Has Andrew Scheer thought his Québec strategy through?

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has a Québec problem.  His strategy for winning in the next election includes peeling away seats from the Liberals in the province.

The trouble he’s in is his two biggest proposals will do him damage.  Building new pipelines is a toxic idea in Québec, but Scheer’s big pitch is to build more pipelines.  The province isn’t concerned about the federal carbon pricing regulations, because we already have and want carbon pricing, and Scheer is opposed to a carbon tax.

The Conservative leader was in Montréal on Monday to spread the good gospel of Toryism, which outside la belle province involves a lot of talk about championing pipelines and how important they are.  Here though, not so much.  When he’s here, he does one of those fine-line waffles that are so hot right now.

“I’m confident that we can work in a collaborative way with the government of Quebec to address some of their legitimate concerns, while at the same time ensuring that we get big national energy projects built to become self-sufficient when it comes to energy in our country,” he said at a news conference, according to CBC News.

The “legitimate concerns” he refers to are Québec Premier François Legault saying, “There’s no social acceptability (for oil) in Quebec,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

Scheer has an answer for that, though.

“There is no social licence or social acceptability for oil and gas that is brought in from countries like Saudi Arabia, like Algeria, like Venezuela, where there aren’t those same environmental protections or those same commitments to human rights.” Scheer went on to say.

Which is a nice enough argument, except that it’s irrelevant to the point of being utter bullshit.  Notice how he mentions Saudi Arabia first?  Neat trick, that.  Anyway, in 2017 Quebec got about 44 per cent of its oil from Alberta, another 37 per cent from the U.S., and about 11 per cent from Algeria, according to a National Bank of Canada analysis.  And figures compiled by the National Energy Board show the province got none of its oil from Saudi Arabia that year, and a tiny fraction of its imported oil in the two previous years.

This all happened because Enbridge reversed a pipeline that already existed.  That’s a much easier sell to people than building new infrastructure, of which there is no buy in.  You can see how Scheer’s job then becomes tricky.

Ditto Scheer’s rhetoric about the carbon tax.  Québec already has carbon pricing, in the form of a cap-and-trade system, that meets federal benchmarks.  Plus, some 75 per cent of Quebecers say they want the government to do something about climate change, even if it hurts the economy, according to one poll.

These are the Conservative leader’s two major planks.  More pipelines, no carbon taxes.  Neither of those is going to gather any supporters here.

So, he has to look elsewhere for carrots to entice us with.

Scheer makes a simple enough pitch for the province: Québec wants more control over its immigration, and they’ll get it if the Tories form government.

But what might that look like?  Well, the premier has an idea for what that might mean, which he sketched while in France: “When we look at the immigration situation in Quebec, the problem I see … is that there are too many who are not qualified, and too many who do not speak French,” Legault said.  “We’d take more French people, and Europeans as well.”

Legault has already stated he wants to lower the number of immigrants the province will take in, and now he shows what he’d like to do with fewer: make sure more of them are European.

Is that what Scheer’s for too?  Or does he have enough distance — that’s a provincial decision! — to wriggle past the consequences of his policy.  Hard to say how accountable he’ll be held to that.

But it’s worth remembering the last time Scheer tied himself to a provincial politician, that blew up in his face in short order.  Doug Ford cut a bunch of francophone services in Ontario, two days before Scheer showed up to glad-hand and get a bit of that Ford magic.  This all caused quite the uproar here in Québec, where targeting the French language has been a bit of an issue from time to time.

Add into all of this the slow build of Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party.  Now Scheer doesn’t just have to sand off the rougher edges of his own caucus, he has to deal with a leader who is fully willing to say all the things he would rather not talk about.  Ol’ Mad Max was able to pull in $300,000 over the weekend* and seems to be getting crowds that give you the impression at the very least he’s not embarrassing himself in that regard.

Scheer might be fine with his half a degree of separation from the actual immigration policies if it attracts enough voters thinking of trending over to the openly — if not exactly deftly — anti-immigration PPC.  Perhaps not.  Bernier called him “VAGUE,” “CENTRIST,” and “PRAGMATIC” after his comments.  [All caps his]

And you really have to wonder about the judgement of a Canadian federal leader who is still staunchly pro-Brexit, while at the same time trying to win over Québec.  Does the guy not see where his arguments for political autonomy from a meddling outside government leads?  Does he not know what the central grievances of sovereigntists are?  Perhaps not, Scheer does seem to have some difficulty with introspection and deep thought.

This leads me to wonder a few things.  If down the road Québec opposes a new oil pipeline, would he push it through if he can’t convince the province to accept it?  And if Legault moves to limit particular types of immigrants — say, non-European ones — what would Scheer do about that if he’s the one that made it possible?

I don’t think he’s thought about these things.  He just wants the seats, but has no real idea what getting them would mean.

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* If his figures are to be believed. We’ll have to wait to see Elections Canada filings to be sure.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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