Politics

Conservative leader says Liberal 'arrogance' behind tax changes, pipeline snag

In the final hours of the Conservative caucus retreat in Winnipeg, leader Andrew Scheer shot straight for the Liberal jugular, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of killing Canadian jobs and small businesses.

Federal Tories 'fired up' by 2-day caucus retreat in Winnipeg

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says his party is adopting a positive tone in presenting alternatives to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's policies — but he also had a few sharp words for Trudeau Friday. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

In the final hours of the Conservative caucus retreat in Winnipeg, leader Andrew Scheer shot straight for the Liberal jugular, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of killing Canadian jobs and small businesses.

Scheer said Friday that Liberal "arrogance" is behind proposed changes to the tax treatment for incorporated small businesses.

"Make no mistake. The Liberals are going after the job creators and the family farm because [Trudeau] has spent the bank dry."

During a brief break in the caucus meetings, Scheer jumped on an announcement by TransCanada that it may suspend its Energy East pipeline application.

Scheer called it is yet another example of Liberals putting ideology before Canadian interests.

"This is terrible news," said Scheer on Friday.

"It's further evidence that when Justin Trudeau says things like, 'We're going to phase out the oilsands,' he actually means them."

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says it is "terrible news" that TransCanada decided to suspend the application for its Energy East pipeline for 30 days and may abandon the project, after the National Energy Board regulator announced a tougher review process. 1:12

The company's request for a one-month suspension comes after federal regulator, the National Energy Board, announced a tougher pipeline review process.

We're ready, says Scheer

Conservatives meeting in Winnipeg told CBC News they are energized and ready to take on the Liberals in 2019.

Meeting with his MPs, senators and other Conservative guests in Winnipeg was critical, Scheer said, to generating ideas that will help his party defeat Trudeau's government.

"We're here to show Canadians that our caucus is ready to form the next government," said Scheer.

Liberals won a comfortable majority in Parliament in 2015, and now hold 182 seats to the Conservatives' 97. The NDP has 44 MPs.

Following a talk Thursday by Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister, discussions Friday included a review by expert outsiders of the 2015 election defeat.

Caucus heard from Daniel Hannan, member of the European Parliament for South East England, and Brian Loughnane, an Australian conservative strategist and former director of the Australian Liberal Party.

Last year, Loughnane delivered a scathing review of the Conservatives' election performance, although details of what he said to party leadership were not made public.

Scheer, left, met with MPs and senators in Winnipeg Friday in the final day of a caucus retreat. The closed-door discussion touched on strategies to help them win in 2019. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Hannan told CBC centre-right politicians tend to have similar election challenges around the world.

Voters, whether they are in Europe or Canada, are attracted to conservatism when debt levels are high and the economy is slumping but rarely get credit for the fix.

"Just after we've repaired it, they sack us and send for the other lot," Hannan said, referring to parties like the Liberals or NDP. 

To appeal to a broad base, it will be important for Canada's Conservative Party to be more positive — and resist getting stuck in attack mode as Official Opposition. That means offering solutions and a vision of a better alternative, Hannan said.

Procurement and public services critic Tony Clement agreed and said this one of the key takeaways he thinks will improve his party's outcome in the next election.

"We all know that the kryptonite for the Liberals is their arrogance and how out of touch they are," he said. "Our kryptonite is being too grumpy."

Confronting the past

Deputy leader Lisa Raitt said the party must go back and analyze what happened in the last election or prepare to make the same mistakes again.

Raitt, one of only a few Conservatives elected from the Greater Toronto Area in the last election, said she was especially interested to hear what Loughnane and others had to say about their loss in urban ridings as well as in Atlantic Canada.

"I'm not afraid to confront what happened in the past," she said.

The failure of the NDP to split the Liberal vote and the party's shifting future is also a focus for the Tories. The New Democrats are currently in the midst of electing a new leader.

Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson is watching the race and said the New Democrats have played a role in his own election wins.

"I know in my riding of Niagara Falls I always want the NDP to get their 20 per cent, because those votes usually don't go to the Conservatives," the Ontario MP said.

Give Scheer a chance, Raitt says

Conservatives acknowledge the party needs to grow the profile of their leader to have a chance of defeating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019.

Maxime Bernier, who finished second to Scheer in the leadership race, said two years should be enough time to accomplish that.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says the Liberal government is unfairly targeting small business owners with their threats of eliminating tax benefits. Justin Trudeau plans to end tax loopholes that his government claims give some wealthy business owners an unfair advantage. 1:23

"We'll be in the House, we'll have the opportunity to have more visibility," he said.

Raitt said caucus was "fired up" about heading back to Ottawa for the fall session. She believes Scheer's personality and more positive approach will shine through.

"He's very likable. He's very principled," she said. "Let's give him a chance."

Conservatives said this fall they will be focused on attacking Liberals on small business tax reform, Trudeau's welcoming message to refugees, the legalization of cannabis and developing a health-care spending plan. 

The Winnipeg retreat ends Friday evening, but some MPs are expected to stay in the Prairie city for the Banjo Bowl CFL game between the Blue Bombers and rival Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

With files from Susan Lunn, Catherine Cullen and Thomson Reuters

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