Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is in the midst of rolling out what he calls “my vision for Canada.”
It’s a series of five speeches that are supposed to lay out his views on everything from the economy to immigration.
That he is doing so five months before the federal election is not surprising. But what is striking in this age of right-wing populism is how orthodox Scheer’s stated views seem.
There is not a hint of Trumpism in the speeches he has given — no anti-immigrant nativism, no critique of what Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called the postwar liberal consensus.
Indeed, at base, Scheer’s ideas of how Canada should operate seem eerily similar to those of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Like Trudeau, Scheer is a fan of free trade. He supports the North American Free Trade Agreement and its recently negotiated successor, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement.
He supports the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Liberal government signed.
He may complain now about the manner in which Trudeau’s government negotiated those pacts.
He suggests, without being specific, that he could have done better. But he is not dissatisfied enough to call for their revocation.
On the home front, Scheer blasts the Trudeau government for running fiscal deficits. But like Trudeau, he is in no hurry to eliminate them.
In fact, his promise to phase out the $20-billion federal deficit over five years mirrors the pledge that Trudeau made (but didn’t keep) in 2015.
Scheer says he would keep the Liberals’ pricey new Canada Child Benefit if his party wins power this fall. He has also promised not to cut seniors’ benefits or transfers to provinces for programs such as health care.
He would scrap the Liberals’ new Canada Infrastructure Bank, a mysterious entity that so far has accomplished little. And he has promised to end the practice of subsidizing billion-dollar companies.
The latter is a promise easily made in opposition, but more difficult to maintain in government, particularly when hundreds of jobs are on the line.
In foreign affairs, Scheer — like Trudeau — would side with like-minded liberal democracies.
Like Trudeau, he would confront Russia. Like Trudeau, he would encourage the U.S. to maintain a strong presence in the world.
The Conservative leader is harshly critical of Trudeau’s approach to China, particularly in light of Beijing’s seemingly unwarranted jailing of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
But he doesn’t say what he would do differently to facilitate their release.
Like Trudeau, Scheer would deal with worsening Canada-China trade relations by seeking other markets in Asia.
The Conservative leader is calling for a “total reset” of Canada’s relationship with China. He does not, however, specify exactly what this would mean.
On immigration, Scheer and Trudeau are more in step than either would like to admit.
Like the Liberal prime minister, Scheer says immigrants are an economic necessity for Canada.
He criticizes the government for failing to reduce the number of refugee claimants who use a loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement to enter Canada irregularly.
His answer is to negotiate a change in the agreement — which is exactly what the Trudeau government has been trying to do.
For the Conservatives, immigration has been a tricky issue ever since former prime minister Stephen Harper introduced his ill-fated bill to bar “barbaric cultural practices.”
Since then, the Liberals have routinely accused the Conservatives, including Scheer, of using dog-whistle politics to appeal to anti-immigrant racists.
Given that dog whistles are, by definition, inaudible to the human ear, that’s a difficult charge to rebut.
Scheer’s earlier flirtations with the hard right haven’t helped. In 2017, he agreed to be interviewed by controversial rightist Faith Goldy on the uber-conservative website Rebel Media.
In February, he spoke in Ottawa to a crowd of so-called yellow-vest protesters that included anti-immigrants.
With this quintet of speeches, Scheer hopes to set the record straight. He’s neither a hard-liner nor a nut.
Truth be told, his views are a lot like Trudeau’s.
Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.