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ALAN HOLMAN: Is Scheer just a smiling Harper?

Published on July 29, 2017

Andrew Scheer speaks to the crowd during the opening night of the federal Conservative leadership convention in Toronto on Friday, May 26, 2017.

©Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Andrew Scheer, the 38-year-old leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, accompanied by his wife and five young children, spent a couple of nights on the Island earlier this month. 

Mr. Scheer is far different from the cold, austere, Stephen Harper, the former Tory leader. He’s a pleasant man, with an easy smile and a slightly reserved manner. He’s not a charismatic showboat, posing for selfies with every second person he comes across.

But, if he is going to pose any kind of a political threat to the sunny ways of Trudeau-the-Younger he is going to have to become a bit more aggressive in approaching the public. More importantly he needs to establish himself as his own man, not simply following the footsteps of the previous leader.

In the past few weeks, Mr. Scheer has missed a couple of opportunities to set himself apart from Mr. Harper. One was his continuation of the Harper government acceptance of the American position that Omar Khadr was a terrorist who murdered one American soldier and wounded another in Afghanistan, not a child-soldier in an opposing army. 

While he accepts a 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court that Canada had violated Mr. Khardr’s rights by contributing to his on-going detention and torture in an American prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mr. Scheer claims that the only compensation needed was the repatriation of Mr. Khadr to a Canadian prison where he could enjoy the benefits of the Canadian justice system.

In an article in a Toronto newspaper, Mr. Scheer points out that this is what the Harper government did, and Mr. Khadr was subsequently granted his freedom. 

Mr. Scheer says there was no need for any additional compensation. He rejects the government’s argument that it saved money by paying $10.5 million in compensation rather than fighting a prolonged court battle, which would have cost much more in legal fees, plus run the risk of an even larger compensation package.  

Mr. Scheer has expressed some sympathy for the wife of the American soldier killed by Mr. Khadr who successfully sued him for over $100 million in an American court. However, that action doesn’t apply in Canada.

It is understandable that Mr. Scheer and the Conservative Party hold a different view on the government’s obligations to Mr. Khadr, but the Conservatives overstepped the line by dispatching two of their MPs, and Mr. Scheer himself, for appearances in American media where they suggested the Khadr compensation package will be used in the re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is generally considered poor form to go out of the country and use international disagreements as leverage in domestic political disputes.

Another area where Mr. Scheer missed an opportunity to differentiate himself from the previous leadership was his indication he would turn back the clock with regards to Mr. Trudeau’s attempts reform the Senate.     

While the jury is still out on how successful Mr. Trudeau has been in his attempt to appoint people to the Senate who are relatively free of any political baggage; people who, once appointed to the Senate, sit as independents and not as members of any political party caucus.

Though the government has had some legislation held up, and the Senate has made some amendments the government wasn’t happy with, there hasn’t yet been any major crisis, and the Senate operates more independently from the Prime Minister’s office than ever before.

However, Mr. Scheer remains unimpressed. In an interview at the end of the  

Parliamentary session in June he said if he became prime minister he would revert to the old process of appointing people who would be conservative senators who would implement the conservative vision for Canada.

While it is still two years before the next election, the early indications are Mr. Scheer plans to keep the Harper’s right-wing policies, just present them with a friendlier face, leaving the Liberals and the NDP fighting for the progressive vote.

Only time will tell if that will work.

 

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca