Scheer outlines Quebec priorities for a Conservative government

With less than a week to go before voting day, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer outlined his priorities for Quebec in a final effort to fend off the late advances of the Bloc Québécois and NDP. 

“In a few days, Quebecers will have the opportunity to choose a new federal government in Ottawa,” Scheer said on Tuesday evening during a campaign stop in La Prairie, Que., where he was accompanied by his wife Jill and their five children. 

“Change is what we represent. A Conservative government that would listen to the Quebec nation, a Conservative government that would be an ally to all Quebecers.”

Scheer referred to Quebec as a nation several times throughout his speech, and presented a Conservative majority government as the only guarantee to ensure the province’s interests get prioritized in Ottawa.

“When we talk about Quebec’s powers, yes, you are masters in your own house. Masters of your culture,” Scheer said.

“A Quebec nation must be able to evolve and prosper and grow in our big beautiful country. A strong, proud and united Canada.”

Scheer stumped in Quebec City, Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, and La Prairie, Que., Tuesday outlining his promises to the province. 

“We cannot blame Quebecers for being nationalistic,” Scheer said.

“Being nationalistic, doesn’t mean you’re a separatist. We can love Quebec without wanting to break Canada up.” 

Scheer addresses the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations during a pre-campaign event on May 7. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Scheer praised Quebec culture and reiterated his pledge to protect French as an official language by modernizing the Official Languages Act and create an official languages tribunal as part of that overhaul. He also promised to financially back a French-language university in Ontario, an idea killed and revived by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives under Premier Doug Ford. 

Scheer said that In his first discussions as prime minister with Quebec Premier François Legault, he would work on getting a single tax return, review the Canada-Quebec immigration agreement, work on fixing labour shortages, improve the temporary foreign worker program and give more autonomy to Quebec cultural initiatives.

National energy corridor, Bill 21 and coalition attack

Scheer appeared more relaxed and confident speaking French than he did at the beginning of the campaign — much to the delight of some voters. 

“I just like everything he stands for,” said Lynne Dumont, who came from nearby St. Hubert, Que., to see Scheer for the first time in-person. 

Peter Burke, another supporter who came with Dumont, said he was also impressed, but wondered why it took so long for Scheer to reveal his plan for Quebec. 

“It would’ve been nice to hear it sooner,” Burke said. “I hope [for] some people this will sway them.”

Scheer spoke French for most of his nearly 20-minute speech, at one point breaking into English to warn about a possible Liberal-NDP coalition.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh recently walked back his comments on supporting the Liberals in a minority situation. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said he is only interested in a majority government. 

The Conservative leader also emphasized the importance of establishing a national energy corridor to find new markets for resources from coast to coast, such as hydroelectricity from Quebec and oil from the west. 

Scheer also said he would not intervene in the case regarding Bill 21 — the law that bans public workers in Quebec from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Trudeau and Singh have both entertained the idea of intervening in the case at a later time.

During his stop in La Prairie, Scheer spoke about growing up across the Ottawa River from Quebec. He recalled going from Ottawa to bars across the river in Gatineau, Que., and emphasized the importance of prime ministers mastering the French language.

John Diefenbaker of the Progressive Conservatives became the 13th prime minister of Canada in 1957. (Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Scheer drew applause and laughs from the crowd when he compared himself to former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who led the Progressive Conservatives to win the majority of Quebec seats in 1958.

“I’m often asked how a Saskatchewan leader can succeed in Quebec, well, two words: John Diefenbaker.

“Just like Diefenbaker, I was born in Ontario and just like him I am a Saskatchewan MP, and like Diefenbaker, I have an extraordinary team in Quebec; however, unlike Diefenbaker, I speak French and I am proud of that.”

Scheer will be campaigning in Saint-Jérôme, Que., 40 minutes northwest of Montreal, on Wednesday morning with local candidate Sylvie Fréchette. He then travels back to Ontario as the party pushes to cover as much ground as possible before next Monday’s vote.