Scheer takes a page from Trudeau’s playbook with policy rollout

By Peter Mazereeuw

The damage from the SNC-Lavalin scandal has been done, and it’s created an opportunity for the Conservatives to fill the leadership void, says pollster Eli Yufest.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer is using the same strategy employed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to the last election, say pollsters and politicos, by rolling out policy speeches on key topics well in advance of the election campaign.

Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) kicked off a series of planned speeches on policy with an address on foreign policy deep in Liberal territory last week, at the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, in the riding where Liberal MP Marc Miller (Ville-Marie-Le Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Soeurs, Que.) defeated third-place Conservative candidate Steve Shanahan by more than 19,000 votes in 2015.

The Conservatives have launched a website to promote that speech, as well as others to follow on immigration, the environment, the economy, and confederation. Mr. Scheer’s May 7 speech on foreign policy also came four days after Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.), her party’s immigration critic, and Pierre Paul-Hus (Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Que.), the public safety critic, issued a statement laying out their party’s priorities on the subject of immigration.

Both of the policy statements so far mostly centred around what the Conservatives see as the failures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) Liberal government, but included promises to get tough with China and Russia, get closer to the U.S. and India, to reject racism and “anti-immigrant sentiment,” but cap refugees at a level that “reflect[s] the cost reality of supporting the integration of those who have fled extreme persecution.”

This spring is a sweet spot for the Conservatives to start rolling out policy to define themselves and Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) better for voters, say pollsters and Conservatives, because the SNC-Lavalin scandal has lost momentum, and a May rollout leaves enough time to make an impression on voters before the October election.

“In short, they see an opportunity. There’s a void,” said Eli Yufest, the CEO of Toronto polling firm Campaign Research.

Mr. Trudeau’s approval ratings are “as low as they’ve ever been,” but have stabilized over the last couple of months, as press coverage of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has waned, said Mr. Yufest, who worked at Ipsos and in the consumer market research sector before coming to Campaign Research, which is co-led by conservative strategists Nick Kouvalis and Richard Ciano.

“Brands don’t get built within a couple of days or a couple of weeks, it takes months. And so right now would be as good a time as any to start building Andrew Scheer’s brand,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau’s net approval rating—the percentage of respondents who say they approve of his performance, minus those who say they disapprove—sat at negative 25 per cent as of May 4, according to a Campaign Research poll, versus negative one per cent for Mr. Scheer, and negative three per cent for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Burnaby South, B.C.).

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) said it’s normal for a party to roll out some policy proposals about six months before an election.

“Justin Trudeau launched his environmental policy in June of 2015. So if we launch in May we’re actually ahead of Justin Trudeau, despite all their rhetoric about, ‘We’re waiting,’” he said.

Nanos Research chairman Nick Nanos also said Mr. Scheer is “taking a page from the playbook of Justin Trudeau,” who rolled out policy proposals in several stages in May and June of 2015. Those proposals had more detail than Mr. Scheer’s first speech on foreign policy.


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