OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer was out promoting his plan to tackle gang-related violence Friday but found himself on the defensive about his dual citizenship and other tight spots instead of the signature Conservative tough-on-crime agenda.
The Conservative leader was in Toronto Friday morning to talk about his crime platform, which would see the Canada Border Services Agency do more to stop guns from being smuggled in from the United States. It also promises new mandatory minimum sentences for some gang-related offences.
Yet, Scheer was still having to spend a lot of time talking about how he is in the process of renouncing the dual American-Canadian citizenship he has through his U.S.-born father, and why he had never said anything publicly about it until now.
Scheer, who said he has never renewed his U.S. passport as an adult, said he did not begin the process of giving up his American citizenship until August, despite having decided to do so after winning the Conservative leadership race in 2017.
“It’s not a big deal in Canada for people to have dual citizenship,” Scheer said Friday morning.
The Conservatives, however, had attacked former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, as well as former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, over their dual citizenship with France. Mulcair obtained his citizenship through his wife, who was born in France, and Dion through his mother, also born there.
When asked whether he had brought up his own situation then, Scheer said: “I wasn’t leading the party at that time.”
Scheer also faced questions about whether he had ever earned any U.S. income (no), whether he had registered for the draft with the U.S. Selective Service, as required by law (he did not know, but the party has since confirmed he did) and when his U.S. passport expired (he would have to check).
The Liberals made a thinly veiled reference to the issue when they sent out a scornful news release about the Conservatives’ approach to law and order.
“Andrew Scheer wants to bring American-style gun laws to Canada,” said the statement from Liberal candidate Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, in his efforts to convince Canadians to give him a second mandate, has been comparing Scheer to Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford, whose government is in a labour dispute with education workers that could shut down schools next week.
“I think people in Ontario understand that there have been strikes at the education level against every political party who has been in office,” Scheer said when asked what impact that could have on his electoral fortunes.
To a lesser extent, Trudeau has also been linking Scheer to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was a longtime cabinet minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and was viewed as a strong contender to replace him, before deciding not to join the race Scheer won.
Kenney, who now heads Alberta’s United Conservative Party, is hitting the campaign trail in Ontario on Friday in support of Scheer.
The Conservative leader also found himself, once again, discussing abortion and LGBTQ rights.
The Conservatives, who have pledged to cut foreign aid by 25 per cent should they win the Oct. 21 election, have said they would maintain the Liberal commitment to spend $700 million annually on support for sexual- and reproductive-health rights around the world.
But a party spokesman told The Canadian Press they would not take pick a side in a battle taking place at the United Nations, where a U.S.-led coalition is trying to remove language about sexual- and reproductive-health rights from official documents.
“We are not going to have a divisive debate here in Canada or at the international level,” Scheer said when asked about it Friday.
Meanwhile, Scheer was also asked about an interview that Heather Leung, the Conservative candidate in the B.C. riding of Burnaby North-Seymour, gave to local news outlet Burnaby Now, about a policy the local school board adopted in 2011 to curtail bullying of LGBTQ students.
Leung suggested in the video, which the news outlet posted to YouTube in 2013, that LGBTQ people need to “recruit” children.
“Our party stands for inclusiveness and the rights of all Canadians, including LGBT Canadians, and will always do,” Scheer said when asked about the video on Friday, although he said he had not seen it. The Leung campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
The Liberals took their own hits Friday on an issue that Trudeau has made, for better or for worse, central to his legacy as prime minister.
Ottawa is asking the Federal Court to review a September ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which found the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children living on reserves by not adequately funding child and family services.
It also ordered children and their families be given the highest level of compensation it can award.
Trudeau said he agrees with many of the tribunal’s findings, including that victims should be compensated, but that more time is needed for consultation than the tribunal gave with its Dec. 10 deadline, especially since Canada is in the middle of an election campaign.
“We need time to be able to do that and get it right, because Canadians expect us to get it right and Indigenous Peoples expect us to get it right,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Saint-Anaclet, Que.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh condemned the decision to challenge the ruling.
“This is a moral failure, this is unjust, this is continuing an injustice,” he said in Saskatoon.
Singh said an NDP government would accept the ruling and provide compensation.
Scheer has said a Conservative government would ask for a judicial review.
Meanwhile, Jaime Battiste, the Liberal candidate in the Nova Scotia riding of Sydney-Victoria, issued an apology after the Toronto Sun shared past racist and sexist remarks he had made on social media.
Battiste told the newspaper he had said those things during tough times in his life, and that his views have changed.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2019.
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press