Maxime Bernier keeps haunting Andrew Scheer

September 20, 2019

It seems that the leader of the People's Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, has not finished haunting the leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, during this election campaign. On Monday, the official Leaders' Debates Commission decided to invite Maxime Bernier to participate in the English and French debates that will be televised respectively on October 7 and October 10. In a news release, the commissioner David Johnston said he is satisfied with evidence provided by the PPC on fulfilling the criteria to have more than one candidate with a “reasonable chance to be elected.”

The Commissioner considered a range of factors including: Party membership, fundraising and organizational capacity; Riding level polls (conducted by the Commission), publicly available riding polls and expert analysis that show support in designated ridings; and prominent media presence on a range of national issues.

The commissioner tasked EKOS Research Associates with conducting polling in the other four ridings identified by the PPC in its August 23 letter. The survey instrument asked respondents in each of the four ridings “how likely are you to vote for [name of candidate], the People’s Party of Canada candidate in your riding in the next federal election?””

In Nipissing–Timiskaming (Ontario), 34 per cent of respondents said they would consider voting for PPC candidate Mark King (including 11.2 per cent certain). King was set to run as a CPC candidate in the district after he won the party’s nomination, but his nomination was revoked after he allegedly used a corporate credit card to purchase party memberships for himself and close family members.

In Etobicoke North (Ontario), 30 per cent of respondents said they would consider voting for PPC candidate Renata Ford (including 15.3 per cent certain), former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s widow and Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s sister-in-law.

In Pickering–Uxbridge (Ontario), 26 per cent of respondents said they would consider voting for PPC candidate Corneliu Chisu (including 11.2 per cent certain). Chisu is a former CPC MP who was elected in 2011 and defeated in 2015.

In Charleswood–St.James–Assiniboia–Headingley (Manitoba), 24.5 per cent of respondents said they would consider PPC candidate Steven Fletcher. Fletcher was a long time Conservative MP during Stephen Harper’s reign from 2004 to 2015. After he was defeated in 2015, Fletcher was elected in the 2016 Manitoba provincial election as a PC candidate.

How about Beauce? The riding is represented by Maxime Bernier since 2006. The most recent survey indicates that Maxime Bernier still ranks second in voting intentions. Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux has the lead in the Beauce riding with 38.5% of support compared to 33.9% for Maxime Bernier. Mr. Bernier will have to spend more time in his riding if he wants to save his seat. Mr. Lehoux, a former president of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, has the support of most of the mayors in the Beauce riding. But nothing is certain for the leader of the PPC in his riding in this election. As a former dairy producer, Richard Lehoux also has the support of the farmers of the Beauce area. Bernier’s opposition to supply management won’t help him either to get the support of the agricultural sector.

Can his participation in the leaders' debates help him to get back on track in his riding? Maybe. But no need for a crystal ball to predict Mr. Scheer will be Bernier’s favorite target during the leaders’ debates.

After losing the party’s leadership, Mr. Bernier left the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in August 2018 with a bang, accusing the party of having "abandoned its basic principles". As a Member of Parliament for Beauce, he disagreed with the positions of the CPC and its leader, Andrew Scheer, particularly on supply management, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and immigration and equalization payments. He even claimed that the CPC led by Mr. Scheer was "too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed". It is safe to predict that Maxime Bernier will want to use the two leaders' debates in October to settle scores with Andrew Scheer.

Meanwhile, the CPC Leader promised tax measures aimed at the middle class. On September 16, Mr. Scheer said he would re-introduce the children’s fitness tax credit. This tax credit would apply toward extracurricular activities, from sports to music lessons to tutoring, for children under the age of 16. Parents of children with disabilities would receive more from the promised credits. The sports credit would be worth $500 more a year, while the arts credit would double to $1,000.

According to figures from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the fitness credit would cost the federal treasury about $240 million a year in lost revenue. The arts tax credit would cost about $56 million a year.

On September 15, in his first campaign swing through B.C., Andrew Scheer promised he will cut the tax rate on the lowest federal income bracket the one charged on income up to $47,630 from 15 per cent to 13.75 per cent over the next four years. Based on the party's calculations, the average single taxpayer would save about $444 a year. A two-income couple earning an average salary would save about $850 a year. Scheer also wanted to revive the transit tax credit, worth 15 per cent of the cost of monthly or annual transit passes.

The Conservatives are expected to unveil a series of campaign commitments in the same vein as this tax cut. Already, they have promised a non-refundable tax credit on maternity and parental leave Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. They've also vowed to remove the federal GST from sales of home heating fuels.

No surprise here. Tax credits are part of Conservatives fiscal traditions. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Finance Minister Jim Flaherty were big champions for tax credits especially for the middle class. Andrew Scheer seems to be continuing this tradition.

It’s not the case for Maxime Bernier who is more focused on de-regulation and tax cuts to increase Canada’s competitiveness.

Andrew Scheer put the economy forward early in this campaign by unveiling fiscal and economic measures for companies and business. On September 18, he announced that he will cancel hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare handouts to wealthy executives, shareholders, and foreign companies and instead put that money in Canadians’ pockets so they can get ahead.

Scheer said a new Conservative government will conduct a review of all business subsidy programs in order to eliminate $1.5 billion in corporate handouts that don’t create jobs and support economic growth in Canada.

In summary, Andrew Scheer said he would: cancel Trudeau’s Carbon Tax; remove GST from home heating, saving households $107; make maternity benefits tax-free, providing up to $4,000 in tax savings; bring in a Green Public Transit Tax Credit, saving families hundreds – potentially thousands – of dollars; bring in the Universal Tax Cut, saving a working couple $850; bring in the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, saving parents up to $150; bring in the Children’s Arts and Learning Tax Credit, saving parents up to $75; boost the RESP, giving parents hundreds more for their children’s education.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has good reason to focus on the economy early in this campaign. According to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News and La Presse between Sept. 11 and 13, a slight majority (51 per cent) of respondents disapprove of Trudeau’s handling of the economy while 49 per cent approve.

But generally, the Canadian economy is in a good shape. The Bank of Canada expects the Canadian economy will likely continue to expand at about 2%. It signals that the country is using current capital and labour at close to full capacity. Canadian jobs grew by 219,000 jobs over the last twelve months, the majority in full-time positions.

Does it mean the economy will not be an important issue of the federal election? Certainly not. Polls show that economy, health care and environment are still the top three issues for a majority of Canadians. And for Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party, the economy remains less slippery than the environment and climate change issues.