Strategic Priorities for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives Following Debates and Policy Platform Release

October 15, 2019

Following the English and French debates, the Thanksgiving long weekend will provide ample time for voters to dissect their options, converse and shape their decisions ahead of Election Day on October 21st. The debates and platform releases set the stage for leaders to build from and make their pitches.

So, the burning question at hand is, how did the debates and campaign platform release impact Conservative election hopes? More importantly, how should Mr. Scheer and his Party focus their efforts on the home stretch of the election? Below is my take on the impact of the debates, platform release, and where should Conservatives focus their effort to up their chances.

English and French Debates

Last Monday featured the much anticipated only English debate featuring all six major party leaders. Mr. Scheer focused on playing to his market of undecided voters. He was on message, discussing core issues such as affordability, pipelines, and balancing the budget while maintaining services. His focus, however, was on going after Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. Scheer even had a few moments where he looked Prime-Ministerial. Recognizing hardships faced by Mr. Singh as a racialized minority was one of them. Further, Mr. Scheer had a handful of memorable moments, most of them attacking Mr. Trudeau, which have already begun making their way into ads on social media platforms and TV.

As expected, the Conservative Leader received attacks from Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Bernier, but all in all, he walked out of the debate mostly unscathed. While he didn’t win the debate, neither did Mr. Trudeau. With polling as an indicator, the winners of the English debate were Mr. Singh and Mr. Blanchet.  

Then, at the Official French debate on Thursday night, Mr. Scheer did as well as he could have given his relative language limitations. Three of the six leaders are native French speakers, and a fourth, Mr. Singh, is extremely confident in the language. Comfort level aside, Mr. Scheer improved considerably from last week’s performance in the TVA debate. He wasn’t as good in French as he was in Monday’s English debate but he had a few moments of brilliance and walked away unharmed. He should consider the debate a success.  

He did repeat Monday’s focused attacks on the Liberal Leader. Commentator Paul Wells, who is as critical of Trudeau as he is or Mr. Scheer, commented that pursuing attacks is not without risks as audiences “have the right to judge the target but they may prefer to judge the mud-slinger. And the harder you push, the more you risk pleasing only the people who were already certain to vote for you.”

Platform Release

With the majority of policy commitments released throughout the campaign, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer released his campaign platform and costing on Friday afternoon.

Much has been said about the timing of the Conservative platform release, which was certainly strategic. In waiting until after the debates, Mr. Scheer was able to focus his attention on attacking Mr. Trudeau in the debates and prevented opposition from targeting his deficit-reduction measures. Mr. Scheer effectively was able to focus his attention, and the attention of other leaders, on attacking Mr. Trudeau. Nevertheless, he did face criticism from both Ms. May and Mr. Trudeau for holding back its release.

The platform places a focus, both in narrative and policy, on affordability, with tax credits as the main vehicle for helping Canadians get ahead. The document features tax credits on fitness, maternity (removal of income tax), public transit, and a universal tax cut (for lowest income rate), as well as an old age tax credit, and a federal disability tax credit.

The platform also proposes popular conservative measures such as the reduction of regulations and small business hurdles, through the creation of a red tape reduction Minister.

The platform commits to the construction of a national energy corridor that would enable the flow of energy from coast to coast, a measure that has been very popular in the prairies, but not so much in Quebec.

On the Environment front, it puts forward a $2.5 billion strategy. Key measures include a commitment to repealing the carbon tax, and instead installing a similar mechanism that disburses funds directly through and arms-length agency. The platform commits the Conservatives to taking the climate change fight global, by incentivizing exports of carbon capture technologies to China and other major polluters.

Finally, on the costing front, the release of the platform and costing re-enforced the promise of balancing the budget within five years.

Impact and key considerations for the last week of the election

Late polling numbers from last week following the debates suggest that Mr. Scheer hasn’t increased his support and seat count, but he also hasn’t lost any either. The same cannot be said about Mr. Trudeau, who by the end of the week had lost up to 11 seats (in Quebec and Ontario) compared to projections from the week before.  

Last week’s approach of going on the offensive against Mr. Trudeau prevented further losses and stayed the trajectory from the week before, where Mr. Scheer’s performance on TVA and revelations on his dual citizenship led to losses to projected seats in Quebec and Ontario. Next week, Mr. Scheer needs to get back to a message that can gain seats rather than simply stem losses.  

The focus, then, ought to be on what Mr. Scheer would do for Canadians if elected. He must sell a Conservative vision for Canada.

Certainly, the 905 will be the kingmaker region, where gains can be made for either Liberals or Conservatives. Canadians in this region believed in Trudeau back in 2015. Polling suggests they are no longer as convinced. With the platform out, the winning strategy for Mr. Scheer is to give them a reason to vote Conservative as opposed to staying home or staying red.