Alberta Premier Jason Kenney campaigns in Ontario for Scheer
OTTAWA -- One of the shiniest stars in Canada's conservative constellation is in Ontario this weekend in support of federal party leader Andrew Scheer.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, once touted as the leader-in-waiting for the federal Conservative party, will work the circuit in Ottawa and the Toronto area in a bid to boost Scheer's profile.
He kicked off the tour with an event in Nepean, a riding won in 2015 by Liberal Chandra Arya.
Kenney spoke at length about the need to develop Alberta's oil resources and the threat another Liberal government would pose to Albertan prosperity.
"This is existential for Alberta," he said.
Kenney was clear about his view of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, saying Scheer "will never embarrass us on the world stage or here at home like Justin Trudeau has."
He also delivered a more personal message about Scheer.
"I've known him since he was a young man, and I've always known him to be underestimated, and always to exceed expectations," Kenney said.
"Most importantly, I know Andrew to be a man of profound dignity, of decency."
Kenney will travel from Ottawa to the Toronto area over the weekend, where he says he'll campaign with people who are long-time personal friends.
It's in the so-called "905," the suburban belt around Toronto labelled by its area code, where the former federal cabinet minister was instrumental in growing the party's electoral base.
His efforts particularly in ethnic communities are often cited as a reason the Conservatives became a competitive force in the highly diverse ridings, and for helping them win their first -- and only -- majority government in 2011.
One of the ridings they won that year was Willowdale, where visible minorities are 67 per cent of the population. It had been a Liberal stronghold for years but the Conservatives managed to eke out a victory.
The Conservative reputation in many diverse ridings took a hit in 2015, thanks to controversial promises like the "barbaric cultural practices" hotline, a debate over face-coverings and concerns over refugee policy.
The Tories lost Willowdale and several others like it, and hope to regain them this time around. Willowdale will be one of Kenney's stops on his Ontario tour this weekend.
Kenney said he still sees a natural alignment between the values of many new Canadians and the Conservatives.
"Many new Canadians come from broken regimes where there is abuse of authority, they want democratic values and respect for families and law and order, which Mr. Scheer is talking about today," he said.
Scheer's announcement Friday was on gun crime, promising to get Canada's border agency to do more to try to stop illegal guns from crossing into Canada from the United States.
Kenney also answered a question on Bill 21, saying he disagreed with the bill, but that it was ultimately a legal matter in the province of Quebec, where the government has invoked the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian constitution.
Kenney was among the people whose names were immediately floated to lead the party after it lost government in 2015 and then-leader Stephen Harper stepped down.
But he decided to enter provincial politics instead, first uniting the conservative movement in Alberta and then running and winning the premier's job earlier this year.
He's rare among the country's conservative leaders for being willing to go to bat publicly for his federal political brother; other conservatives, such as Saskatchewan's Scott Moe, have declined to issue an endorsement.
Kenney spoke about the upcoming English-language debate Oct. 7, saying the situation can be challenging for anyone.
"He'll be under attack, because I think he's leading in this campaign. So my advice to him would don't become too defensive. Get our there, communicate your message -- that's what worked for us."
Kenney also hits Ontario at a time when that province's conservative premier, Doug Ford, is perceived to be doing damage to the brand with unpopular policies and a looming school strike.
Kenney said he didn't want to weigh in on those issues, saying while he is campaigning to support Scheer personally, he's also there representing Alberta.
"I'm just here as a leader of the third-largest economy in Canada to say we desperately need a new federal government."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2019.