OTTAWA (Reuters) - The newly-elected head of Canada’s main opposition party on Monday hinted at how he will try to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, branding his rival as an elitist who is out of touch with ordinary people.
Andrew Scheer, 38, who unexpectedly eked out a victory on Saturday to lead the right-leaning Conservatives, admitted “we have a lot of work to do”. His party trails Trudeau’s Liberals by a wide margin ahead of an October 2019 election.
“We are not the party of the privileged and the elites,” Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons, told cheering Conservative legislators in Ottawa.
“The Liberals can take their cues from the cocktail circuit. We will take ours from the minivans, the soccer fields, the Legion halls and the grocery stores.”
Like Trudeau, Scheer has a sunny public persona and several young children. His origins are much more humble, though - he grew up as the son of a newspaper librarian, while Trudeau’s father was former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Political analysts say Scheer has little chance of winning in 2019 unless he can prove the Conservatives would do a better job on the economy, which statistics show is recovering after a long slump caused by low crude prices.
Scheer wants to eliminate Canada’s large budget deficit over two years and promises to scrap Trudeau’s plans for a national price on carbon to help fight climate change.
Scheer, a social conservative, won his party’s leadership with the support of members who want to reopen the debate on abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which are legal.
Mainstream political parties in Canada tend to steer clear of such issues for fear of losing votes, so Scheer will have to find a way to keep social conservatives on his side.
“Staying united is the only way we will defeat Justin Trudeau in 2019,” he said.
Scheer stresses he has no plans to revisit either abortion or same-sex marriage but says legislators will be allowed to debate what they want.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao