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Editorial: Mending fences

Published on June 2, 2017

Andrew Scheer, federal leadership candidate for the Conservative Part of Canada and MP for Regina - Qu’Appelle gives some remarks on his policies and takes questions in Brooklyn, NS.

©Colin Chisholm

Andrew Scheer has no place to go but up in Atlantic Canada.

And with a hostile bloc of 32 Liberal MPs sitting across from him in the House of Commons, the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is well aware of the challenges ahead.

He has to win back traditional Tory support across the four Atlantic provinces, which voted solidly Liberal in 2015, if he hopes to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

How should he go about it?

First, he has to distance himself from former party leader and mentor Stephen Harper. Suggestions that Scheer, who served four years as Speaker under Harper, is a clone of the former PM — but with a smile — sure as heck won’t win him much support in this region.

The last federal election saw Atlantic Canada reject Harper and his policies. Harper alienated the region while he was leader of the Canadian Alliance with his comment that there was a “defeatist attitude” in Atlantic Canada. Many Progressive Conservatives felt Harper hijacked their party when it merged with his Canadian Alliance.

Frankly, Harper’s policies as prime minister angered many Atlantic Canadians. Unpopular changes to employment insurance, which penalized those working in seasonal, primary industries, were among the most repressive.

Scheer has promised to stay away from divisive debates on subjects such as abortion and same-sex marriage, which he personally opposes.

That’s wise. He promises to balance the books, strip the HST from home heating bills, lower business taxes, repeal the Liberal carbon tax plan, support the Energy East pipeline and deny funding to universities that don’t allow full freedom of speech. He sees radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to all Canadians and promises to recommit Canadian fighters to the battle against ISIS.

Those positions should generally find a warm reception here. It’s a good start for Scheer, but he needs to get his face known in the region. He can’t be seen as a Western Canadian, right-wing extremist. He must address bread-and-butter issues here, express his position on fisheries matters and the region’s role in the future of the country.

Despite his youth, the 38-year-old father of five is a Commons veteran, having won a seat at age 25 by defeating NDP stalwart Lorne Nystrom. He already has national appeal, as was evidenced when he carried the majority of convention delegates in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

He’s a solid, amiable leader — without political baggage — who can offer a clear choice to Canadians.

But he’d best quickly put aside any suggestion that he is heir to Harper’s legacy. He must become a compassionate Conservative, able to bring Canadians of various regions and backgrounds into his big tent, and he needs to put a progressive element back into the Conservative party and develop a credible government-in-waiting.

And, he has two years to do it.