Leadership race or no, Tories will hold Liberal government to account: Scheer

Andrew Scheer said his caucus needs to stay sharp

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sought Friday to put the Liberals on notice that despite the Tory leadership race, the Official Opposition won’t rest.

Scheer wished all the candidates well, but said given the Liberals’ minority government, his caucus needs to stay sharp.

“The Trudeau Liberals might think that our leadership race will give them a free ride,” he said, in a speech to Tory MPs and senators before the House of Commons sits again Monday.

“They’re wrong. We’re all going to continue to be here in Ottawa, in the House of Commons, and on the committee floor every single day fighting for our vision for the country.”

The meeting of the Conservative caucus came on the heels of a similar gathering of Liberal MPs, who were exhorted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to play nice with their opponents.

Scheer offered no similar pitch. He accused the Liberals of using their upcoming budget to buy votes from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, and attacked a planned Liberal bill banning military-style assault rifles.

“This is an attack on law-abiding, responsible firearms owners,” he said.

Liberals caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia said it seems “premature for that kind of rhetoric” before Parliament has even begun to get down to work.

“Canadians, on a certain level, don’t care about the politics. They want to see the results,” he said.

Though Scheer may wish to focus his MPs and senators on the upcoming return of the Commons, the ongoing leadership contest does run up against those plans.

Former MP and cabinet minister Peter MacKay will formally unveil his campaign on Saturday, just as Scheer is wrapping the last day of his session with MPs. MacKay spent part of Friday tweeting out the names of members of Scheer’s team who are now backing him for the leadership.

Meanwhile, current MP Erin O’Toole is also expected to launch his bid in the coming days. Foreign policy is expected to be a hot-button issue, with the Liberals facing heat on China and on relations with Iran. O’Toole has been the party’s critic on the file for years, but will now have to vacate the post to follow his leadership ambitions.

Pierre Poilievre, who is the Tory finance critic, made a stunning announcement Thursday that he’s not running for the leadership, citing the burden it would place on his family.

He said Friday he remains committed to his work on the Hill, and is stressing to other contenders the need for focus on fiscal issues.

MacKay’s time with the party harkens back to one of its two predecessors, the Progressive Conservatives.

Stockwell Day, who briefly helmed the other — the Canadian Alliance — was also on hand for Friday’s meeting. There are lessons from the experience of putting the two parties together, he said.

“One of the things that people learned in that era was whoever emerges as the leader, as the winner, let’s all get behind him or her, whoever wins,” he said.

“That was a hard learned lesson.”

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who has not ruled out running herself, said she is growing increasingly frustrated that the debate around the leadership race seems to be ignoring the western branch of the party.

Too much time has been spent talking about whether a leader ought to speak French, and how winning Quebec or Ontario is central, she said.

Western Canada’s support is just looked at as a given and it’s not, Rempel Garner said.

“I think there’s enough people who are just looking at this and saying, ‘What about us?’” she said.

So far, Alberta-based businessman Rick Peterson is the only declared candidate from west of Ontario. Former Edmonton MP and interim party leader Rona Ambrose had been high on many people’s lists as a potential candidate, but she announced this week she won’t run.

Meanwhile, the party continued to grapple with the fallout from comments from one potential contender this week. Quebec’s Richard Decarie drew immediate condemnation from some in the party this week after he said he believes being LGBTQ is a choice, and that he’d withdraw funding for abortion services. It prompted rounds of questions to MPs on Friday about their own positions, and whether Decarie ought to be allowed to run.

Rempel Garner said she intends to ask the party to disqualify him as a candidate, on the grounds that if he’d said something similar while running to be an MP, he’d be kicked out.

“Our party is being defined by this conversation right now — what is this leadership committee going to do?” she said.

Candidates have until Feb. 27 to submit the first $25,000 of the $300,000 total entry fee and the first third of the 3,000 signatures required to enter. Decarie has said he is putting together his application.

After it’s in, the leadership committee can decide whether or not to include him as a candidate.

—with files from Joan Bryden

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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