A divided Conservative Party narrowly elected Andrew Scheer as its leader on Saturday evening, defying expectations set for the 38-year-old Saskatchewanian.
Scheer has long been known as a social conservative, but faced little scrutiny in the race, after being left in the shadow of Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier, the two frontrunners with socially progressive records. Thanks to his long tenure as speaker of the House of Commons — and his nominal neutrality in that role — Scheer’s record on the issues is considerably more thin than his competitors.
And for those who want to read up on the new Tory leader, it might be hard — his campaign policy site was offline within moments of his victory, replaced with a unilingual “thank you” landing page.
So what does he actually stand for?
It’s no secret in Ottawa that Scheer is a dedicated social conservative.
Campaign Life Coalition, an aggressively pro-life and anti-gay marriage religious organization, gives Scheer top marks for his voting record.
That record includes votes against bills to legalize gay marriage, enshrine human rights protections for transgender people, and to allow physician-assisted dying. Scheer has also voted in favour of legislation that would re-define when, during pregnancy, a fetus is considered a human being and to criminalize sex work.
“Scheer has an impeccable voting record on life & family issues during his long career as a federal MP,” writes the lobby group, which gave him a B- grade.
Campaign Life Coalition stopped short of endorsing Scheer, noting that he had “made the unfortunate decision to promise the liberal media that that his government would mimic Harper’s policy of not reopening the abortion debate.”
And in the end, Scheer only won the leadership thanks to support from Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost, two ardent social conservatives that the Coalition had backed.
“I’m not going to put myself in a binary box that you might want me to be in.”
It’s no coincidence, as Scheer’s social conservative goes back more than a decade. In railing against legislation to expand the right to marry to same-sex couples, Scheer told the House of Commons that “the government may force all Canadians to recognize homosexual marriages” but that it would fail “because marriage does not come from the state and does not depend on the government.”
Despite that, Scheer has more recently voted to strike the traditional definition of marriage from the Conservative Party policy book.
At his first press conference after being elected leader on Saturday, Scheer dodged questions from journalists on his social conservative bona fides.
Scheer said that while he supports allowing his MPs to speak their mind, he’s going to push them to focus on the issues that “bring us together,” adding: “I’m not going to put myself in a binary box that you might want me to be in.”
But when VICE News asked where he stood on C-16, which would extend human rights protections for transgender people, Scheer was a little more direct.
“I voted against it,” Scheer said.
When pressed on whether he’d repeal the law, once it becomes law, he refused to answer. He did say that “the left” can, “in the name of tolerance, become intolerant.”
Two aspects of Scheer’s policy book that received little scrutiny are his comments on how he’d get the federal government involved in education, which is normally a provincial matter.
Scheer, himself the parent of five, sends his school-age kids to a Christian school in Regina. That has undoubtedly led to his commitment to make it more attractive for parents to send their kids to religious schools.
“Our colleges and universities are becoming no-go zones for open dialogue.”
He committed to unveiling an annual tax deduction of $4,000 per child for parents who send their kids to “independent schools,” and another $1,000 per child for those who homeschool their children. (Some tuition for religious schools may already be tax deductible, depending on the school, but Scheer’s policy would create a deduction for all non-public schools.)
More controversially, Scheer has threatened to pull federal grants from any university in Canada that does not “do not foster a culture of free speech and inquiry.”
Scheer hasn’t detailed what, exactly, that means, and refused to clarify when asked by VICE News on Saturday.
“We’ll put forward a detailed policy that speaks to how it will work,” Scheer said.
The policy on his website specifically criticized “the establishment of safe-spaces, forbidden topics, and banning of speakers and campus clubs,” writing that “our colleges and universities are becoming no-go zones for open dialogue.”
Revoking federal funding for post-secondary education is no idle threat. Scheer’s policy specifically singles out the grants and programs that provide billions of dollars towards researching cancer, genetic diseases, technology, and social sciences. The federal government also provides billions in infrastructure cash to universities across the country.
Scheer has made it clear that he’ll be campaigning against the Trudeau government’s price on carbon.
He’s committed to repealing the price if he should be elected prime minister, but has vowed to support provinces who wish to fight against the federal price in the interim.
Instead of the pricing scheme, Scheer has largely just taken, nearly word-for-word, the Harper government’s plan on reducing CO2 emissions — “a sector by sector approach to reduce greenhouse gases in cooperation with industry and the United States.” It remains unclear exactly what that sector-by-sector approach actually entails.
Scheer isn’t without any environmental policy, however. His policy page insists he will focus on “real threats” to the environment. The only plan listed is to “make it illegal to dump raw sewage into public waterways.” That may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s exactly what Montreal did in 2015, with the green light from the Trudeau government.
The new leader’s foreign policy resembles the approach taken by the Conservatives while in government.
On Ukraine, Scheer has promised to “do everything possible to fully equip Ukraine” and to reboot his government’s program to share satellite imagery with the Ukrainian armed forces (which was shut down due to red tape and regulatory hurdles) in order to “defeat the Putin-backed terrorists occupying their territory.”
Scheer also promised to work with pro-democracy groups within Russia to encourage “political change.”
The new leader would also send Canada’s fighter jets back to Iraq and Syria to join coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State. The jets were pulled from their mission by Prime MInister Justin Trudeau last year.
His policy website also committs to prioritizing “real refugees,” which means “accepting people directly from their home countries, rather than prioritizing those who have already fled,” Scheer writes.
This was a common strategy of the Harper government, to focus on religious minorities — particularly Christians — facing persecution in the Middle East, over refugees who have managed to escape to refugee camps.
Tucked in Scheer’s policy book is an old mainstay of the Reform Party: Adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While Conservatives have talked frequently about wanting to avoid reopening the constitution, Scheer would do exactly that by encouraging provinces to agree to the proposal, one-at-a-time.
The concept of property rights has long been put forward by conservatives, but has never really been seriously considered on the federal level.
Scheer, on his campaign site, envisions that doing so would give individuals the ability to fight back against expropriation of their property. But, in reality, it’s not entirely clear how something like this could work and what effects it would have. It could even frustrate natural resource infrastructure projects, like pipelines, by giving landowners — and First Nations — a constitutional veto over the use of their land.
It was the Harper government that frequently chastised the Supreme Court for interpreting the Charter too broadly, and for expanding section seven — life, liberty, and security of the person — to do everything from striking down prohibitions on sex work to effectively legalizing assisted suicide.
The most detailed policy on Scheer’s campaign website is his position on firearms.
Scheer, who is Ottawa-born and a Saskatchewan transplant, writes extensively how gun owners and hunters are safety-oriented and brags that “I dropped a buck from 400 metres away using a friend’s .308 precision rifle.”
“I dropped a buck from 400 metres away using a friend’s .308 precision rifle.”
Scheer would, as prime minister, launch a review of all firearms regulations with an eye to reducing red tape for gun owners.
He would also remove the RCMP’s ability to classify guns as restricted “because of how they look” and create a new ombudsman whose job it would be to advocate for gun owners and review regulations. He has also committed to repealing UN regulations on firearms markings, lift regulations that limit magazine capacity, and decriminalize regulatory infractions.