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Debrief at the Desk: Lisa LaFlamme speaks with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer

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TORONTO – With less than a week to go before the federal election, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is hoping his pledge to save money for Canadians resonates with voters.

Scheer released his full platform last week. It includes a universal tax cut, tax credits for public transit, tax credits for child expenses in sports and arts and a promise to balance the federal budget in five years. 

In the third of CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme’s interviews with the major federal party leaders, Scheer talks about his political mentors, what he would do in the event of a minority government and the negative tone of the campaign.

Lisa LaFlamme: Thank you so much for joining us in the newsroom tonight.

Andrew Scheer: Thank you for having me.

LaFlamme: By this time next week, you could be Canada’s prime minister. So you started politics at 25. You’re 40 now. What do you say to those Canadians who feel that you may not really understand real world problems because you’ve only ever had, as an MP, a government paycheque?

Andrew Scheer: Well, you know, this election is all about making life more affordable and which party will leave more money in the pockets of Canadians. And I point to my background, the fact that I often watched my parents sit around the dinner table making tough decisions. I got my start in life thanks to jobs and small businesses who allowed me to pay my way through university. And so I’m telling Canadians that my focus will be on making life more affordable for them — we’re going to lower taxes and leave more money in their pocket.

LaFlamme: But at 25, you were already an MP. There are some people who feel perhaps there wasn’t that real-world experience.

Scheer: Well, I could say, you know, I understand. I’m not like Justin Trudeau, who attacks small business owners and calls them tax cheats. I was able to pay my tuition through university thanks to jobs and small businesses — waiting tables, working in an insurance office. My parents let me stay at home rent-free. They gave me a bus pass, but I had to pay for all my other costs myself. So my message to Canadians is I understand that those types of challenges and I’m focused on making life more affordable by lowering taxes, leaving more money in the pockets of all hardworking Canadians.

LaFlamme: And now you’re running to be prime minister and I wonder, who are your political mentors?

Scheer: Well, it’s always a tough question to ask. We’ve got to work with so many great people in my own professional career. I look back at, you know, people in my own home province. Brad Wall had a great message of being a “positive conservative.” I look at what Ronald Reagan did in the United States, Margaret Thatcher did in the United Kingdom, explaining the benefits, the values of the free market and allowing people to return, to prosper and to grow as a society, as an economy. But, you know, this election is going to come down to a very crystal-clear choice, and I’m confident Canadians will choose Conservative.

LaFlamme: Now, I know you’ve also said out loud you’ve learned so much from former prime minister Stephen Harper. How often have you communicated with him during the campaign?

Scheer: Well, you know, we touch base every once in a while. I haven’t spoken to him during this campaign. I’m focused on getting my message out, meeting with Canadians, focused on staying in touch with my candidates and hearing from them or what they’re hearing from at the doors and doing our events. We’ve got a very upbeat and hectic schedule, but it’s really paying off. You know, more and more Canadians are coming up to our events. We really feel the momentum now. I’m just very excited for Monday’s election results.

LaFlamme: Now, Mr. Harper led two minority governments. So if another one, or with another minority government now a possibility, I wonder, would you be willing to reach across the aisle for Bloc support?

Scheer: So we’re not going to depend on other parties. We are asking Canadians for a strong mandate. We know now that the choice is very crystal clear. It will be an NDP-Liberal coalition, it looks like — it’s very clear now that Justin Trudeau will try to stay on with the support of the NDP, and that’s going to be a coalition that Canadians can’t afford. So we’re asking Canadians for that mandate.

LaFlamme: But, you know, I’ve heard you say that over and over now. But if it is a Conservative minority government, will you reach across the aisle for support from the Bloc?

Scheer: As I said, we’re not going to ask other parties for support. We’re going to put our platform out to Canadians about how we’re going to lower taxes, make life more affordable. And we will implement that agenda. We expect that other parties will respect the fact that whichever party wins the most seats gets to form the government and that they will understand that if Canadians — when Canadians — endorse our platform, that we would have the right to implement it.

LaFlamme: Now, on the balanced budget, let’s look at some of the issues on the balanced budget. Is that a come hell or high water promise? And are you willing to really cut anything to achieve it?

Scheer: Well, we’ve been very, very clear on where we’re going to eliminate wasteful spending. We are going to cut corporate welfare by $1.5 billion. We’re going to reduce the foreign aid budget by 25 per cent. We’re going to end the practice of what we call an “Ottawa March Madness,” where government departments spend hundreds of millions of dollars at the end of the fiscal year on new phones, new computers. We have to get back to balanced budgets that we stop borrowing more and more money and more and more of your tax dollar goes to pay just the interest on the debt. And under Justin Trudeau — and especially under a Trudeau-NDP coalition — we’ll never get back to balanced budgets. We won’t have any kind of flexibility if there are negative headwinds facing our economy. We have to get back so that we can get our fiscal house in order.

LaFlamme: But on government spending, someone has been looming large over this entire campaign and it’s (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford. Are you like Doug Ford?

Scheer: Look, I have my own style. I have my own approach. And we know, voters in Ontario know what happens when you allow Liberal governments to do what Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty did here in Ontario for so long, it creates the types of messes that exist, that happened in Ontario. And we have an opportunity federally to stop that damage at just one turn. We’ve made the the commitment that we will increase funding for health care, social programs and education while getting back to balanced budgets and lowering taxes.

LaFlamme: So on the Canada U.S.-file, you said that Justin Trudeau caved on the NAFTA deal. Rona Ambrose, your predecessor, disagrees with you. Is she wrong?

Scheer: Well, I would invite any Canadian to show me where Justin Trudeau got a win.

LaFlamme: No, but Ambrose, your predecessor, says there are gains there, but so is she wrong?

Scheer: So Justin Trudeau promised to come back with a better NAFTA. He didn’t say, “I’m gonna go down and try to protect as much as I can.” He said, “I’m going to get a better NAFTA, a better deal.” And we saw him accept concession after concession after concession, giving up access on dairy and limiting our exports to other countries. That’s unprecedented. And when we asked, “So what did we get in return for all that,” all he could point to were things that Canada had already secured under previous Conservative governments. So what’s quite clear is that Justin Trudeau’s strategy on NAFTA failed and we ended up with a worse deal than we originally had.

LaFlamme: I just want to hit on — I know we don’t have a lot of time, but you’ve taken a lot of flak for avoiding the climate change strike, avoiding the Pride parade. I mean, you could shut this down right now. Was that a mistake?

Scheer: Look, what I saw, hundreds of thousands of young people marching for real action on climate change, I saw a lot of signs that said “action, not words.” And that’s exactly what our plan is all about. I find it ironic that Trudeau is basically protesting his own record on climate change. We have a real plan that will give Canada the best chance to reach its targets so it can take the climate change fight global and we’re going to make investments in technology, not taxes.

LaFlamme: So no apologies whatsoever. It was not a mistake for you not to attend the climate strike?

Scheer: The very day that that was happening we were making important announcements on, yes, reducing commute times for motorists, but also investments in public transit—

LaFlamme: While widening roads, which a lot of people believe goes in direct contradiction to the climate change goals.

Scheer: The Ontario (Line) and Yonge Line expansions in Toronto are very important for people in the GTA. We’ll give people other options than just taking their car. We were making that announcement on that day. We’ve been making lots of announcements on our plan for climate change, bringing home a green renovation tax credit, which will give people a tax credit for making their homes more energy efficient, again, leaving more money in their pockets while fighting against CO2 emissions.

LaFlamme: You’ve said you will not let your personal beliefs impact policy. So on the issue of abortion, does that feel at all like a betrayal of your faith?

