Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer addresses his caucus during the national Conservative caucus meeting in Victoria, B.C., Wednesday.

Opposition parties hole up to map strategy for Commons’ return next week

OTTAWA — Federal Conservatives and New Democrats camped out in two different cities Wednesday to plot their strategy against the Liberals once the House of Commons returns next week.

Their overriding challenge is the same — convince Canadians that their party is the one that ought to be voted into power in 2019 — but each must now find the most convincing way to make the case.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer met with his Members of Parliament and senators in Victoria, seeking to position his party as fighting for all Canadians.

“Whether it’s national security or economic security, we have seen time and time again, that Justin Trudeau is simply not focused on priorities of Canadians. They are focused instead on the insiders, on the well connected, those who stalk the halls and Liberal corridors of power,” Scheer said.

“Canada’s Conservatives fight for prosperity and opportunity for everyone, no matter where they live, where they come from and what they do for a living.”

In Ottawa, the New Democrats opted for a more targeted approach, as leader Jagmeet Singh pledged to more aggressively deal with income inequality.

Singh, who took the party’s reins in October, cited two studies, including one by respected civil society group Oxfam, that indicated the wealthiest individuals in Canada and around the world are getting richer.

“Meanwhile, big corporations move to punish workers who just want to make a living wage,” Singh said in an apparent reference to the response by some companies to Ontario’s recent minimum-wage increase.

“And unfair trade deals are putting the interests of the few over the interests of the many. Canadians are being told the economy is doing great, but they’re not feeling the benefits.”

Since the House of Commons rose for a Christmas break in December, Scheer and Singh have both been working to increase their personal profiles.

Scheer arrived at the caucus meetings fresh off a trip to Washington, D.C., to talk up the benefits of NAFTA and also to position himself as a statesman-in-waiting.

Singh went as far as allowing the media to witness his marriage proposal to Gurkiran Kaur, and then blanketed social media with the news, a move that raised eyebrows even in his own caucus.

“When a party believes that better instagram tricks or gala planning is the path to success we lose touch,” Charlie Angus, who ran against Singh for the leadership, posted to his own social media account over the weekend.

Angus has since deleted the tweet, saying on the way into caucus Wednesday it wasn’t helpful to the conversation.

A former leadership contender for the Conservatives also made news Wednesday with Kellie Leitch announcing she won’t run again in 2019. She finished sixth in the 2017 contest but drew national attention for a controversial plan to screen newcomers for Canadian values. She has kept a low profile since the campaign ended and Scheer left her out of his shadow cabinet.

NDP MPs were originally slated to meet in Saguenay, Que., before a winter-storm warning forced the party to relocate the gathering to Ottawa.

New Democrats had hoped to use the Saguenay retreat as a way to introduce Singh to Quebecers and start rebuilding support inside the province after a tough couple of years.

They’ll also have to figure out how to remain relevant and make an impact in the House of Commons without their leader, as Singh has indicated he does not plan to run for a federal seat until the next election.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said it will fall to caucus to “hold down the fort,” but that having Singh meet Canadians across the country over the next 20 months will play to his strengths and benefit the party.

“I still want him around. I want him fully aware of what it is we’re advocating here and having connection with our caucus members,” Cullen said.

“But mostly I want him on the road, because that’s where he’s best and that’s where Canadians will be able to see him in an element that isn’t as partisan, as confrontational.”

The Tories are also facing challenges in Quebec, having lost one of their seats there in a recent by-election. They also lost a seat in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

But the party is performing relatively well in the polls, and for Scheer, one challenge will be to surmount Liberal efforts to paint him as little more than a carbon copy of his predecessor, Stephen Harper.

There were echoes of Harper in Scheer’s speech Wednesday when he touched on themes about terrorism and dark economic times.

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