Scheer pitches east-west energy corridor, blasts Trudeau for 'all-out attack' on oil

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he wants to do away with many of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's economic initiatives — with the notable exception of the Canada Child Benefit — as he looks to balance the federal books and jump-start economic activity in Western Canada.

Conservative leader insists he can return budget to balance without deep spending cuts

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says, if elected, he will build an east-west energy corridor while balancing the federal budget. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he wants to do away with many of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's economic initiatives — with the notable exception of the Canada Child Benefit — as he looks to balance the federal books and jump-start economic activity in Western Canada.

While promising to lay out a "positive vision" for the economy, Scheer's speech to the Economic Club of Canada took multiple personal shots at the prime minister, describing Trudeau as an incompetent and entitled spendthrift who has put Canada on a path to economic calamity.

Scheer said that while economic indicators are largely positive — Canada currently has one of lowest unemployment rates in its history, a surging stock market and economic growth rates as good or better than those in other G7 countries — he pointed to self-reported polling data that indicate many Canadians surveyed feel the economy isn't working well for them in an era of sky-high household debt.

"The economic indicators might say one thing. But the human indicators say something entirely different. People are only barely getting by. And they're not getting ahead," he said.

An 'all-out attack' on the energy industry

Scheer has the difficult task of running against a sitting prime minister in good economic times. Since Trudeau was elected, the country has added 1 million new jobs and, according to the latest StatsCan jobs report, more jobs were added in April than in any other single month since 1976.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Thursday most Canadians are better off than they were four years ago.

"I think Canadians will make their decisions based on those economic outcomes. I think people will see Andrew Scheer does not have a credible approach for the economy and our approach to the economy is actually working," he told reporters at an event at Toronto's Ryerson University.

"There are obviously continuing challenges ... people in Alberta are facing a challenge around the changing oil and gas sector. Those issues are real. But what we're also seeing across the country is significantly more people employed."

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Thursday Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn't have a credible plan for the economy. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Scheer accused Trudeau of fostering national disunity with the government's natural resources policies, saying two pieces of legislation in particular — Bill C-69, the environmental assessment overhaul, and Bill C-48, a northern B.C. oil tanker ban — amount to an "all-out legislative attack" on the energy industry that will "deliver a death knell to a critical Canadian industry."

"You see, ladies and gentlemen, under Justin Trudeau, Canada has become a country of 'no'. We have what most countries could only dream of – a booming labour market, world-leading clean technology and a rich abundance of a finite resource the world demands – and under Trudeau, we're squandering it. We have a winning lottery ticket. And he wants to throw it away. Canada should be a country of 'yes'," he said.

"Instead of unity — instead seeking to help all Canadians benefit from our nation's prosperity and natural resources — Trudeau has sown division."

Pro-pipline supporters rally outside a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources regarding Bill C-69 in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Canadian senators are trying to make more than 100 amendments to the government's environmental assessment bill that overhauls how major energy and transportation projects are reviewed. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government has defended the assessments overhaul — which bolsters Indigenous consultation, tweaks timelines and ensures greater public participation in the regulatory process, among other changes — as a necessary step after a series of legal setbacks put projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in limbo.

Opponents of the legislation say they fear it gives too much leeway to the federal environment minister and have dubbed it the "no-more pipelines" bill.

The Liberals have defended the tanker ban legislation as a way to protect the natural beauty of northern B.C. by blocking crude-laden vessels from the ecologically sensitive area. Critics say the bill shuts off another potential avenue for energy exports in an era of severely constrained pipeline capacity.

An east-west energy corridor

Scheer vowed to scrap those bills along with the federal carbon tax, and floated a new policy proposal — a dedicated, coast-to-coast right-of-way specifically set aside for energy infrastructure projects like pipelines and new hydroelectric projects.

He said with global demand for oil poised to increase in the coming years (he cited OECD projections that put "peak oil" demand at 2030 at the earliest), Canada should position itself as a global energy superpower, given its considerable natural wealth.

"With a single corridor, we could minimize environmental impacts, lower the costs of environmental assessments, increase certainty for investors and, most importantly, get these critical projects done," he said.

"The fact is, Canada has more than enough oil, not only to displace imports from the aforementioned rogue states but to put an end to all foreign oil imports once and for all."

While promising to keep the Liberal government's tax-free Canada Child Benefit if elected, Scheer said that, under his leadership, spending would be constrained and any new expenditures would be cleared only after first making cuts to government outlays elsewhere to ensure budgetary balance.

"The message to politicians and top bureaucrats will be simple: you want to spend new money, go find it first. Families live within their means. Government should too," Scheer said.

The Conservatives have faced criticism from the governing Liberals over Scheer's plan to return to balanced budgets.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said such a plan would result in billions of dollars in cuts to government programs. Scheer insisted Wednesday that such cuts wouldn't be necessary, but he offered few specifics on how he would manage that difficult fiscal manoeuvre.

He said he'd cancel Canadian contributions to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — a $256 million expense — and wind down what he called the "money-sucking administrative nightmare" that is the Canada Infrastructure Bank. That bank has so far been a source of funds for Montreal's transit expansion.

Together, those two initiatives amount to only a small part of Ottawa's spending and account for only a fraction of the current budget deficit.

Scheer also said he'd end "government handouts," or "corporate welfare," for companies like Bombardier.

"Drastic spending cuts aren't necessary to balance the budget. Simply taking a responsible, measured approach to spending growth will go a long way. And that is what I will do," he said.

He also re-announced two economic policies: a promise to remove GST from home heating bills and make maternity and parental benefits — Employment Insurance (EI) benefits — tax-free.

Scheer also promised to "rework the mortgage stress test," that the federal Liberals introduced to stabilize a hot housing market — a policy that's unpopular with real estate agents, mortgage brokers and some would-be homeowners.

Morneau said stress tests contribute to market stability and they're also subject to ongoing reviews. "A big difference between Andrew Scheer and our government is we actually consider the evidence," he said.

CBC Politics' new weekly Canada Votes newsletter

Get analysis from our Parliamentary bureau as we count down to the federal election. Delivered to your inbox every Sunday evening – then daily during the campaign. Sign up here


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.