments of Western alienation.

Elimination of immigration ‘loopholes’

Notable during Mr. Scheer’s immigration speech, which he titled “Unity in Diversity,” was silent on whether the Conservatives would seek to limit the number of immigrants Canada accepts each year. Instead, he offered that the Conservatives will “set immigration levels consistent with what is in Canada’s best interests.” 

He also took aim at the Safe Third Country Agreement—a Canada-U.S. deal that allows refugee claimants to only appeal for refuge in the country in which they first arrive—which he claimed has been used by asylum seekers to game the system and “skip the line.” Refugee advocates see it differently, arguing that there isn’t a queue for making a claim. 

The agreement has been a subject of contention across all parties after Amnesty International called on the Trudeau government to suspend it, arguing that the U.S. can no longer be considered safe in light of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and his attacks on immigrants. 

The Liberals remain in talks to reform the agreement with the U.S., though Bill Blair, minister for border security, said that American policies are constantly under review.

If elected, Mr. Scheer said, he will work on promoting the private sponsorship of refugees and end “illegal” immigration through perceived loopholes such as this one.

Appointment of firearms ombudsman

While not explicitly addressed in any of his recent major policy speeches, Mr. Scheer has previously pledged to roll back new Liberal-introduced federal restrictions on firearms ownership, which he says don’t target criminals and instead go after law-abiding gun owners. 

Much of Mr. Trudeau’s actions has focused on repealing Harper-era legislation through the recently passed Bill C-71, which expands licensing requirements for gun owners and increases the amount of record-keeping firearms retailers are required to do.

“Justin Trudeau has gone back to an old Liberal trick,” Mr. Scheer said at a press conference in November. “He’s proposing a lazy, blanket ban on handgun ownership for all Canadians instead of taking aim at the real criminals who are actually using guns to commit crimes.” 

The government did commission a report to look into whether to pursue a handgun ban, but given that it’s a divisive issue within the Liberal caucus, it hasn’t moved to endorse such a plan.

As the only leader of a federal party who has admitted to owning a handgun, Mr. Scheer has proposed the appointment of an ombudsman to act as an advocate for gun owners in his public safety policy, released in November. He advocated stripping powers to reclassify firearms from the RCMP, which can currently make judgements about whether a firearm is restricted, non-restricted, or prohibited. His November-unveiled plan also calls for lifetime firearms bans for people convicted of violent crimes or involvement in gang activity, people who knowingly supply guns to someone under a firearms ban, as well the temporary seizure of weapons from anyone detained under provincial mental health legislation.

Conservative Senators for a conservative Canada

While Mr. Scheer would ideally see an elected Senate, he acknowledged that this might be an unfeasible goal during his first term. Instead, he promised to appoint Conservative Senators, breaking with Mr. Trudeau’s experiment in trying to cultivate a more independent Senate.

After becoming leader of the Liberal Party in 2014, Mr. Trudeau expelled all Liberal Senators from his caucus, creating a growing group of Independent Senators not bound by party discipline. Now a majority in the Red Chamber, there are currently 58 members of the Independent Senators Group.

Mr. Scheer has promised to go in the opposite direction. Over the next four years, there are expected to be 24 vacancies, including 10 Conservatives, meaning that if Mr. Scheer fills all appointments with Conservatives, they will have a total of 44 Senators within 105-Senator body.

Review of food guide

Mr. Scheer made headlines last week when he called for a review of the Canada Food Guide, which was released by Health Canada in January. The new guide calls for an emphasis on eating fruits and vegetables and consuming plant-based proteins, rather than the traditional focus on portion sizes.

At a meeting with the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Mr. Scheer made comments suggesting that the food guide was motivated by partisan bias rather than science. 

His comments were widely mocked, with one University of Ottawa professor referring to his statement as “immensely stupid.” They were also seen as a political move by Mr. Scheer, who won the Conservative leadership race over fellow frontrunner Maxime Bernier with the help of dairy farmers.

Mr. Trudeau immediately retaliated, stating that he wasn’t surprised to see Mr. Scheer “declaring war” on the food guide and comparing it to the Conservatives’ aversion to the census. The Conservative leader fired back, saying, the Liberals have exaggerated his calls for a review. 

The Hill Times 

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has not pledged to roll back all federal restrictions on firearms ownership, as previously stated, but would repeal specific changes to firearm ownership rules introduced by the Liberals in Bill C-71. It has also been updated to include information about the restrictions on firearms ownership that Mr. Scheer has proposed. The Hill Times apologizes for the error.