Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was left to defend another of his would-be MPs on Saturday after two Liberal cabinet ministers posted a video they argued shows the star candidate has a close friendship with a far-right political activist banned from Facebook for spreading hate.
Justina McCaffrey, a well-known Ottawa wedding dress designer, introduced Scheer outside her suburban campaign office and hugged him as he stepped off his tour bus with his family in tow.
But before the event was over, McCaffrey jumped into a car and refused to answer questions from reporters. Her campaign barbecue continued with Scheer posing for selfies and shaking hands with supporters despite her absence.
Scheer was to have had a low-key campaign day Saturday, glad-handing in McCaffrey’s riding and bringing his five children along for the first time on his tour. His youngest daughter, Mary, 3, was clapping and jumping with a big smile on her face during her father’s stump speech. Thomas, 14, Grace, 12, Madeline, 10, and Henry, 8, sat on a picnic table slightly more sedate than their youngest sibling, but nevertheless appearing happy and comfortable to be there.
His children and his role as a father are a key part of Scheer’s narrative to show voters that he is just a normal dad who knows how expensive it can be to raise kids, in a campaign he wants to be about affordability.
But for the fourth day in a row, Liberals promoted online activities of Conservative candidates they say show Scheer is welcoming to those who hold discriminatory beliefs. In one video from a year ago, McCaffrey tells a reporter she is bothered by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s “preoccupation with the French, for example, the Quebec people.”
In the other, McCaffrey pitches a reality television show about herself and Faith Goldy, who was banned by Facebook, fired by The Rebel after her coverage of white nationalist march in a Charlottesville, Va., and whose alleged association with white nationalists and comments on immigrants had Scheer say he wants nothing to do with her. In the video, Goldy says she and McCaffrey are good friends and McCaffrey describes Goldy as “wonderful.”
After the videos were posted by Liberal cabinet ministers Melanie Joly and Maryam Monsef, McCaffrey posted an apology on Twitter for the comments about Quebec, saying she grew up in the francophone Winnipeg neighbourhood of St. Boniface and respects both official languages.
“I regret my poor choice of words in criticizing the record of Justin Trudeau,” she wrote, also accusing the Liberals of spreading the videos to distract from their own record.
On the Goldy friendship, McCaffrey said via a statement issued by the Conservative party that the video is from 2013, while Goldy was still at the now-defunct Sun News Network before her commentary became extremist, and that she hasn’t seen Goldy “for several years.”
Goldy posted a photo of the two of them out together as recently as 2017.
Scheer, who delivered his stump speech to McCaffrey’s supporters, held his lips tight as he spent another day answering questions about candidates rather than his party’s policies.
“I understand that Justina has addressed that issue here this morning,” he said. “She has put out a statement that addresses that, so I’ll let that speak for itself and we’re all going out to do other activities and campaign types of things today.”
Scheer said he has “obviously made it clear that I won’t have anything to do with that individual,” referring to Goldy.
“As I said the other day, we’re going to see this from Liberals from now until election day, trying to do everything they can to distract from their leader’s lies, their leader’s broken promises, and the fact that their leader, Justin Trudeau, still has not come out to denounce anti-Semitic statements from one of his candidates.”
Scheer was referring to Hassan Guillet, an Imam who was running for the Liberals in a Montreal riding until August 30 when he was turfed by the party over statements he made about Israel, and another that “Zionists control American politics.” Guillet, who gained attention for a speech honouring victims of the Quebec mosque shooting, later said the Liberals were aware of the posts when they accepted him as a candidate, and denied he is anti-Semitic.
All the parties have let candidates go as more questionable statements are unearthed by their opponents.
Earlier this week, Scheer fired a Winnipeg candidate who hid Facebook accounts in which he made discriminatory statements. Scheer has however stood by candidates in two Toronto-area ridings the party is hoping to pick up, after they apologized.
A group calling itself Conservatives United Against Hate continued to press Scheer to oust Ghada Melek as the party candidate in Mississauga-Streetsville, sending an email with screenshots of things Melek shared on Facebook the group said were “Islamophobic and homophobic posts.” The group said Scheer has shown he is neither racist nor homophobic, adding that no major party would welcome such viewpoints.
Scheer said Melek has already apologized for her posts and he accepts her apology. Reports say Melek was refused as a candidate by the provincial conservatives in Ontario in 2016, but Scheer said Saturday his understanding is that Melek withdrew from that nomination race.