Andrew Scheer urged the Conservative Party faithful to rally behind him as he promised to fight political correctness and champion a cross-Canada revolt against the Liberal government’s carbon tax in his keynote convention address Friday, making no mention of the potential unity crisis posed by rival Maxime Bernier’s threat to launch a new right-wing political party.
Instead, Mr. Scheer stressed party unity after the Quebec MP quit the Conservative caucus on Thursday. Mr. Bernier lost last year’s leadership contest to Mr. Scheer by a razor-thin margin.
“We are certainly one big, strong, united, national Conservative Party,” he told the crowd in Halifax, where 3,000 delegates from across the country were gathered until Saturday. “And next year, we will be a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.”
In a speech that lasted almost an hour, Mr. Scheer focused on his family’s humble beginnings, positioning himself as a champion against political correctness and a politician who understands the hardships of everyday Canadians.
“This country has bestowed such fortune and opportunity on my family, that I stand before you running to be the next prime minister one generation removed from having nine kids in a two-bedroom bungalow along a dirt road,” he said.
“[Justin Trudeau] has no concept of how to stretch a dollar. How to make it to the next payday. How to stick to a monthly budget.”
If he wins the 2019 federal election, Mr. Scheer said, he will repeal the federal carbon tax and will revive the Energy East pipeline, which would carry one million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick.
“We need to stop pumping cheap fuel into the American economy. We need to get our resources to new markets. And we need to compete with other countries on taxation and regulation instead of rolling over,” he said.
The fresh wound of Mr. Bernier’s departure, however, was evident in Mr. Scheer’s indirect references to his rival’s scathing criticisms of his leadership.
In a series of tweets before he quit the party, Mr. Bernier challenged Mr. Trudeau’s “extreme multiculturalism,” and criticized the leadership of his own party for not wanting to discuss diversity and immigration issues. On Thursday, when he announced he was quitting and starting a new party, he called the Conservatives “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.”
“Diversity is a product of our strength. And our strength is and ever has been our freedom," Mr. Scheer said.
He also challenged recent calls to tear down statues of Sir John A. Macdonald over his treatment of Indigenous people, saying he’s proud that his is the modern iteration of the party of Canada’s first prime minister.
“I think it’s a disgrace that some would allow extreme voices in this country to erase our proud heritage,” Mr. Scheer said.
Referencing the thousands of asylum seekers who are crossing the border from the United States into Canada, he said, “There is absolutely nothing compassionate about allowing thousands of people to cross the border illegally from a place like upstate New York, jumping ahead of those in refugee camps fleeing violence and tyranny and waiting for Canada’s help.”
Conservative delegates spent Friday debating proposals that could become official party policy, with the votes taking place on the convention floor on Saturday. But party officials stressed that does not mean the policies will make it into the 2019 federal election platform.
One hot-button issue championed by Mr. Bernier, to phase out the supply-management quota system for dairy and poultry, won’t make it into consideration because delegates ran out of time Friday before it could be discussed.
Mr. Bernier’s office declined an interview request Friday and told The Globe and Mail that he is leaving for a week of vacation starting Saturday.
“To all those who feel let down by this party, I say: You will be let down again and again. Don’t waste your time. It’s time for a REAL conservative party defending REAL conservative values," Mr. Bernier tweeted as Mr. Scheer was giving his speech.