BRAMPTON, Ont. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer campaigned through some of the hottest battlegrounds in this election Saturday, facing questions about how far he’s willing to go to win.
He batted back the suggestion that in a bid to get votes, his platform favours Quebec over all other provinces, and flat out refused to address a report that his party hired an outside firm to “destroy” the other conservative party running in this election.
And as he repeated unsubstantiated claims that the Liberals and the NDP would form a coalition government that would seek to raise the GST and drive the country far deeper into deficit, he insisted that everything he’s brought to the table this election campaign was for the common good.
“Every morning we have gotten up and we have put forward a positive platform offering hope and opportunity for Canadians,” he said at a morning event in Toronto.
That the platform makes specific targeted pledges to Quebec and that he’s spent weeks telling voters there that with him in office their future is well in their hands, shouldn’t be interpreted as giving the province more say than others, said Scheer.
“I reject the notion in any way one province is treated differently under the Conservative platform,” Scheer said.
Scheer instead positioned himself as a unifier, attacking the Liberals for dividing the country.
“It’s quite clear that under Justin Trudeau, region has been pit against region,” Scheer said.
The two leaders are pitted against each other in the waning days of the campaign, their planes both parked at the Toronto airport Saturday as they each campaigned in crucial ridings around the area.
Scheer traded his positive-morning approach for an aggressive evening rally in in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto.
Several hundred people cheered wildly when Scheer called Trudeau a high-flying carbon hypocrite, saying come Monday, the Liberal leader would need to trade his two campaign planes for two moving vans.
As he lambasted Trudeau for his ethical record, a section of the crowd began chanting “lock him up,” escalating in volume. Scheer moved to calm the crowd and the chant changed to “vote him out.”
The national divide in the polls was well represented in the riding of Brampton North, in the city just outside Toronto: one street, a sea of red Liberal signs. Turn a corner, and a wave of blue Conservative ones would be next.
There, Scheer held a mid-afternoon street rally that, in addition to drawing several dozens of supporters of the local Conservative candidate, also saw residents just come out of their homes to see what was going on.
Several said they were switching their vote this election from the Liberals to the Conservatives, raising concerns about the Liberal approaches to refugee resettlement, justice and the carbon tax.
But with just two days to go, 66-year-old Lalbhai Lad said he hadn’t made up his mind where to cast his ballot this time around. He had voted for Trudeau in 2015, and he said he came from his home a few blocks away to get a sense of Scheer.
“It is very difficult to define who is best for the country,” he said. “There is good and bad for both.”
In declaring himself a force for national unity Saturday, Scheer cited his idea for a national energy corridor, which could help oil and gas flow east and hydroelectric power move west.
But if that corridor involves an oil pipeline, it might face a major hurdle in Quebec, where Premier Francois Legault has said there is no “social acceptability” for a future projects that would be similar to the failed Energy East pipeline.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, as he campaigned with Scheer in the province on Friday, had suggested Quebec receives too much attention at the federal level, calling it the favoured child of the federation.
Scheer said Saturday he did not believe Quebec was a “special child.”
“All provinces have their unique challenges, their unique issues,” he said.
“It’s the role of the prime minister to address all issues that affect all Canadians in a way that brings our country closer together.”
Addressing those issues includes a climate plan that Scheer insisted Saturday did respond to the demands of thousands of Canadians — including those who took to the streets Friday in Alberta to advocate for stronger action on climate change.
Scheer has spent little time in that province this campaign, though he often invokes the decimation of its economy as the motivating factor behind his drive to repeal the carbon tax.
Yet Alberta Premier Jason Kenney suggested Saturday that it was only the federal Conservatives who have Alberta’s interests in mind, accusing the others of turning the province into a punching bag.
“Four of the five federal parties have been campaigning against Alberta, our resources and our workers,” Kenney wrote on Twitter.
How Scheer has been campaigning was also under scrutiny Saturday, as he was repeatedly pressed on a report suggesting his party had hired an outside firm to discredit the People’s Party of Canada, a libertarian offshoot of the Conservatives.
Despite being asked nearly two dozen times whether that was the case, Scheer would only say he would not comment on outside vendors his party may or may not have hired.
The PPC is led by a former Conservative MP, Maxime Bernier, who also came within a whisker of winning the Conservative party leadership in 2017.
There have long been concerns among Conservatives that Bernier’s party could siphon off their voters, which in ridings with exceptionally narrow margins could mean the difference between a win or a loss for the Tories.
But Scheer suggested to a roomful of supporters in the Don Valley North riding in Toronto Saturday that momentum was building towards a win. He urged them to stay strong and keep campaigning until the end.
“We are a grassroots party,” he said. “We rely on hundreds of thousands of volunteers just like you.”
This report by The Canadian Press was originally published on Oct. 19, 2019.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press