HALIFAX - Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is pledging to upend the Liberal lock on Atlantic Canada, promising that winning back seats in the region will be a key part of his party's strategy to oust Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election.
Scheer spoke at the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party's annual general meeting in Halifax on Saturday, in a bid to drum up enthusiasm for a party that has struggled to regain its foothold on the East Coast. A red tide swept all of Atlantic Canada's 32 seats in Parliament in 2015, and Liberal premiers control all four Atlantic provincial legislatures.
Scheer told the luncheon at a hotel in the city's downtown that the Tories need to draft new candidates and rebuild campaign teams in the run-up to next year's federal election, but he assured the crowd the Conservatives are poised for a comeback.
“I believe that more and more Canadians, especially in Atlantic Canada, are realizing that they didn't get what they voted for,” he said. “We will form government, but it will take all your help. It starts here in Atlantic Canada.”
Scheer said Canada's East Coast has been shortchanged by its representatives in Ottawa, accusing them of putting partisan politics ahead of their constituents' interests.
“Thirty-two members of Parliament all toeing the party line, being a spokesperson for Ottawa ... Liberals in their own ridings, instead of being the strong voice for their ridings in Ottawa,” he said to applause.
He said those MPs have stayed silent as their party brings forward tax proposals that amount to an “unprecedented attack” on small businesses, an issue he said has particular resonance in a region distinguished by its history of resilience and innovation.
Scheer said members of the region's lobster fishing industry could take a hit under the Liberal government's carbon tax plan, which he said could increase the cost of fuelling their vessels.
He even took a swipe a Trudeau's recent “peoplekind” comment at a town hall in Edmonton, jokingly referring to “fishermen” as “fisher people.”
After his speech, Scheer told reporters he would leave it to his provincial counterparts to address the allegations of inappropriate behaviour that led to the resignation of former Nova Scotia Tory leader Jamie Baillie last month.
“I really do get the sense that there's goodwill between all the different types of parties, both federally and provincially, to come up with processes to make sure that workplaces are safe,” Scheer said.
Scheer had appeared at the Nova Scotia PC Party meeting one year before, for one of the first debates in the 13-way race to become federal Tory leader.
He assured the five candidates who have entered Nova Scotia's PC leadership race that competition only makes a party stronger.
The party plans to release details and rules for the provincial leadership race on Sunday.
With Files from Adina Bresge, with The Canadian Press.