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Andrew Scheer falls short — but vows Conservatives will be ready next time

Andrew Scheer falls short — but vows Conservatives will be ready next time

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer ran his party’s federal election campaign as a referendum on the performance of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals over the last four years.

Now the results are in: a minority government for Trudeau, a slightly larger caucus for the Conservatives — and new pressure on Scheer’s leadership.

Beyond a promise to voters to make life more affordable through tax cuts, Scheer said Canadians should back Conservatives in this election because Trudeau had lost the “moral authority to govern” after the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the ‘brownface’ photos surfaced. A substantial number of Canadians didn’t agree.

While Scheer did not pick up enough seats to form a government, he did hold Trudeau to a minority. But more than that, the Conservative party appears to have won the popular vote thanks in part to lopsided victories in the West.

In his address to party supporters Monday, Scheer gave no indication that he would be resigning his position as leader.

“While tonight’s result isn’t what we wanted, I’m also incredibly proud, proud of our team and proud of the bigger and stronger Conservative team that we’ll send to Ottawa,” Scheer said.

Andrew Scheer says the Conservatives are the ‘government in waiting’

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he’s looking forward to heading back to Ottawa with a bigger Conservative team while speaking to reporters in Regina, Sask.  1:29

“Tonight, Conservatives have put Justin Trudeau on notice and Mr. Trudeau, when your government falls, Conservatives will be ready and we will win.”

Scheer failed to substantially bolster his party’s standings in the House of Commons. The Conservatives return to Parliament with roughly 20 more seats than former prime minister Stephen Harper won in 2015.

In once deep-blue ridings in places like Atlantic Canada and Ontario, Liberal candidates managed to fight off their Conservative challengers. The party failed to make any gains in Quebec. Deputy party leader Lisa Raitt, a Conservative stalwart and a Red Tory, went down to defeat in the suburban Toronto riding of Milton.

Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt loses in Milton, Ont.

In her concession speech, Ontario Conservative candidate Lisa Raitt says it has been an honour to serve as the deputy leader of her party. 0:51

The Conservative election strategy — sticking to tried-and-true Conservative policies like tax cuts while rejecting substantive climate action to motivate the dedicated Tory base — failed to sway enough independent-minded voters in Central and Eastern Canada.

Scheer was able to tap into the palpable anger in Western Canada — particularly in the Prairies, where the Liberal government has been accused of stifling the oil and gas sector with policies like the northern B.C. oil tanker ban and the controversial overhaul of the environmental assessment regime.

Conservative candidates toppled all Liberal MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including long-time Liberal MP and cabinet minister Ralph Goodale. In Alberta, Conservative candidates secured an eye-popping 70 per cent of the vote. In Saskatchewan, Tories swept all the seats with more than 67 per cent of the vote.

But Scheer’s future as Conservative leader is now in doubt.

Scheer said Monday’s result is just the “first step” and the popular vote success of the party in this election means that the Conservatives are now the “government in waiting.”

Under the Conservative Party constitution, if the party fails to form government — and if the leader has not yet formally signalled an intention to resign — then delegates can vote at the next party convention to hold a leadership race. If more more than 50 per cent of the votes cast at the convention favour such an option, that would trigger a leadership race.

Of course, Scheer might resign before that leadership review vote is even necessary.

Andrew Scheer’s full election night speech

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to supporters in Regina, Sask. Scheer won his Regina-Qu’Appelle riding. 10:44

While Trudeau’s campaign was beset by scandal, Scheer also faced questions about his resume and his political positions. Scheer appeared awkward when asked about social issues like gay marriage and abortion. There were also questions about his past as an insurance broker (he was never actually licensed to sell insurance) and his dual Canada-U.S. citizenship.

Scheer was first elected in his adopted hometown of Regina in 2004, beating long-time NDP MP Lorne Nystrom.

After years on the Conservative backbench in opposition and then in government, Scheer served as deputy speaker in the House of Commons before taking the big chair himself after the 2011 election.

Conservative party members were forced to pick a new leader after the electoral thumping in 2015. At the outset of that leadership race, Scheer struggled to stand out in the crowded field of 17 candidates who were vying to replace Stephen Harper.

Speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer jokingly tries to fight with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton as they escort him to the Speakers chair in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 2, 2011. Andrew Scheer is no stranger to making political history. When he first sought federal political office in 2004, he beat out the NDP candidate who at the time was the longest serving MP in the House of Commons. Seven years later, his Conservative party won its first majority government and Scheer, then only 32, would soon be elected Speaker of the House of Commons, the youngest person ever to hold the storied post. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

With media attention focused on higher-profile candidates like Kellie Leitch, Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier, Scheer quietly assembled a significant amount of “second choice” support among members.

He courted socially conservative voters — a not insignificant portion of the Conservative leadership voting base — but also more moderate elements of the party who feared Bernier’s strident libertarianism would be a turn-off for the general voting public. He narrowly beat Bernier by less than 2 points on the 13th and final ballot.

Scheer acknowledged early that his policy proposals were not all that different from those of his predecessor. He willingly embraced the “Stephen Harper with a smile” label, saying he would govern like Harper but with less of a stern image.

When he assumed the helm of his party, the Liberals were still flying high in the polls.

Andrew Scheer, right, is congratulated by Maxime Bernier after being elected the new leader of the federal Conservative party at the federal Conservative leadership convention in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

But Scheer scored some wins as an opposition leader, like a come-from-behind victory in a Quebec byelection. He capitalized on Liberal scandals — like Trudeau’s much-maligned trip to India — and some ethical lapses, like Trudeau’s trip to a private island in the Bahamas.

