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Scheer pushes back against ‘naysayers’ attacking his leadership in speech to conservative gathering

CALGARY — Andrew Scheer, facing growing criticism from within the ranks of his federal Conservative party, delivered a speech before a friendly crowd Friday night in Calgary as he pushed back against those in the party calling for his resignation after failing to win last month’s federal election. At the annual convention of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, the federal Conservative leader was greeted with standing ovations, hoots and hollers and whistles of enthusiasm from what he called “the heartland of the Conservative movement.”

“Thank you for everything you’re doing,” Scheer told the hundreds strong crowd, “and we will not let you down.”

The leader of the Conservative party has had a rough week, as several higher-profile members of his party have been calling for him to resign and trigger a new leadership race in the wake of the party’s loss in the October election. Prior to his speech in Calgary, signs emblazoned with his name were placed on chairs throughout the ballroom, while there was much chatter about how he was going to be received.

“Friends, times of division, are times of danger. But they also can be times of opportunity,” said Scheer to the crowd. “At the moment, Alberta is paying the price for our nation’s division.”

No doubt, the hope was that the embattled party leader would receive a warm welcome from Alberta conservatives who are riding high from a spring election in which Alberta’s conservative party soundly defeated Rachel Notley’s Alberta New Democrats.

On Friday, CBC News first reported that Ed Fast, a British Columbia member of Parliament and former trade minister under Stephen Harper, had declined an opposition critic position offered by Scheer, saying that Scheer was “entitled to surround himself with a team that fully supports his leadership.”

It comes, too, as a group of central Canadian Conservatives, including Kory Teneycke, a former news executive who ran Doug Ford’s run for premier and Maxime Bernier’s failed attempt to become Conservative leader in 2017, have founded an organization called Conservative Victory to try and push Scheer out. Brad Trost, who had run against Scheer for the leadership in 2017 as an outspoken social conservative, but fared weakly, has also called on Scheer to resign.

Various Conservative candidates who failed to secure seats in last month’s election have also voiced dissatisfaction over the way the campaign unfolded. They believe Scheer had an easy path to victory over Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who had entered the race tainted by scandal, especially after photos surfaced of Trudeau in blackface.

I didn’t dream (Trudeau) would attack Albertans, attack his fellow Canadians like he did

Scheer directly punched back at those people: “I am entirely uninterested, in what the talking heads, the naysayers and the people who make their money stirring up division in our party have to say.”

In his speech, Scheer acknowledged that things went sideways during the election, but pinned much of the blame on the divisions he said were sowed by Trudeau during the campaign.

“And after the campaign, I have taken stock, I have learned Justin Trudeau’s playbook. I knew he would attack me and I was ready for that,” Scheer said. “But I didn’t dream he would attack Albertans, attack his fellow Canadians like he did.”

Scheer said that it’s important for conservatives to be united, to defend the oil industry and free speech and free-market principles. He re-emphasized the Tory positions that Trudeau’s gun-control measures would take guns from hunters and that the Liberals were overly soft on crime, and stood by his opposition to the carbon tax. He told the crowd that he knows Albertans understand the risks associated with another Liberal government. With tens of thousands of jobs lost, Scheer said Albertans are “on the front lines of what is at stake if Justin Trudeau is allowed to keep doing what he did for the last four years.”

Scheer also said he wants to hear from Conservatives — to learn, and prepare for the next election, which, Scheer warned will be as soon as Trudeau thinks he can win a majority.

Will we let ourselves get torn apart, or will we fight together

He pointed to his efforts to get the federal Conservative party back on track. Last week, Scheer fired his chief of staff Marc-Andre Leclerc and communications director Brock Harrison. The Tory leader hadn’t said why he fired the two in the letter to caucus that announced the decision, although it’s widely believed it was over disappointments with the campaign, especially the party’s failure to make the necessary breakthroughs in Quebec and the Toronto area.

The decision to make an appearance in Conservative-friendly Alberta, where Liberals were thoroughly wiped off the electoral map last month with every seat but one going to the Tories (one Edmonton seat stayed NDP), was likely planned in part to get some positive attention and bolster the party’s spirits. Jason Kenney, the United Conservative Party premier of Alberta and former federal Conservative cabinet minister, has voiced his support for Scheer.

Much of the speech was devoted to lauding Alberta and blaming Trudeau for the sense of alienation and frustration rising in the west.

“Division is Justin Trudeau’s plan,” said Scheer .

But, he said, Albertans will thrive.

“Will we let ourselves get torn apart, or will we fight together for a united and strong country,” Scheer declared. “And I know you will too because Albertans have never quit when things got tough.”

The party convention, held at the Westin hotel at the Calgary airport, runs through the weekend.

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