Andrew Scheer goes to Windsor

I drove out to Windsor last week to hear the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada address supporters in Kings-Hants, a riding he’d like to reclaim from the Liberals in light of Scott Brison’s resignation. (Brison originally won it as a Conservative, then crossed the floor. Tories held it for most of the 20th Century.)

Because I rarely watch television news, my impression of Scheer came mostly from Twitter, where he presents as a right-wing tax scold in the Reform Party tradition. His usual shtick is to misrepresent carbon pricing schemes as wacko tax grabs. (The concept actually originated in conservative circles, as a market based mechanism for pricing the dire external costs of fossil fuels. Serious versions always includes a mechanism for rebating carbon levies in some other form.)

The most striking thing about seeing Scheer in person is his apparent youth. He turns 40 in May, but looks closer to 30.

The second impression is his ease with a crowd. Perched casually on a stool before 140 or so party loyalists, he spoke with warmth and fluency about the aspirations of Canadians to financial stability and security for their families. Yes, there were lots of gibes at Trudeau and taxes, but they lacked the mean spirit that animated his predecessor.

My hunch is that Scheer had tailored his remarks to a Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative audience. Perhaps to his surprise, he found himself speaking to a crowd of hard-core right wingers.

“Will you bring Canada’s defense budget up to 2 percent of GDP,” demanded an angry veteran who declaimed at length on the allegedly wretched state of Canada’s armed forces.

“What about the militia,” barked the second questioner, who insisted no one should be allowed to resign from the militia before their term was up.

A third interlocutor demanded to know what Scheer would do to prevent Liberals and Dippers from taking his guns.

And so it went. Slippery roads kept audience numbers down, so the gathering, which included most Tory MLAs and a smattering of federal Conservative candidates, may have skewed toward zealotry.

Scheer deflected the questions with calm, measured acknowledgement of the “important issues” raised by the questioners, without committing himself to any policy positions likely to make headlines the next day. There were a few dog-whistles, especially on immigration, but for the most part he demurred without seeming overly evasive.

My impression? This is a Reformer at heart, but with considerable platform skills. He may not be the pushover federal Liberals are expecting.

[ Photo credit: Carole Morris-Underhill, The Vanguard.]