VANCOUVER — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer entered the federal election campaign in September a virtual unknown among many Canadians.
What the country has learned about him — and his party — over the last 39 days wasn’t always what he’d hoped to talk about: his socially conservative beliefs, the holes in his personal and professional resume, his candidates with controversial positions, and his statements about his opponents that had no basis in fact.
But what Scheer said he wants the country to remember is this: that he ran a positive campaign with a central message.
“It’s been a campaign of hope and a message of brighter days ahead with a new Conservative government that will live within its means and put more money in your pocket so you can get ahead.”
Whether that message will grant him the majority government he’s after may not be known until hours after the polls close Monday, as Scheer noted in campaigning throughout Vancouver, it’s going to be a tight race.
“It is going to come down to every single last vote, every single riding,” he told supporters packed into a campaign office in West Vancouver on Sunday afternoon, as he urged them to do their best to get out the vote.
But even as he urged everyone to stay positive, he also took repeated jabs at his rivals, framing what he said was the other ballot-box question of the campaign: did Canadians want a majority Conservative government or a Liberal-NDP coalition?
“The choice is clear: an NDP government wearing a Justin Trudeau mask that will raise taxes, kill jobs, damage our economy and take more money out of your pockets,” he said, as ships making their way into the Vancouver harbour honked behind him.
“And a Conservative majority government that will live within its means and put more money in your pockets so you can get ahead.”
What Canadians can or can’t afford was the central message of the Conservative campaign, wrapped up neatly in a slogan “it’s time for you to get ahead,” and a platform filled with boutique tax credits, tax cuts, a clear commitment to ending the carbon tax and a climate plan based around more tax credits.
For the last week of the campaign, Scheer travelled from coast to coast laying out which of his pledges he’d move on right away, calling it a first 100 days plan.
It was a perfect move, said Quebec candidate Gerard Deltell, who is running for re-election this campaign after being one of the party’s star recruits in the 2015 election.
“We were able to say to the people: we will govern, we are ready to govern, we have a plan, a definitive plan,” he said earlier this week after Scheer’s final rally in the province.
Scheer’s campaign in Quebec took on a different flavour than elsewhere in the country as he appealed to the province’s role in the federation and pledged to give it more power over things such as immigration, and make greater strides to protect and encourage the French language.
But the needed gains on the ground there didn’t materialize, hampered in part by Scheer’s own anti-abortion stance, but also the resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois.
Scheer struck back against their leader on Sunday, saying Yves-Francois Blanchet would do nothing for Quebecers except try to advance a referendum on sovereignty that nobody wanted.
Blanchet has gone after Scheer’s promise to build an “energy corridor” that would take gas east and hydroelectricity west, saying Quebecers will not give license for pipeline projects through their province.
That opponents challenged the Conservative platform, including a promise to delay infrastructure spending, is a victory of sorts, suggested Deltell: it presented the Conservatives as being a seen as the government instead of opposition.
“Our opponents gave that to us,” he said.
Within the first 100 days, Scheer said he would focus on five things: a task force on corporate welfare, passing a fiscal update that would incorporate some of his tax credits, convening a meeting with premiers on interprovincial trade, introducing new ethics laws and stiff penalties for breaking them, and axing the carbon tax.
The approach was a nod to the Conservative past: when Stephen Harper secured his first minority government in 2006, he did so by running a campaign focused on five priorities.
Scheer has faced questions throughout the last six weeks about how different or similar he is from his predecessor, but insisted Sunday his platform is full of new ideas, including the climate change plan.
“When you look at our platform, we have many new and innovative policies that help lower the cost of living and put more money in the pockets of Canadians,” Scheer said.
“I have my own style, I have my own approach.”
Scheer also said he has been transparent during the campaign by taking questions daily from reporters, and is vowing to maintain that openness if elected to govern.
“That will, of course, be the spirit of openness and transparency that I will continue on with as government.”
Several times in the last week, there was a hint of his approach.
At a rally in Richmond Hill, outside Toronto, on Saturday night, Scheer energetically denounced Trudeau’s record on ethics and promised a Conservative government would investigate. “Lock him up, lock up him,” came the cry from the crowd, a politically-charged chant that dates back to the last U.S. presidential election.
Scheer moved to calm the crowd, pivoting the chant to “vote him out, vote him out.”
“Of course we believe in civility, and proper decorum and treating people with respect,” Scheer said Sunday.
But when it comes to how he’ll respond to the results of Monday’s vote, it’s not clear. Scheer insists the party with the most seats — in a minority situation — has the mandate to govern. That’s not entirely the case as the incumbent prime minister may be given a chance as well.
Scheer has declined to discuss in detail the hypotheticals around the outcome of Monday’s vote, saying Sunday he remains focused on earning a majority.
His campaign was to hit several key ridings in the Vancouver-area on Sunday, including Vancouver Granville.
It’s a riding where the Conservatives nearly tied the NDP for second-place in 2015, but now there’s a twist: high-profile Independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould.
As the former Liberal attorney general, it was her assertion — eventually backed by the ethics commissioner — that Trudeau improperly pressured her to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavalin. The subsequent political scandal for the Liberals helped the Conservatives climb several notches in the polls.
Scheer didn’t directly mention Wilson-Raybould or the SNC-Lavalin matter in his brief remarks to campaign workers in the riding.
“This election is going to be so so close, we need to win ridings all across this country,” he said.
“But we are going to surprise people.”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2019.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press