The climate change issue keeps dogging Andrew Scheer on the campaign trail

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been confronted by climate change activists at every turn during this federal campaign, but he hasn't shown a lot of interest in engaging with them on an issue that has moved to the forefront of this election.
Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer makes a campaign stop as climate protesters wait outside with their signs in Saskatoon, Sask. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been confronted by climate change activists at every stage of his travels during the federal election campaign, even though he hasn't shown a lot of interest so far in engaging with them.

In Saskatoon on Saturday, Scheer's rally was briefly interrupted by a dozen climate protesters brandishing signs demanding more robust efforts to fight against climate change.

Party supporters closed a garage door to drown out their chants and held their own signs higher to block the protesters from being seen by the 350 or so supporters assembled for the rally in Scheer's home province.

A day after Scheer skipped massive climate marches that saw tens of thousands of Canadians take to the streets Friday, one protester held a sign that asked "Hey [Scheer!] Why were your hiding during #ClimateStrike?"

Scheer went out the back door after his stump speech in Saskatoon, avoiding the assembled activists entirely.

That protester with the sign was Carla Meckelborg, a mother of two. She said she wasn't looking for a confrontation — that she just wanted a chance to make her case for climate action to a party that is running neck-and-neck with the governing Liberals.

Too busy?

She said the Conservatives could form a government after Oct. 21 and she wants to make sure the party understands just how seriously even people in a resource-rich province like Saskatchewan take the issue.

"They tell us he's too busy," Meckelborg said, reporting what she said was the response from party workers when she and the other protesters asked for a meeting with Scheer.

"He chooses not to talk to us. Of course it would make a big difference if he did. We'd really like to talk to him about the climate crisis.

Climate change activist Carla Meckelborg stands outside a Conservative campaign event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. (John Paul Tasker/CBC News)

"Andrew Scheer was the only leader in Canada that was nowhere to be found [at the climate marches]. That's a huge statement. By his actions, he says an awful lot. He says he has a climate plan but we don't believe he has a climate plan when he has actions like that."

Climate activists have followed Scheer to other campaign events. His team cancelled a whistle-stop last Tuesday at the University of Waterloo Cambridge's School of Architecture, citing road construction issues and a tight schedule. Scheer and his team instead stopped at a local business — a hot dog stand.

Waiting for Scheer at the university campus were more than 50 climate activists who wanted to confront him about his record on the environment.

In Quebec City on Wednesday, the leader walked past two women who quietly unfurled a banner that read, "Rebellion or Extinction."

Two climate activists display the message "rebellion or extinction" at a Conservative campaign event in Quebec City, Que. (John Paul Tasker/CBC News)

On Tuesday in London, Ont., a climate change scientist at nearby Western University wanted to speak to him about the climate "crisis" after a rally at a bar. Scheer pulled away to take pictures with the local candidate, Karen Vecchio, and supporters, before driving away to meet a departing plane.

On Sept. 20 in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, a handful of seniors showed up to a campaign stop with signs warning Scheer that there is no "Planet B." A Conservative partisan blocked the ladies from view with a large lawn sign. Scheer came within feet of the women but didn't stop to talk.

Conservative supporters try to block climate change signs before party leader Andrew Scheer's arrival at a rally in Annapolis Royal, N.S. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

When asked about his reluctance to engage with climate activists, Scheer said he's open to meeting with Canadians "that have something to say or have a question."

Other 'activists'

He said he's not the only campaigning party leader being targeted by climate activists — that they're also frustrated with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his record. He argued that, even with the federal Liberals' carbon tax, the country is on track to miss its Paris climate emissions reduction targets.

And he said he's been meeting with other "activists" who are being ignored by Trudeau: people in the oilpatch.

"The activists that I'm here today supporting are the activists who want the energy sector back on its feet. The people here who want to be able to work. Those are the people I'm going to be a champion for," he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, and his wife Jill arrive at an Edmonton event where he announced support for a national energy corridor. (John Paul Tasker/CBC News)

The Liberal Party has long sought to wedge Scheer on the environment issue.

For months, an orchestrated social media campaign led by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and other Liberal MPs demanded that Scheer release a climate plan.

Scheer did deliver a 60-page climate platform in June — an unusually detailed plan from an opposition leader outside the writ period. The Liberal plan, by comparison, came out in a much shorter form ahead of the 2015 campaign.

But the substance of the Scheer plan isn't spoken of much at "campaign engagement events" — the nightly Conservative gatherings that have replaced the resource-intensive rallies of elections past.

Scheer's stump speech includes much talk of repealing the carbon tax, but little about the other measures included in his party's climate plan.

$1.8B for home renovations

The Conservatives' first climate-related announcement came nearly two weeks into the campaign — a promise to give Canadians up $3,800 each year over the next two years to complete green-friendly home renovations like replacing windows and doors, installing solar panels or upgrading ventilation.

When asked about the relatively hefty price tag ($1.8 billion) for a Conservative program that would reduce emissions by a relatively small amount (9 megatonnes), Scheer said the reno plan is also a promise to make life more affordable.

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Scheer is steadfastly against a carbon tax — he's promised that his first order of business, if elected, would be its repeal — and he's been an ardent defender of the oil and gas industry at a time when the industry is under attack in some quarters.

But he hasn't abandoned the idea of government-coordinated climate action. His slogan on this issue — "technology, not taxes" — references a Conservative plan to invest more money in environmental innovations that can used here and abroad to reduce emissions.

The Conservative climate plan also calls for a $250 million investment in a "green technology and innovation fund," a venture capital plan similar to the Canada Infrastructure Bank that would leverage public and private funds to help fledgling green tech companies and entrepreneurs secure the capital they need to grow.

Scheer has said he'd export more Canadian natural gas to Asia — a much less carbon-intensive fuel compared to coal, which dominates the energy mix on that continent — and seek international credit for the resulting reductions in countries using the cleaner Canadian fuel.

It might not be exactly what the most determined climate activists want, but it's not nothing. Still, Scheer doesn't seem eager to take the message to those who show up at his events intent on calling him a climate change denier.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

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.

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