Scheer: Like millions of Canadians, I have my own personal views on this issue. But we’ve also been very clear it’s our party policy that we will not reopen this debate. A Conservative government will not reopen this debate and the laws and access won’t change under our government. And that was my commitment during the leadership race and that is going to be my commitment as prime minister.

LaFlamme: Let’s talk about your commitment as, you know, your goal to be prime minister and the tone that this campaign has set — by all accounts, one of the most negative campaigns anyone can really remember. So I just wonder, do you take any responsibility for that? The lack of even the most basic respect from one public servant, one party leader to another?

Scheer: Well, every morning, every day, we unveil a positive announcement for Canadians. We talk about our message of the day is always geared around making life better for Canadians. I do talk about Justin Trudeau’s record, and so I can understand why he would say that that is a negative attack.

LaFlamme: It’s not just Justin Trudeau saying that though. You must hear this. I mean, we’ve just travelled across the country and the one thing Canadians have said to me personally is they don’t even recognize the vitriol in the campaign back-and-forth. I mean, your reaction to that?

Scheer: Well, as I said, every morning we get up and we put out a positive statement for Canadians. We’re running a positive campaign, talking about how we’re going to make life better for Canadians and leave more money in their pockets. I must say, though, I do find it ironic when Mr. Trudeau complains about this type of thing, when it was Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau who called our deputy leader, Lisa Raitt, a Neanderthal. When Trudeau calls people who don’t hold the same views as him “un-Canadian,” when his top adviser tweeted out a picture of me shaking hands with a construction worker in a safety vest and trying to make links to racism, I mean, that is where I say Justin Trudeau has no lessons to give on decorum in a political campaign.

LaFlamme: So a week ago at the debate — speaking of decorum — with just a very few seconds into that debate, you looked Justin Trudeau in the face and called him a “phoney and a fraud.” Do you really believe Justin Trudeau is a phoney and a fraud?

Trudeau: Well, Justin Trudeau is always pretending to be something that he isn’t. He claims to be a feminist and–

LaFlamme: But do you stand by those words?

Scheer: Absolutely. You know, when I had that opportunity — remember, that was the first opportunity I had to have an exchange with him face-to-face because he had skipped out on the first two election debates. And when I see him every day say things that he knows not to be true, still denying the accusations about the SNC-Lavalin affair, when he’s spreading misinformation about our campaign and our platform, I absolutely called him out for his hypocrisy on any and so many, so many different issues.

LaFlamme: So after such a divisive campaign, is there a risk that this country is going to be even more polarized than it was 36 days ago?

Scheer: But, you know, I’ve never attacked people for holding a different view. I will debate the issues. But if somebody disagrees with me and I don’t call them un-Canadian, I try to change their mind. I try to win them over. And that’s the difference between Justin Trudeau and I: I will debate policies, I will debate issues, I will hold people to account for what they’ve said and what they’ve done, but I’ll certainly not call someone un-Canadian for holding a different view. My goal is to win people over and to show people how Conservative policies will help them get ahead, leave more money in their pocket, be better or better off for the economy. And I think that’s a stark contrast between myself and Justin Trudeau because he demonizes people who disagree with him.

LaFlamme: So you basically stand by calling Justin Trudeau a phoney and a fraud, and the tone that, the example that may set.

Scheer: Well, you know, at the end of the day, he has to be accountable for his record. But voters are going to make a choice on October 21. A few days away, they will have the ultimate say on this. But I absolutely believe it was appropriate to call out where he’s been hypocritical, where he said things that he knows were not true. And when he continues to say things that he knows were not true as it relates the SNC-Lavalin affair, when he talks about lowering taxes on the middle class — but we know, 80 per cent of middle-class families are paying more taxes under his record — I will absolutely call out when he says things that aren’t true.

LaFlamme: All right. Well, I want to thank you. I know you’ve got a busy five days ahead. Thanks for joining us in the newsroom tonight.

Scheer: Thank you.

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