Canada's Conservatives Pick Scheer as Harper Legacy Looms Large

(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s Conservative Party has settled on a stay-the-course candidate to be its next leader, electing Andrew Scheer to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief rival in a surprise multi-ballot victory.

Scheer, a 38-year-old bilingual father of five, was elected in voting revealed Saturday in Toronto from a field of 14 candidates. He had trailed libertarian Maxime Bernier, a black-sheep former cabinet minister, through the first 12 ballots before leapfrogging Bernier and passing the required 50 percent threshold on the 13th and final ballot. He finished with 51 percent.

Scheer campaigned on a vision that largely extended the legacy of Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister who governed Canada from 2006 to 2015. Scheer is a former Speaker of the House of Commons first elected as a lawmaker in 2004, and thanked Harper at length in his victory speech.

“Now, today, the work begins,” Scheer said, criticizing both Trudeau and his father, who also served as prime minister, for deficit spending. “I cannot allow Justin Trudeau to do the same thing to my five children that his father did to my generation.”

The lengthy leadership race had populist elements that at times evoked the campaigns for Brexit and of U.S. President Donald Trump. At one point, reality TV star Kevin O’Leary entered the campaign to fanfare and was a presumed front-runner. He bowed out and endorsed Bernier. Another candidate staked her campaign to widely expanding screening of immigrants for “Canadian values.”

‘Mad Max’

Bernier, known by the nickname “Mad Max” and who was attempting to win the leadership after being forced to resign from Cabinet in a 2008 scandal, had promised to cut immigration by roughly 14 percent, ease gun laws and review foreign aid spending among a long list of policy proposals that represented a sharp contrast with Harper.

Scheer was largely a candidate of the party’s mainstream, though many of his policies targeted social conservatives. Canada’s Conservatives have the second-most seats in the House of Commons behind Trudeau’s Liberals. Scheer will need to lead the Conservatives to a breakthrough, particularly around Toronto and Vancouver, to dethrone Trudeau, 45, in 2019 elections. Trudeau is ahead of Canada’s two other major parties in opinion polls, and has a majority in the House of Commons.

Scheer will also need to hold up another of Harper’s legacies -- the party itself, which was formed from a union from two others in 2003. Scheer is just its second permanent leader. “Every single kind of conservative is welcome in this party,” he said Saturday.

The new leader pledged to rescind a federal minimum price on carbon due to take effect next year and balance Canada’s budget in two years by unspecified spending cuts. He’d pursue new trade deals, citing the U.K. -- Canada’s fifth-largest trading partner -- after any Brexit deal. He promised to dispatch Canadian fighter jets to the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

Scheer has also said he will approve TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East oil pipeline proposal, which remains under regulatory review, and pledged to “phase out corporate welfare,” citing a recent Canadian government funding package for Bombardier Inc. as an example of a deal he’d oppose. If elected, he’d also remove foreign ownership restrictions on airlines, upending the status quo for Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd.