OTTAWA — Canada’s Conservative Party on Saturday chose a 38-year-old social conservative and opponent of carbon taxes to lead its campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election.
Andrew Scheer, an Ottawa native, was narrowly elected as the party’s leader at its convention in suburban Toronto, winning 50.95 percent of the available points under the Conservatives’ complex voting system. He defeated Maxime Bernier, a free-market conservative from Quebec, after 13 rounds of ballot counting.
Mr. Scheer, who was first elected to Parliament at age 25, presented himself as a compromise candidate during his leadership campaign, which was mostly light on policy proposals. He suggested that under Stephen Harper, the former prime minister who stepped down as the party’s leader after Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals won the 2015 election, the Conservatives had been too negative in their approach to voters.
“I don’t like the fact Conservatives have that negative connotation — that we’re always against things, always ‘tackling’ something, ‘cracking down’ on something, or ‘getting tough’ on something else,” he told The National Post, a Toronto newspaper. “We have to have something positive to say on the flip side.”
The next national election is expected to happen in 2019.
Mr. Scheer served for four years as speaker of the House of Commons, a nonpartisan post that does not involve advancing the government’s legislative agenda. He represents an electoral district in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, though he was born in Ottawa and has spent much of his adult life in the capital because of his political career.
Mr. Scheer has said he personally opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, views that gained him support among social conservatives. But he has been accused of playing both sides of such issues during his leadership campaign. He said the party must accept that same-sex marriage is the law in Canada, and while he said he would not reopen the abortion debate, he dodged questions about whether he would let other Conservatives introduce anti-abortion bills.
Speaking to party supporters after Saturday’s victory, Mr. Sheer largely avoided social issues, apart from a promise to end federal grants to universities “that shut down debate and can’t stand different points of view.” He repeated his pledge to repeal Mr. Trudeau’s plan to implement carbon pricing nationwide.
He spent much of the speech attacking the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau, who promised “sunny ways” when he took office after a decade of Conservative dominance. “Sunny ways don’t pay the bills,” Mr. Scheer said. “I think the forecast for sunny ways was like so many weather forecasts we’ve seen.”
The leadership vote was restricted to dues-paying members of the Conservative Party, about 259,000 people. Just over 141,000 of them cast ballots, most through the mail. The leadership campaign struggled to attract public attention, possibly because there were 14 candidates, often turning the debates into turgid affairs.
With the candidates speaking to the party’s base rather than the general electorate, much of the campaign focused on testing would-be immigrants for “Canadian values,” the threat from terrorism and conservative social issues, rather than broader subjects like the economy.