Nfld. & Labrador

Federal Conservative leadership hopefuls talk N.L. issues

Federal Conservative leadership candidates descended on the provincial party's annual meeting in Gander on the weekend, hoping to attract support.

Candidates vying for leadership of the Conservative party push national message at Gander meeting

Conservative leadership candidates Andrew Scheer, Maxime Bernier, Kellie Leitch and Brad Trost all met with supporters at the provincial Progressive Conservative meeting in Gander (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Federal Conservative leadership candidates descended on the annual meeting of the Newfoundland and Labrador Progressive Conservative party in Gander on the weekend, hoping to attract support from the province.

Under Stephen Harper's leadership the relationship between the federal Conservatives and the provincial PCs was often strained, with the provincial party actively encouraging people to vote anything but Conservative.

Five candidates were in Gander to work the crowd at the AGM. Michael Chong had a chance to outline his position on the issues during a recent visit to the province, but for the other four, it was the first shot to get support.

We asked them how they'd heal the rift with Ottawa, whether they'd expand the federal loan guarantee to cover more of the Muskrat Falls costs, and how they'd help the struggling economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Their responses have been condensed.

Maxime Bernier

His campaign has focused on smaller government. The Quebec MP earned the endorsement of the Young PCs and Memorial University Conservative chapter during his visit.

What needs to be done to rebuild that relationship with the provincial party?

We share the same common values — individual freedom, personal responsibility — and we have must policies that respect provincial jurisdiction.

It's important to have the support here, for being sure to being back in government, so yeah listening to them but also not interfering in provincial jurisdiction — you want to be sure that we'll have real free trade across this country.

What should the federal government do to address the economic situation?

The way to deal with that is very simple. It's just the federal level must lower taxes to all Canadians, giving the money back in the pockets of Canadians, ending corporate welfare, that's the solution. It's not with spending more money that will solve the problem

Should the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee be expanded?

It was a Conservative government that gave that loan guarantee, and I think that's a good thing.  I think we must listen to that and there's an opportunity for the Trudeau government to act for people in Newfoundland and I hope they will listen to that.

Kellie Leitch

Leitch is an Ontario MP and an orthopaedic pediatric surgeon. Her campaign has focused on screening new immigrants for Canadian values, which has prompted rebuke from other candidates. She has the support of MHA Steve Kent.

How would you fix the federal-provincial rift?

My philosophy is that the Conservative movement does the very best when the parties are working together, provincial party helping federal party, federal party helping provincial party and so that's how I've conducted myself since being involved.

I'm looking forward to creating that robust close relationship with the provincial party.

How to help the provincial deficit and economy

I want Canadians to prosper and part of that will be a cap on spending. The government of Canada needs to live within it's means just like you do at home

I grew up in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A fair number people from the Rock actually work there. What I want is the skills they learned in my home town to be applied right here at home on the Rock and in Labrador. I want people here to have great jobs so they can prosper and take care of their families here and that means getting government out of the way.

Muskrat Falls loan guarantee expansion

I'll leave the specific issues to our current government and that. For me the issues that I'll be talking about are the ones that Canadians are raising with me that are important. A core Canadian identity, one that's grounded in Canadian values, and for me that also means screening for those values.

Brad Trost

He advertises himself as being 100 per cent Conservative and his stand against gay marriage has earned him criticism. A September poll showed the Saskatchewan MP has the lowest profile of the candidates but he had a hospitality suite in Gander, encouraging delegates to "have a beer on Brad."

How do you think you can heal the rift?
First of all you admit it, secondly you say 'hey Ottawa doesn't know everything.' We need to decentralize the party and actually have policies developed in the region.

We didn't necessary listen enough and we didn't get there locally and deal with local concerns.

How do you help the NL economy?

I don't know for sure. For the federal government to solve the problem overnight, I don't think it's going to happen.  As a Conservative I think lower taxes and doing things to open the economy for investment could help.

We should also do things to help the local fishery.

Does the federal government need to guarantee more of the Muskrat Falls loan?

I was one of the people who moved for the original guarantee, so I don't know, but I think it's something we need to look at.

If we go from five billion to six billion, I don't think it makes that much of a difference for federal liability. But I have to say I haven't had enough detail on it to absolutely commit.

The federal government instead of doing stuff in the abstract and shipping money to Africa, should maybe look at putting money into local projects. Perhaps the Muskrat Falls clear cutting might be one idea.

Andrew Scheer

He's best known for his time as speaker in the House of Commons during the last term of the Conservative government. In September he launched his bid for leader.

How would you bring the federal and provincial parties together?

We have a lot of work to do to build a connection with conservatives here in NL. There are a lot of great people here that are anxious to get involved again in the federal party. I'm very proud to have Senator [David] Wells on my supporting team.

What would you do to fix the economy in NL?

It's saying 'no' to carbon tax. For a province like Newfoundland and Labrador to have a carbon tax imposed when they're trying to keep their resource economy going, it would just be death out here.

We need to celebrate our natural resource economy.

What about Muskrat Falls?

That's an issue that I'm going to be chatting with people here about and finding out what people on the ground think. I need to really examine that whole thing. I'm not prepared to make a policy announcement at this point in the campaign.

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.