Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he won't be proposing specific economic policies for months but portrayed himself as a free-market enthusiast who can help sell the party's fiscal message with compassion.
In his first major speech at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Thursday, Mr. Scheer laid out his broad financial vision for the party but also said Conservatives need to work harder to sell that vision to more Canadians.
But just how Mr. Scheer's Conservative Party plans to lead Canada out of billions in deficits and cut taxes won't be detailed until closer to the October, 2019, election.
"We've got a little over 24 months until the next election is expected, so we'll be unveiling what we believe the next campaign should be fought on in the months to come," Mr. Scheer said.
Mr. Scheer said in order to lay the groundwork for the next election, the party has to do two things: fight the "lie of the left" and articulate a "positive vision" of conservatism that will resonate with the public.
Mr. Scheer defined the "lie of the left" as policies that hurt those they claim to help, such as high hydro rates or the carbon tax, which he said will make life harder for middle- and lower-income families. He also took aim at the Liberal government's $35-billion infrastructure bank, which the Senate is now considering removing from the budget for further study.
Much of the morning speech was focused on differentiating himself from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, whom Mr. Scheer described as "economic busybodies" who want to exert control over the economy.
"I do believe that the Prime Minister and I agree on one thing: that businesses should be able to make money. But where we disagree is the how," Mr. Scheer said.
"I believe in a free market where businesses profit by having the best product or service. He believes in a government-directed economy where governments pick winners and losers and only those with strong partisan ties can count on receiving favours."
Still, Mr. Scheer acknowledged that in order to win, the Conservative Party needs to present a softer, more personable image that resonates with a broader public.
"Often, Conservatives go right to results, whereas Liberals like to concentrate on intentions. And the problem with the left's approach is that they stop at intentions," Mr. Scheer said.
"Conservatives have an equally important problem that we have to address, and that's what I'd like to do over the next two years and beyond. And that's to show that we too have those same intentions. The left should not have a monopoly on things like compassion."
Mr. Scheer surprised many in the party when he won the May 27 leadership with 51 per cent of the vote, compared with 49 per cent for front-runner Maxime Bernier. Following the win, members of Mr. Bernier's team expressed concerns about the voting process, questioning why there appeared to be thousands more ballots cast than the numbers of voters on the list provided to the campaigns. Former MP Jay Hill, a senior member of Mr. Bernier's campaign, said he never received his ballot and slammed the process as a "fiasco."
Since then, Mr. Bernier has publicly pledged his support to Mr. Scheer. In his speech, Mr. Scheer repeatedly said the party and caucus are united.
In a follow-up question-and-answer session, Mr. Scheer acknowledged that his support for dairy and poultry price regulation through supply management – which Mr. Bernier rejected – helped seal the win. He also compared himself with former prime minister Stephen Harper, whom he credited with an ability to "unite the movement and unite the party."
"That comes in trusting our members, and our members have consistently endorsed the supply management position," Mr. Scheer said. He also said the party needs to better resonate with young people, arguing that Canadians are more conservative than they realize.
"We can't just say well we lost the last election so let's change what we're offering Canadians. I believe we have to do it in a way where it is cool to be Conservative," he said.
The 38-year-old married father of five spent the first few minutes of his speech talking about his family and joked that he would be able to better represent young people in Parliament.
"I'm certainly much, much younger than the Prime Minister," he said about the 45-year-old Mr. Trudeau.
"I think it's finally time that my generation has a voice in Parliament."