Scheer says Tories will continue to hold Liberals accountable even though focus is on leadership convention

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sought Friday to put the Liberals on notice that despite the Tory leadership race, the Official Opposition won’t back down.

But though Scheer may wish to focus his MPs and senators on the upcoming return of the House of Commons, the ongoing leadership contest will be a factor for the party as lawmakers get back to business on Monday.

At least two MPs who had been serving as party critics are running for leadership and will be removed from those positions, and many others are actively working on behalf of leadership candidates.

Scheer wished them all well, but said given the minority government, the caucus needs to stay sharp.

“The Trudeau Liberals might think that our leadership race will give them a free ride,” he said.

“They’re wrong. We’re all going to continue to be here in Ottawa, in the House of Commons, and on the committee floor every single day fighting for our vision for the country.”

Friday’s Conservative meeting was attended by the co-chairs of the leadership organizing committee, and also included a briefing from the party’s interim executive director — all three people owe their jobs to Scheer.

He decided to step down last month, saying his heart was no longer in the job, though he’ll remain at the helm until a new leader is elected June 27.

The move came after weeks of intense criticism of his performance in the election and in the days after.

But there were also questions about his personal use of party money, a fracas that led to the departure of the party’s longtime and loyal executive director, Dustin van Vugt.

Scheer has never addressed the issue, and was not expected to take questions from reporters Friday.

The Conservative caucus meeting follows a week of major developments in the leadership race: former Quebec premier Jean Charest, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and current MP Pierre Poilievre — all potential front-runners — decided they won’t launch bids.

MacKay will formally unveil his campaign on Saturday, while current MP Erin O’Toole is also expected to launch his bid in the coming days.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who has not ruled out her own potential candidacy, said she is growing increasingly frustrated that the debate around the leadership race seems to be ignoring the western branch of the party.

Too much time has been spent talking about whether a leader ought to speak French, and how winning Quebec or Ontario is central, she said.

Western Canada is just looked at as a given, and it’s not, Rempel Garner said.

“I think there’s enough people who are just looking at this and saying, ‘what about us?’” she said.

Rempel Garner said she’d like to see a robust discussion of policy in the race, except for the issues that one potential contender is already raising.

Quebec’s Richard Decarie drew immediate condemnation from some in the party this week after he said he believes being LGBTQ is a choice, and that he’d withdraw funding for abortion services.

Rempel Garner said she intends to ask the party to disqualify him as a candidate, if he in fact submits an application.

“Our party is being defined by this conversation right now, what is this leadership committee going to do?” she said.

The meeting of the Conservative caucus also came on the heels of a similar gathering of Liberal MPs, who were exhorted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to play nice with their opponents in the name of getting work done for Canadians.

Scheer offered no similar pitch to his team. He accused the Liberals of using their upcoming budget to buy votes from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, and attacked a planned Liberal bill banning military-style assault rifles.

“This is an attack on law-abiding, responsible firearms owners,” he said.

Scheer made no mention of the Conservatives’ plan for dealing with the implementation of Canada’s new free trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico, which is expected to be the first piece of business presented by the Liberals.

It’s still not clear whether the Tories intend to support it outright or find a way to slow the process down.

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