OTTAWA — Andrew Scheer was out promoting his plan to tackle gang-related violence Friday but found himself on the defensive about his dual citizenship and other tight spots instead of the signature Conservative tough-on-crime agenda.
The Conservative leader was in Toronto Friday morning to talk about his crime platform, which would see the Canada Border Services Agency do more to stop guns from being smuggled up from below the border. It also promises new mandatory minimum sentences for some gang-related offences.
Yet, Scheer was still having to spend a lot of time talking about how he is in the process of renouncing the dual American-Canadian citizenship he has through his U.S.-born father.
Scheer, who said he has never renewed his U.S. passport as an adult, said he did not begin the process of giving up his American citizenship until August, despite having decided to do this after winning the Conservative leadership race in 2017.
“It’s not a big deal in Canada for people to have dual citizenship,” Scheer said Friday morning.
The Conservatives, however, had attacked former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, as well as former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, over their dual citizenship with France. Mulcair obtained his citizenship through his wife, who was born in France, and Dion through his mother, also born there.
When asked whether he had brought up his own situation back then, Scheer said: “I wasn’t leading the party at that time.”
Scheer also faced questions about whether he had ever earned any U.S. income (no), whether he had registered for the draft with the U.S. Selective Service, as required by law (he did not know, but the party has since confirmed he did) and when his U.S. passport expired (he would have to check).
Scorning the Conservatives’ crime plan, the Liberals sent out a news release accusing Scheer of planning to import “American-style gun laws” to Canada.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, as part of a strategy to convince Canadians to give him a second mandate, has been comparing Scheer to Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford, whose government is in a labour dispute with education workers that could shut down schools starting Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees had said its 55,000 members are ready to strike beginning Oct. 7, which had several Ontario school boards, including the three largest, say they would have to close schools if talks that resumed Friday do not head off the labour disruption.
Asked whether that could have an impact on his own electoral fortunes, Scheer noted previous Ontario governments, including Liberal ones, dealt with labour disruptions in the provincial education system.
“I think people in Ontario understand that there have been strikes at the education level against every political party who has been in office,” Scheer said. “Obviously we hope, as we do with all labour disputes, that both sides can come to an agreement.”
To a lesser extent, Trudeau has also been linking Scheer to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a long-time cabinet minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
Kenney, who heads Alberta’s United Conservative Party, is hitting the campaign trail in Ontario on Friday in support of Scheer.
All the major party leaders were working to get back into rhythm after Wednesday night’s debate and two days of revelations about multiple campaign planes, for Trudeau, and multiple passports, for Scheer.
Trudeau is travelling in Quebec, meeting candidates in Quebec City before heading east to the Rimouski area.
Scheer will finish the day with a rally at Toronto’s Black Creek pioneer village.
The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh started in Saskatoon before bouncing back east to Thunder Bay, Ont., making announcements in both places on how he’ll promote “strong public services.”
And the Greens’ Elizabeth May is spending most of her time on local debates in her Vancouver Island riding, but announced a plan in Victoria to plant 10 billion trees in Canada over 30 years to fight climate change.
May, who was born in the United States, said she has no concerns about a political leader holding dual citizenship with any country, but she thinks Scheer should have been more open about his.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2019.