Conservatives contemplate Quebec byelection, impact of NDP leadership
Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer speaks at his shadow cabinet meeting in Winnipeg, Thursday, September 7, 2017. (John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 8, 2017 12:15PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 8, 2017 5:54PM EDT
WINNIPEG -- Federal Conservatives emerged Friday from two days of meetings, upbeat about the task ahead of holding the Liberals to account and strengthening their own party.
The work begins in earnest almost instantly as Quebec Conservatives plan to rally next week in the Quebec riding just vacated by longtime Tory stalwart Denis Lebel.
The byelection there will be an early test for new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and could be a tough one to pass: Lebel won Lac-Saint-Jean in 2015 with just 33 per cent of the vote.
But the Conservative feel wind in their sails thanks to a proposal by the Liberals to make changes to a tax code they argue currently allows wealthy businesses to get out of paying tax. But businesses in nearly every sector of the economy have said they are the ones who will take the real hit -- and the Conservatives are harnessing that outrage.
"They are hearing from every kind of small business across Canada, every kind," said Scheer of the Liberals.
"They are ignoring them. The Liberal arrogance on this is astounding."
Along with developing the lines of attack they'll use against the Liberals come the return of Parliament, the Conservatives are also thinking farther down the road to how they'll assemble and roll out their own proposals for the 2019 election.
Election strategy was part of the discussion at the fall planning meetings, with the Quebec byelection not the only one on the horizon.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose's seat is empty in Alberta. Saskatchewan Conservative MP Gerry Ritz and former Liberal cabinet minister Judy Foote from Newfoundland and Labrador both recently announced their retirements.
Those three are considered secure holds for their respective parties, but Quebec could be a competitive race. Expect to see Tories on the ground there often in the coming months. The byelection has not yet been scheduled.
The Conservative candidate is Remy Leclerc, a former social worker who spent the last decade working for Lebel. On Thursday, the Liberals nominated a popular local mayor, Richard Hebert.
"It's a riding that's important for us to win," said Quebec Conservative Maxime Bernier.
"We're only 11 MPs in Quebec, we need to be more members of Parliament from Quebec if we want to win the next election."
The party elected 12 MPs in 2015 -- including Lebel -- their best showing in the province under former leader Stephen Harper.
It came largely at the expense of the collapse of support for the New Democrats, with Tories picking up seven of their seats.
Lebel's narrow finish in a riding he'd held for 10 years, however, was also due to a drop in NDP support and a consequent boost for the Liberals.
The pattern of NDP votes going to the Liberals repeated itself over and over again in the 2015 election and in some places cost the Tories seats.
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said the smaller NDP vote in Atlantic Canada, as well as in the Toronto area, were factors for her party's reduction to Opposition status. The party analyzed results like that across the country during their morning session Friday.
But just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is irritating former Conservatives with measures like a review of the tax code, so too will he have to address the former New Democrats who came his way, she said.
"Mr. Trudeau has broken a lot of promises those NDP voters counted on and he'll have to atone for those as well," she said.
An unknown for the Conservatives, however, is who the New Democrats will select as their new leader next month.
Deepak Obhrai said he gave his fellow MPs an assessment Friday of the potential impact of candidate Jagmeet Singh. Obhrai called him a divisive figure in the Indo-Canadian community.
"If he does become leader, which I'm not sure, then there is a very big potential of many Jack Layton-type NDPers looking for a new home," Obhrai said.
"That's support we have to look into."
Conservative Gerard Deltell says he knows NDP candidate Guy Caron well, because the two have both served as finance critics. While he's not offering an endorsement, he said he thinks Caron has been running a good campaign.
"We do not select our opponent, we fight them," Deltell said.
"Let them select who they think is the best leader and we will address it."