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Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer speaks during a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Jan. 24, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sought Friday to put the Liberals on notice that despite the Tory leadership race, the Official Opposition won’t rest.

Scheer wished all the candidates to succeed him well, but said given the Liberals’ minority government, his caucus needs to stay sharp.

“The Trudeau Liberals might think that our leadership race will give them a free ride,” he said, in a speech to Tory MPs and senators before the House of Commons sits again Monday.

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“They’re wrong. We’re all going to continue to be here in Ottawa, in the House of Commons, and on the committee floor every single day fighting for our vision for the country.”

But though Scheer may wish to focus his MPs and senators on the upcoming return of the Commons, the ongoing leadership contest does run up against his plans.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer gathered his MPs and senators around him Friday to plot strategy for Parliament’s return on Monday. The caucus retreat comes at a time when many Tories are plotting their own strategies for how best to replace Scheer. The Canadian Press

Former MP and cabinet minister Peter MacKay will formally unveil his campaign on Saturday, just as Scheer is wrapping the last day of his session with MPs. MacKay spent part of Friday tweeting out the names of members of Scheer’s team who are now backing him for the leadership.

Meanwhile, current MP Erin O’Toole is also expected to launch his bid in the coming days. Foreign policy is expected to be a hot-button issue, with the Liberals facing heat on China and on relations with Iran. O’Toole has been the party’s critic on the file for years, but will now have to vacate the post for his leadership ambitions.

Pierre Poilievre, who is the Tory finance critic, made a stunning announcement Thursday that he’s not running for the leadership, citing the burden it would place on his family.

He said Friday he remains committed to his work on the Hill, and also that he’d spoken to O’Toole and MacKay.

Poilievre said he’s not endorsing anyone now, but said he stressed to them the need for the party to have a leader focused on fiscal issues.

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“We’ll be in good hands regardless of who the members choose,” he said.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who has not ruled out her own potential candidacy, said she is growing increasingly frustrated that the debate around the leadership race seems to be ignoring the western branch of the party.

Too much time has been spent talking about whether a leader ought to speak French, and how winning Quebec or Ontario is central, she said.

Western Canada is just looked at as a given and it’s not, Rempel Garner said.

“I think there’s enough people who are just looking at this and saying, ‘What about us?“’ she said.

Rempel Garner said she’d like to see a robust discussion of policy in the race, except for the issues that one potential contender is already raising.

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Quebec’s Richard Decarie drew immediate condemnation from some in the party this week after he said he believes being LGBTQ is a choice, and that he’d withdraw funding for abortion services.

Rempel Garner said she intends to ask the party to disqualify him as a candidate, if he in fact submits an application.

“Our party is being defined by this conversation right now – what is this leadership committee going to do?” she said.

The co-chairs of the leadership organizing committee were at Friday’s meeting. There was also a briefing from the party’s interim executive director.

The meeting of the Conservative caucus came on the heels of a similar gathering of Liberal MPs, who were exhorted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to play nice with their opponents in the name of getting work done for Canadians.

Scheer offered no similar pitch to his team. He accused the Liberals of using their upcoming budget to buy votes from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, and attacked a planned Liberal bill banning military-style assault rifles.

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“This is an attack on law-abiding, responsible firearms owners,” he said.

Liberals caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia said it seems “premature for that kind of rhetoric” before Parliament has even begun to get down to work.

“Canadians, on a certain level, don’t care about the politics. They want to see the results,” he said.

With files from Joan Bryden

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