Scheer in Pontiac: We shouldn’t let the politics of envy divide one group of Canadians against another

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Thomas Soulière

SHAWVILLE — The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada spent the first day of December visiting the federal riding of Pontiac with stops in Campbell’s Bay, Fort Coulonge and Shawville to speak to farmers, small business owners and voters about the CPC’s position on the Liberal government’s tax policy and to show the Conservative’s strong support of supply management.

In person, Andrew Scheer is affable, articulate and approachable; he speaks in easy, concise terms. His language is accessible and relatable as he explains his Party’s policies on a few of the issues that are most relevant to voters here in the Pontiac. Pontiac2020.ca had an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Scheer during his stop in Shawville last Friday afternoon, before his meet and greet with members of the public.

Born and raised in Ottawa before leaving for Saskatchewan at the age of 23, Scheer later returned to the Valley as the federal MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle in 2004 where he has served since then in the House of Commons, so Scheer is very familiar with the Pontiac. When he became Speaker from 2011 to 2015, he lived in the Pontiac riding at the “The Farm,” the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons, located in the Gatineau Park community of Kingsmere in the municipality of Chelsea.

Scheer shrugs off the inevitable comparisons to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper; he is somewhat more comfortable with small talk than his predecessor and speaks in more casual terms. “I don’t like to look too much in the past, other than to learn from maybe some mistakes or learn which things we have to do better. But I think that I have a very positive personality [and] I have a positive message. I get frustrated sometimes when conservatives have a more negative connotation. Sometimes we speak too much about what we’re against than what we’re for, and I really do think that no matter what the issue is we can offer Canadians a positive solution.”

While Sheer touts the Conservatives past record in government, he also acknowledges some of his Party’s shortcomings in the last election. “I firmly believe that the previous Conservative government saw good policies [enacted] and I believe by and large that most Canadians support our policies. They appreciate the fact that we lower taxes for individuals, for families, and for small businesses so that they can continue to create opportunities in their neighborhoods. They like the fact that we balanced the budget, they like the fact that we have a strong principled foreign policy. I believe that we lost touch with Canadians at some point — that in the election campaign we failed to offer something aspirational for the future.”

With the issue of NAFTA and Supply Management hitting close to home and threatening to have a negative impact on some producers in the Pontiac, the Leader of the Opposition is very critical of the current Liberal government’s handling of the issue. “I’m very worried that the Liberals are not taking this seriously enough. We knew once Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were nominated for each of their parties, we knew that the next President of the United States was going to have a negative view of NAFTA. And we should’ve immediately mobilized all throughout the Untied States and built alliances with American business owners who depend on trade with Canada, and get them to make the case for us [to the American government].”

While Scheer admits that some positive action has been taken by the Liberal government, he feels it’s too little and too late and categorizes the Liberals initial response when the issue first erupted as a blunder. “I think in lot of ways a lot of the Trump rhetoric on [NAFTA] and the signals coming from his administration were geared more at Mexico, and because of Justin Trudeau’s decision to rush in and say, ‘Okay we’re going to reopen it and be there at the table.’ Now we find ourselves in the cross-hairs as well.” Scheer also complains that the Liberals are broadening the scope of issues they’re bringing to the trade talks with the US.

“The Liberals are adding a lot of things to the negotiations that don’t have anything to do with market access. They’re putting some social issues on the table that are maybe important issues, maybe worthy of discussion, but don’t belong at a trade deal [negotiation] where we’re trying to protect our access to American markets and vice-versa. So I don’t think [the Liberals] have handled this well, and if it fails it won’t just be because Donald Trump has a more protectionist streak. I think the Liberals are misplaying this.”

During his leadership campaign, Andrew Scheer vowed to balance the budget two years after coming into power in the next federal election. With a projected deficit of $15.8 billion for 2021-22, the now Conservative candidate for Prime Minister admits that this will be no easy task. “I will say, every year it’s getting harder and harder. It will be harder and harder for the next government to balance the budget. Remember the Liberals originally promised to only run a $10-billion deficit. We’re seeing that going up every single year.” Scheer points to a few examples of what he sees as frivolous spending and boondoggles by the Grits. “Half a billion dollars to the Asian Infrastructure Bank,” Scheer says in reference to Canada joining the new multilateral development bank headquartered in Beijing.

“That is a bank in China that will fund infrastructure projects in Asia. Not a single new kilometer of road will be built in Canada under that bank. That’s a half a billion dollars going outside the country to build bridges and roads in other countries. That’s not a priority of mine. You look at the rink they built on Parliament Hill. Originally it was supposed to be open for four weeks [at a cost of] $5-million. Today I heard the costs are already over $7.5 million. Defense procurement — the Conservatives brought in a procurement plan to revitalize our naval fleet. The Liberals have changed the criteria so many times that those delays just add to the cost. So their mismanagement is adding to a lot of extra tax payers dollars being wasted. So I believe that there are a lot of ways we can trim without effecting services to Canadians, without leading to layoffs and massive disruptions in the public service, just by not wasting money in some of these areas.”

Around four dozen supporters and members of the public came out to the event last Friday afternoon hosted by the Pontiac Conservative Association. Pontiac Conservative candidate Benjamin Woodman introduced Scheer as “the next Prime Minister of Canada” to the enthusiastic crowd at the Shawville Lions Club Hall. Scheer began by thanking everyone for coming out and explaining that while he receives many invitations to visit rural communities throughout Canada, sometimes the ones just outside Ottawa get ignored and he wanted to make a point of coming to the Pontiac. “I do realize that having grown up in Ottawa... just down the road from Mooney’s Bay, that not everywhere around the city of Ottawa shares the same viewpoints or incurs the same issues, so I wanted to get out a little bit into some of these ridings... and what a great place to start but a seat that the Conservative Party held right up until 2011 by the great Member of Parliament, Lawrence Cannon.”

Following the last federal election and the leadership campaign, Scheer described how the CPC party “hit the ground running”, during which time the Conservatives began to formulate their new platform. But in short order, according to Scheer, the Liberals provided the CPC with an example it could use to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the Grits platform. “On July 18th [the Liberals]... decided to launch an unprecedented attack on local business owners. They decided to demonize small business owners, entrepreneurs, people who had taken a risk, opened up a store or a restaurant or a business and created jobs and opportunities,” Scheer told the audience, adding, that the Liberals had set up a system that treated small business owners as “tax cheats”.

Scheer suggested to the crowd that should Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau have the need to find tax cheats, they need go no further than to look to each other, playing off the recent scandals plaguing the Finance Minister and his boss. He went on to say how he holds this issue close to his heart because he himself got his start working for small businesses. Scheer described his humble middle-class upbringing, his mother a nurse at CHEO and his father working for the Ottawa Citizen, as an underpinning of his belief in the entrepreneurial spirit being the backbone of job creation and economic development, both on the national and local scale.

“And that I believe is the message that Conservatives can deliver to Canadians and that is the biggest difference between the lie of the Liberals, between those on the left that thinks that you can only create winners if you create losers. The fact that there are so many people in this country — Liberals and NDP — who think that you must tear people down in order to achieve equality. Conservatives reject, conservatives know that you can build equality, that you don’t have to tear people down to improve the quality of lives of other Canadians. That prosperity is contagious, that we can all succeed together and we shouldn’t let the politics of envy divide one group of Canadians against another.”

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