Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used a speech in front of a sympathetic Alberta audience to defend his leadership following a bruising week of political criticisms.
Mr. Scheer spoke Friday evening in front of about 1,600 United Conservative Party members as part of the kick off for the provincial United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting in Calgary.
The cheers for Mr. Scheer were not effusive, but he received strong applause as he attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and called for the repeal of unpopular federal energy policies. A few party members walked out of the room two minutes into his speech as a display of their displeasure with Mr. Scheer’s leadership.
He addressed his critics directly, saying that he’s “entirely uninterested in what the talking heads, the naysayers and the people who make their money by stirring up division in our party have to say.”
Mr. Scheer said those divisions distract from the real issue of a leftist movement pushing to shut down the energy sector, stifle free speech and destroy free-market principles.
“If we take the bait and start fighting amongst ourselves now, we are handing them the ultimate victory,” he said, warning that Mr. Trudeau will try to head back to the polls as quickly as possible to try to win a majority government back.
Mr. Scheer interwove his concerns about deep divisions in the country with discussion of his response to his party’s loss in the Oct. 21 federal election. He said he is listening to concerns about what needs to change.
“As leader of this party, it is incumbent on me to figure out what I and our party have to do to finish the job in the next election."
This week has been a difficult one for the Conservative leader.
He has faced calls to step down from both progressive and social conservatives. Conservative criticism about his leadership and election performance have been particularly loud in Ontario and Quebec. At a campaign postmortem in Ottawa on Thursday night, two more local campaign managers said Mr. Scheer should resign.
On Friday, MP Ed Fast said he rejected an offer to be an opposition critic because Mr. Scheer deserves someone who “fully supports” his leadership.
Also this week, a new group called Conservative Victory launched to press Mr. Scheer to quit before a leadership confidence vote at the party’s April convention. David Parker, a longtime Conservative, who had previously worked in Mr. Fast’s office and organized for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, also helped to establish a companion group called Scheer Must Go.
Mr. Parker was one of the party members who walked out on the Friday evening speech.
“Andrew Scheer cannot communicate his own convictions,” he told reporters.
“Andrew Scheer has proven that he can’t beat Justin Trudeau when he is at his weakest. If we can’t beat Justin Trudeau when he is at his weakest, how do we expect to beat him next time when SNC-Lavalin is not an issue and when blackface is not an issue?”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Kenney expressed his continued support for Mr. Scheer, saying the Conservatives won the popular vote and the leader “deserves a chance to build on those gains.”
With a report from Marieke Walsh