The Sunday Magazine

Andrew Scheer on how Canada would be different if he were prime minister

He became leader of the Conservative Party more than a year ago, but many Canadians still don’t know much about him.
With the federal election exactly a year away, Andrew Scheer, the leader of the official opposition sat down with The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright for a wide-ranging conversation. (Talin Vartanian/CBC)

Andrew Scheer became leader of the Conservative Party more than a year ago, but many Canadians say they still don't know much about him.

With the federal election exactly one year away, the leader of the official opposition sat down with The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Scheer responded to questions about his call to repeal the carbon tax, why he has yet to unveil an environmental policy, U.S. trade negotiations and the death and apparent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here is part of their conversation.

You said your first order of business as prime minister is to kill the carbon tax. Why?

It punishes those that can least afford to pay it by raising the cost of essentials, raising the cost of home heating, driving to work, transportation costs. We know under this Liberal government's plan that those who emit the most will pay the least. They've just concluded a deal with Canada's largest emitters — big companies that can afford well-paid lobbyists — and they've got an exemption of up to 90 per cent.

But the money from the carbon tax comes back to the community, in the form of hospitals, in the form of infrastructure and schools, and that kind of thing. There's a study out by a former adviser to Stephen Harper that says households will get more money back from the carbon tax than they paid.

Then what we're talking about is a revenue tool, not an emissions tool. Don't tell Canadians that you've got an environmental plan that is really just a new taxation tool.

Why can't it be both?

Because there's no correlation between the reduction of emissions and what the Liberals are proposing. In fact, the study that you mention that came out just recently, [it's] highly speculative. It said if the government did this, if the government did that, five or six conditional clauses, and then even that was not based on what the Liberals have actually put forward.

If not a carbon tax, what are you going to do? I haven't heard you talk a lot about a detailed plan for the environment.

I've been speaking about it in broad strokes. The reason why we haven't unveiled it is because we're finalizing it, and we've got lots of time before the next election. One of the things we want to talk about is the need for Canada to reduce global emissions.

'All will become clear,' Scheer told Michael Enright when pressed about his plans for the environment. Earlier this week, Scheer's official portrait as the 35th Speaker of the House of Commons, was unveiled on Parliament Hill. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

So you support Paris.

I support the need for Canada to play a significant role in reducing global emissions.

So you support Paris.

Part of what the carbon tax does is make Canada less competitive. So if we have a situation where a business could produce a widget here in Canada or assemble a car … or in another country that doesn't have a carbon tax, Canada can take great pride in saying, 'Well, we lowered our emissions because that unit of production has left Canada and now it's going to Asia, to China, to India or to Mexico.' Are we better off? Because that job just went with it, and now the emissions are just going to another country — and often more emissions.

When you unveil the policy, will in the first paragraph be a sentence saying that the Conservative Party supports the Paris Agreement?

It will speak to Canada's targets.

I don't know what that means. Does that mean you support it or you don't support it? You like it? You hate it? What?

All will become clear. Our position is that we believe that Canada has to have a comprehensive plan to significantly reduce global emissions. What the Liberals are getting away with on a lot of this is, they've got their carbon tax, which won't get to their own targets. Their emissions plan is a tax.

You said that you would have done a better job in the negotiation for NAFTA. How?

When you look at the last election in the United States, Mexico was the target. So when Trump was focused on that, Justin Trudeau volunteered and said, 'Well, let's put an extra seat at the table because Canada is going to sit down.' Then he started focusing on non-market issues, a politically correct agenda that had nothing to do with tariffs and integrated economies. We gave major concessions without a single victory. The Americans are counting their victories on things they gained.

You've promised to balance the budget in a couple of years, if you win the election. How are you going to do that when you've just kissed off revenue from the carbon tax?

I believe there are some big ticket items that we can eliminate. I believe there are some efficiencies in Canada's regulatory system that can be improved a lot. When we talk about economic issues, it's usually spending or taxes. You want to see a whole bunch of new revenue in government coffers that would help pay for things like healthcare and transfers, get us back to balanced budgets? Pipelines, economic activity, unleashing more potential in our natural resource sector, getting people to work all across the country and displacing foreign oil.

The fact that the Liberals killed Energy East — a pipeline that would have brought Western Canadian energy to the Maritimes — that is a lost opportunity. I have made the commitment that I will invite the proponents back to the table because I am sick and tired of protesters blocking pipeline projects to get Canada's resources to foreign markets. I don't see them lining up and down the St. Lawrence, trying to run chains across the shipping routes, blocking foreign tankers bringing in oil from other countries, or refined products from other countries. That is something that drives me crazy. That would increase a lot of economic activity and get us the growth that would help us balance the budget.

The most concerning international issue at the moment facing Canada — and it would face you as prime minister — is the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. If you were prime minister, how would you respond to that? Would you cancel any arms deals we have with Saudi Arabia?

[Editor's note:  On October 19, 2018, 2 weeks after dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, the Saudi government admitted that he had died as a result of a "fist fight" inside the consulate. Turkish reports say he was killed by members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.]

This incident should be a wake-up call about the government in Saudi Arabia and about the role it's playing in the world. It is very disturbing when you look at what the Saudi government has done in this case, the cover-up that's followed it. Everyone should be concerned about this. We cannot allow a government to act with impunity in this fashion.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview. It has been edited for length and clarity.


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