Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer brought the federal election campaign to Winnipeg on Tuesday, keeping his sights fixed on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau even as his party faces a challenge from the right in the form of the People’s Party of Canada.
When asked about PPC leader and former Conservative leadership challenger Maxime Bernier being included in upcoming televised election debates, Scheer shifted the focus back to Trudeau.
"I will debate anybody who is running to be prime minister," Scheer said at a campaign announcement Tuesday morning.
"I am prepared to debate. I am hoping that Justin Trudeau actually shows up to this debate, and I’m disappointed that he ran away from the first one (last Thursday’s Maclean’s/Citytv debate in Toronto). It looks like he’s going to run away from the second one, so I’ll be there ready to debate him if he finally shows up."
The decision of the Leaders’ Debate Commission to include Bernier in the debates was based, in part, on polling that found substantial minorities of voters in four ridings across the country would possibly support his party. In the Winnipeg-area riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, 24.5 per cent of a 508-voter sample said they would possibly, likely or certainly vote for PPC candidate Steven Fletcher, a former Tory MP and Conservative and Independent MLA.
In the 2017 Conservative leadership campaign, Bernier won a majority of support in six out of Winnipeg’s eight ridings. The other ridings voted for Scheer.
Asked whether he was concerned support for the PPC could split the Conservative vote, Scheer answered, "Not at all."
"People know that this election is a choice between Justin Trudeau and myself, between a scandal-plagued government that has broken promises, led by a prime minister who has lied to Canadians directly — a choice between a government that is going to continue to raise taxes and one that will lower taxes and put more money in the pockets of Canadians so that they can get ahead. That is the choice this election."
Scheer also congratulated Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister on his recent re-election, and reiterated that a federal Conservative government would scrap the current federal carbon tax plan that has been a bone of contention between Manitoba’s governing Tories and the federal Liberals.
"Provinces will be free to implement their own environmental strategies," he said.
"We will have federal components that we will work with premiers on, to ensure that where there is overlap in a jurisdiction, that we have a great working relationship."
On Tuesday morning, Scheer promised to boost government contributions to registered education savings plans to 30 per cent (from the current 20 per cent) for every dollar invested up to a $2,500 annual limit. The policy promise would mean Canadians receive as much as $750 per year in government RESP contributions, up from a current maximum of $500.
"Justin Trudeau and the Liberals believe that they can spend your money better than you can, that they can make better choices for your family than you can," said Scheer, who made the announcement at the Salon Professional Academy beauty school on Ellice Avenue. "I know that a dollar is better spent by the person who earns it than the politician who taxes it, and I believe that it’s parents, not politicians, who know what’s best for their kids."
Scheer stayed focused on his anti-Trudeau theme Tuesday afternoon as he stumped at the St. Anne’s Road campaign office of Réjeanne Caron, a former Winnipeg police officer who is the Conservative candidate for the St. Boniface-St. Vital riding, which is currently held by Liberal MP Dan Vandal.
"Does anybody in this room trust Justin Trudeau?" he asked to a resounding chorus of boos from the audience of Conservative supporters.
Asked what a Conservative federal government would do for residents of St. Boniface-St. Vital, Caron cited Scheer’s campaign promise to repeal the federal carbon tax.
"When people go grocery shopping, we’re paying extra for that," she said. "And it’s not having an effect on the environment, it’s simply taxing people."
Caron also said she’s passionate about the issue of crime in Winnipeg, particularly in light of the city’s ongoing meth crisis.
"I’ve worked the streets, I’ve been hands-on. I understand what’s behind it and what is fuelling the meth crisis," she said.
Solomon Israel is the full-time cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and its national cannabis news website, TheLeafNews.com. He covers the social, legal, medical and scientific aspects of marijuana legalization in Manitoba and the rest of Canada.