Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer has been elected the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, picking up enough down-ballot support to overcome strong early numbers by rival Maxime Bernier during a convention in Toronto.
Scheer, the youngest MP to serve as House Speaker, promised to unite the party by bringing together the social and fiscal conservative wings to take on the Liberals in the 2019 election. He's now 38.
- Analysis Is Andrew Scheer the smart choice or the safe choice?
- Recap: Scheer vows to support free speech after Conservative leadership win
The father of five edged out Bernier by less than one percentage point Saturday. Bernier was considered a strong front-runner throughout the year-long race.
In his victory speech, Scheer promised to keep the party true to its roots, working for average Canadian families and not "Ottawa insiders." He said Canada can't afford four more years of Justin Trudeau and that the fight to return to power in 2019 starts now.
"There is renewed hope for Canada, starting today," he said. "The pain and hardship the Trudeau Liberals are causing Canadians is just temporary."
Scheer criticizes 'sunny ways'
Scheer thanked his team of volunteers, his family and interim leader Rona Ambrose, and gave a special shoutout to Bernier, calling for a "big round of applause." He also thanked former prime minister Stephen Harper, saying Harper will always stand tall in the Conservative movement after becoming the first leader of the "united and dynamic" party.
He also paid tribute to his mother Mary, whose recent death forced him to temporarily suspend his campaign.
Scheer called the Liberal carbon pricing plan a "cash grab," and accused the Liberals of being more consumed by photo-ops and selfies than creating prosperity for struggling Canadians.
"Sunny ways won't pay the bills," he said.
Staggered round-by-round results were announced at the Toronto Congress Centre, site of the party's leadership convention. One of the surprises of the evening was the strong showing of Brad Trost, a self-described "proud social conservative" who brought an anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriage message to the campaign.
Scheer, who voted against a bill to protect rights for transgender Canadians and M-103, a motion to condemn Islamophobia, was asked during a news conference later Saturday if he would allow caucus members to bring forward bills related to abortion.
He would say only that he won't be put in a "binary box" and would focus on issues Conservatives feel passionate about, like free speech. All Conservatives will be welcomed, including libertarian conservatives, social conservatives, democratic reform conservatives and fiscal conservatives, he said.
"Each and every kind of conservative plays an important role," he said. "The leader's role is to find common ground among all those types of conservatives."
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan criticized Scheer's pledge to withdraw funding to universities that restrict free speech on campuses, calling it an attack on academic freedom.
"That is the antithesis of this country," he said in remarks following Scheer's news conference.
Trudeau, who is in Italy for the G7 summit, called Scheer to congratulate him on his victory.
The two discussed making Parliament work for Canadians and the importance of Canada's relationship with the United States. They agreed to meet in person in the coming weeks.
Speaking earlier from Amatrice, a tiny town devastated by an earthquake last August, Trudeau said "I want to congratulate Andrew for his success, congratulate everyone who was part of what was a strong, democratic process."
Before the results for the leadership convention began, there was a short tribute to outgoing interim leader Rona Ambrose.
Leading up to the weekend convention, about 132,000 party members mailed in ballots. Thousands more voted in person onsite or at a few polling stations across the country for a total of 141,000 voting members.
16 candidates overall
There were 16 candidates in the race, but three dropped out, including television reality show celebrity Kevin O'Leary, whose name was left on the ballot due to a late withdrawal.
The 13 candidates who remained after O'Leary's withdrawal delivered final speeches Friday night, laying out their vision for the party and the country.
Many of them urged unity after a long and at times rancorous campaign.
Saturday's program included the farewell tribute to Ambrose, who served as interim leader after Stephen Harper stepped down following the last election.
In a video tribute, former fellow cabinet minister Jason Kenney called Ambrose the "first lady of Canadian conservatism."
Ambrose bids goodbye
Ambrose thanked the crowd and caucus for their support, and said the new leader will inherit a proud legacy and an energized party. Instead of wallowing after the last electoral defeat, she said, Conservatives picked up, recharged and prepared to fight.
"We hit the ground running and we became the best opposition to Liberal arrogance this country has ever seen," she said.
She said no matter what differences of view are expressed during the heat of the campaign, the party is ready to fight in 2019.
"We are strong, focused and united, and we know Justin Trudeau can be beaten."
Michelle Warkentin and Mike Vecchio, both spouses of MPs, also praised Ambrose's partner, J.P. Veitch, for his support during the last 569 days, calling him one of the party's "unsung heroes."
Vecchio joked that Veitch may have had a better attendance record in the House of Commons than Trudeau, and they presented him with a cardboard cut-out, a reference to the much-mocked cut-outs of Trudeau that were installed in Canadian embassies abroad.
Veitch called it an "honour and an amazing privilege" to have been by Ambrose's side.
"I can't wait for our next chapter."