On May 27th, the Conservative Party of Canada chose its new leader—and it chose Andrew Scheer. With over 140,000 votes cast, according to the Conservative Party, and the underdog candidate receiving only 50.95 per cent of the vote on the 13th ballot, it is clear that the more than year-long race has been divisive.
Andrew Scheer is a safe choice for the Conservatives. He has been described as “Harper with a smile” by supporters and adversaries alike. And there is a lot of good in that; Stephen Harper was a unifier for two right-wing parties, allowing the creation of a “big blue tent” that could form a cohesive conservative government.
However, if the Conservatives want to win in 2019, they will need more than just Harper 2.0, as so many non-Conservative Canadians seemed to show disdain for Harper in 2015.
There’s a lot of good in Scheer that sets him apart from Harper. Scheer is a prominent supporter of free speech. Scheer voted against M103, which, according to a Forum Research poll, 86 per cent of Canadians stood against. Scheer has also pledged to cut federal funding from schools that disallow uninhibited freedom of speech. Considering a 2016 Angus Reid poll showed 76 per cent of Canadians believe “political correctness” has gone too far, this could be helpful come 2019.
Scheer has also pledged to crack down on illegal border crossings from the U.S. and reform immigration policy to prioritize the economic and demographic needs of Canadians. Scheer even spoke about combatting “radical Islamic terror” in his acceptance speech—a contrast to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policy of simply “being open and respectful” even in the face of national security threats.
Scheer’s fiscal policy has a solid base. He has pledged to cut taxes on utilities, saying in his acceptance speech that “only a Liberal would think it’s a luxury to heat a house in winter.” He has also pledged to repeal any federal carbon taxes implemented by the Liberal government and balance the budget within two years by drastically reducing spending, should he be elected in 2019. “Sunny ways don’t pay the bills,” he said during his speech—and he’s right.
However, just as any candidate would, Scheer has a lot to work on in order to be seen as more than “Harper-with-a-smile.” He needs “wow” policies, tackling larger issues and providing good rebuttals to inevitable Liberal criticism of his social conservatism. Scheer needs to attract disgruntled Liberal voters and small-c conservatives who are dissatisfied with Trudeau’s reckless spending, and promises to “balance the budget” may not be enough.
Maxime Bernier garnered 49.05 per cent of the vote during the 13th ballot, and much his support laid within his libertarian philosophies. Of course Scheer should not become Bernier. But, specifically, Bernier’s proposal to lower corporate income taxes (CIT) across the board and get rid of capital gains taxes are “wow” policies that should be considered before 2019.
President Donald Trump has plans to lower CIT to 15 per cent and implement many protectionist policies, drastically lowering Americans’ combined tax rate. If we make no radical fiscal policy changes, we stand to lose any potential for investment advantage going forward—which would negatively affect Canadians for a generation.
Although Scheer has pledged not to reopen debates on marriage equality and abortion, this will be a large hurdle for him come 2019. Scheer won on the social conservative vote. Scheer’s support rose by approximately 3 per cent and 8 per cent when social conservatives Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost were eliminated on the eighth and 11th ballots. Scheer will have to work hard to convince Canadians, who according to an EKOS Research poll are predominantly “small-l liberal”, that he will not be beholden to that demographic of voters.
A 2012 Forum Research poll commission by the National Post showed that only half of Canadians consider themselves religious. In order to appeal to the vast majority of Canadians, Scheer will have to refrain from overplaying policy issues that seem to focus on religious liberty and pushing any sort of Christian religious agenda, such as his plan to prioritize Christian refugees.
Active support for LGBT rights or traditionally “libertarian” issues, like marijuana consumption, while still being true to himself and open about his personal faith, would go a long way towards convincing Canadians that Scheer has no ulterior motives for 2019. Scheer has already proven this is something he can do—in 2016, he voted in favour of modernizing the party’s stance on the definition of marriage, despite his personal faith.
Scheer needs to focus on the policies he’s proposed that unite many Canadians—not just Conservatives, such as balancing the budget, removing taxes from maternity leave benefits, increasing the amount of time parents can work while on leave while retaining benefits, well-negotiated free trade agreements, ending corporate welfare, preserving decorum and accountability to constituents in the House of Commons, and continued support for supply management—which some argue cost Maxime Bernier the race.
When Scheer took the stage on May 27 at the Toronto Congress Centre to give his acceptance speech, he spoke of unity, prosperity, and working together. These are values I truly believe in. I will vote for Scheer in 2019—but over the next two years, I hope Scheer can mold himself into a candidate that may convince non-conservatives to give him their trust as well. And I believe he can do it.