By Kirk Winter

With a fall election guaranteed by legislation, I sat down with Conservative MP Jamie Schmale from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for a conversation. We talked about the upcoming election and the Conservative Party platform that is being rolled out by leader Andrew Scheer in a series of one-off press conferences.

We began by focusing on his priorities before the House adjourns for a late October election. Schmale began by expressing his frustrations over the often-announced, but as of yet not-funded, federal government contribution to rural broadband and high-speed internet expansion in rural Eastern Ontario.

The Eastern Ontario Regional Network has had a project proposal on the Liberal Government’s Infrastructure Minister’s desk for over two years. The municipalities have contributed their portion and the Ontario government has anted up $71 million. This project will address broadband and cellular gaps around the region. Schmale said, “It’s about safety, it’s about connectivity and it’s about improving the quality of life for rural Ontarians.” He is also concerned that if the announcement is further delayed, the entire construction season could be lost.

Schmale is also hounding the Liberals over a promised VIA rail corridor that was supposed to connect Quebec City with Toronto, with stops in Peterborough and Pontypool. VIA is ready to go, and over $6 million has already been spent studying the project. There appears to be support for the corridor both in Ontario and Quebec, and all that is needed now is infrastructure dollars from Ottawa, not more studies and further delays.

Schmale concluded by saying that his “Save the Walleye” campaign remains a priority also. Raised in Bobcaygeon, he has seen the positive economic impact that sport fishing has on many communities. He wants those fishermen to spend their money locally, and they will only come if the fish population is strong and sustainable.

We also spent time talking about the upcoming fall election that Schmale expects to be called shortly after Labour Day. The campaign will likely be the minimum 36 days as laid out by law, and many political observers expect it to be bruising.

When asked if he is concerned about the slim 1.5 percent lead the Conservatives have in the most recent polling done by Macleans and L’actualitie, despite the horrific spring the Trudeau Liberals have had with the SNC-Lavalin Affair, Schmale said, “According to the most recent Angus Reid poll, the Conservatives are up 11 points over the Liberals. I am not so sure how slim that is. Also, the Conservatives lead in every province, including Quebec, but you know the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. Andrew Scheer is rolling out his vision for Canada with one policy announcement a week and we have bought advertising including during the Raptors playoff run to try to get our message out. We have spoken to many Canadian stakeholders to make sure they have a voice in this election.”

Schmale said the SNC-Lavalin scandal is what happens, “when government ignores the rule of law and gets involved in areas they shouldn’t. This Liberal government has a tendency to protect their wealthy friends and big business buddies while ordinary Canadians families and small businesses are ignored.”

Schmale commented about Conservative fortunes in Quebec where they currently trail both the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois in polling done by Macleans and L’actualitie in early June. Schmale said, “Actually, the Conservatives are up two points on the Liberals and we are eight points above the Bloc in the Angus Reid poll but like I said earlier, there really is only one poll that is important and that is Election Day. Quebec is important to Canada, but parties have won without winning a majority in Quebec. The NDP is collapsing in Quebec and the Greens seem to be the primary beneficiary of that collapse. Andrew Scheer is rolling out policy that we believe Quebecers will support and we expect to see our numbers increase as we get closer to September.”

When asked about the influence Maxime Bernier and his nascent libertarian movement The Peoples Party will have on the vote in October, Schmale shared that, “It is unfortunate that Maxime left the party. He never really got over losing at the leadership convention. He expected to win and felt that his victory was more important than party unity.”

Schmale was asked if Bernier’s new movement would coax some current libertarians who support the Conservatives to vote for The Peoples Party. Schmale was hopeful that, “Libertarians will stay within the Conservative Party. We are a big tent Conservative Party, and all are welcome” but Schmale did agree that Bernier, “could be a threat to the Conservatives next election.”

Schmale said that Ontario, with all its federal seats, will be an important battleground in the upcoming election. Schmale believes, “Failed policies of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have left Doug Ford and his provincial Conservatives little choice but to stress fiscal responsibility.  The provincial Liberals took us from the economic engine of Canada to a have-not province, the debt skyrocketed, jobs were lost, and energy costs went through the roof. Ontario needs to live within its means and we can’t keep paying $1 billion a month servicing the interest on their provincial debt.”

When asked if Premier Ford, whose approval ratings have flat lined in the last six months, will be featured prominently in the next federal election campaigning with Andrew Scheer, Schmale deftly avoided answering saying “those decisions would be made by the leader and his campaign team.”

Schmale spoke specifically to two of the biggest wedge issues in the upcoming vote, abortion and firearms. Despite Scheer’s public pronouncement in 2017 that he was pro-life and favoured a free vote if his party ever took power on repealing abortion, Schmale stated categorically, “A Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion. It’s in our policy document, section 70 on page 27 and can be found on our website. The party convention in Halifax approved that motion and the leader accepts their will.”

With respect to firearms, Schmale said that, “the party will repeal C-71 as the Liberal legislation senselessly targets law-abiding firearm owners and imposes a backdoor firearm registry that does nothing to keep rural Canadians safe. Not only does it fail to address gang violence or target gang criminals, but the word “gang” doesn’t even appear in the bill. If elected this fall, we promise to get tough on gangs, give law enforcement the tools they need to keep Canadians safe and crack down on illegal firearm smuggling.”

Schmale also said that if his party forms the next government, they will look seriously into whatever decision the Trudeau Liberals have made regarding the banning and confiscation of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Schmale said the Conservatives would respond publicly once they had a chance to look at the legislation.

We spoke at length about the environment and climate change, and what kind of vision the Conservatives will be offering the voting public. One in three Canadian voters have said this issue will determine their choice of political party in October. Schmale said that Andrew Scheer would be announcing their environmental policy before the end of June and asked readers to stay tuned for some big announcements. He did reveal, “The Conservatives would repeal the carbon tax as it has no effect on changing people’s behaviour, doesn’t target the biggest polluters in Canada and does absolutely nothing to prevent the world’s largest polluters, namely the US and China, from addressing climate change.” Schmale said, “a Conservative government would also stop municipalities from dumping sewage into lakes and rivers and work with the world community to stop plastic dumping in the Pacific.” He added the Conservatives, “would encourage private sector innovation to help address climate change because governments don’t innovate.” Schmale concluded, “I have seen state-of-the-art technological solutions to address climate change coming from Canadian green tech companies. When you present a problem, a free and open market will find a solution.”

Schmale said the Conservatives are committed to getting “clean” Canadian oil to international markets by supporting projects in the national interest like the Trans Mountain Pipeline. He added, “We need to get off our dependency of foreign oil from countries that don’t value gender equality and basic human rights. We are committed to repealing the ‘no more pipelines’ Bill C-69 and creating an “Energy Corridor” for pipelines and transmission lines that would allow these major, job-creating projects to get built while also minimizing environmental impact.” Andrew Scheer would work toward full consultation with the provinces and Indigenous Canadians who would share in the prosperity an “Energy Corridor” would provide. Schmale hoped that the Conservatives would be more successful than Trudeau has been at getting First Nations support for the construction of this “Energy Corridor”, a problem that has bedevilled the Liberals for the last four years.

When asked who a minority Conservative government might work with in a very polarized Ottawa, Schmale reminded me that, “Canadians were quite surprised with how long Stephen Harper’s first minority government lasted, and how successful Harper was in gaining support particularly from the Green Party in parliament.” He explained that it is essential for minority governments to gather support issue by issue, and that with multiple parties expected to send representatives to Ottawa, the possibilities of finding partners for a Conservative coalition are certainly there.

We concluded our discussion by briefly touching on the local election where only the NDP have nominated a candidate to run against him. Schmale was quite surprised that, “the Liberals who had a potential candidate drop out recently, still have not found someone to represent the party.” The standard bearer for the Greens from the last election has relocated to New Brunswick and an adequate replacement has not yet been found for that individual either.

Schmale mentioned he looks forward to keeping The Kawartha Promoter and its readers up to date on issues as the election campaign rolls out, and we look forward to covering the it from beginning to end.

PoliticsDeb Crossen