And with the SNC-Lavalin affair, Scheer sought to paint Trudeau as a man unfit to govern after inappropriately pressuring his justice minister. His efforts paid off in the early months of 2019 as Liberal popular support numbers dipped significantly.

Scheer launched the campaign with a promise to make life more affordable for Canadians (“It’s time for you to get ahead” was the chosen slogan) by promising to revive Harper-era policies that were dismantled by the Liberals.

Scheer committed to a children’s fitness and arts tax credit, a public transit tax credit, a new green home retrofit tax credit and a “universal tax cut” to slash income taxes for middle-income Canadians.

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Trudeau's Senate point man withdraws motion condemned by Tories as 'time allocation on steroids'

Trudeau’s Senate point man withdraws motion condemned by Tories as ‘time allocation on steroids’

Peter Harder, the federal Liberal government’s representative in the Senate, has withdrawn a controversial ‘programming motion’ that had the Conservative opposition up in arms.

There are roughly eight weeks left in the current session before Parliament is scheduled to rise for its summer recess. This is also the last sitting before an expected fall federal election — meaning there is extra pressure on the Liberal government to clear the decks of legislation before it asks voters for another mandate.

Claiming that Tory intransigence had forced his hand, Harder tabled a motion Tuesday that would have curtailed the amount of time the upper house would have to study and debate 11 pieces of government legislation.

The Conservatives slammed the motion as “time allocation on steroids,” calling it a betrayal of the government’s promise to “do politics differently.”

Harder defended the motion, saying it was made necessary by an impasse in his negotiations with Conservative leadership on a timeline for seeing a number of Liberal bills through the Senate before summer.

Today, Harder said he’d reached an arrangement with the Conservatives to make the timeline work. Harder withdrew his motion shortly after question period today, saying only that a deal had been reached on timelines without specifying what those timelines would be.

Some of the bills in question have been in the Senate for more than a year, while others were only recently introduced and are still at early stages of passage through the upper house.

Harder had proposed strict timelines for wrapping up both committee study and third reading debate on the bills, to ensure any amended legislation could be sent to the Commons in early June for review by government and MPs in the lower house.

The bills awaiting passage include some key items of Liberal legislation, such as: Bill C-48, the northern B.C. oil tanker ban; Bill C-69, the overhaul of existing environmental assessment regime for natural resources projects; Bill C-71, changes to the country’s firearms law; Bill C-81, which makes sweeping changes to federal law for people with disabilities; and Bill C-85, the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

It is not the first time Conservative senators have been accused during this parliamentary session of holding up bills, including legislation on trans rights, a gender-neutral O Canada and a ban on holding whales in captivity. The Conservatives maintain that, as the opposition, it’s their job to oppose government business at every turn.

“With the media focused on the prime minister booting two members of caucus, the government quietly put forward a motion that shuts down the abilities of senators to review and question government legislation,” Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the Senate, said of Harder’s motion.

Harder has said senators on all sides of the chamber will have ample time to debate, study and move amendments to the legislation.

‘This is not some schoolyard squabble’

To date, Harder largely has avoided introducing time allocation motions in the Senate. Time allocation is a tool used by all previous government leaders in the Senate to curtail how long members of the upper house can study, debate or amend government legislation. It’s also used frequently in the Commons.

Harder threatened to use the tool on Bill C-45, the government’s cannabis legislation, but backed off after securing a timeline with the Tories.

Speaking in the Senate Wednesday before Harder withdrew his motion, Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, the party’s whip, said he and Smith have always negotiated in good faith with Harder and his manoeuvre came as a surprise.

“I met with you in your office. We had what I thought was a very collegial conversation about moving legislation forward,” Plett said in question period, addressing Harder. “I kept my part of the bargain. You did not. In complete contradiction of your word to me, you tabled a programming motion that is seven pages long and impacts 11 bills.

“This is not some schoolyard squabble. What you have done impacts the ability to move legislation forward in a manner which respects the traditions, conventions and values of this chamber. Having broken your word to us on this matter, how am I or any other senator in this chamber supposed to trust your word going forward?”

Harder said the “programming approach” should come as no surprise to the Conservative opposition.

“It is my responsibility to prepare for all eventualities, and those preparations have been under way for some time,” Harder said. “Without going into all of the details … let me simply reiterate that I have, over the last number of weeks, spoken about the need to have a programming approach.”

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'Deadliest disease in all time' wipes out 90 species of frogs and toads

‘Deadliest disease in all time’ wipes out 90 species of frogs and toads

It’s the plague of your worst sci-fi nightmares — caused by a deadly pathogen that spreads not just through contact, but in the water, literally swimming after new victims to infect.

It eats away at their skin, eventually causing heart failure and mass die-offs. It doesn’t just jump from one species to another, but among hundreds. And it has spread into the zoological equivalent of a global pandemic, thanks to humans.

Unfortunately, this is neither science fiction nor a dream. It’s a very real disease called chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans, that affects a wide range of amphibians, including frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.

This disease has caused more harm to more species than any other disease in the history of science.– Wendy Palen , Simon Fraser University

Scientists have just tallied the “unprecedented lethality” it has caused worldwide in the past 50 years:

  • The complete extinction of 90 species, from the golden toad of Costa Rica to the Mount Glorious torrent frog of Australia to Baxter’s toad in the U.S. state of Wyoming.

  • Dramatic population declines in 411 other species, especially in Australia and Central and South America.

The international team of researchers, led by Ben Scheele and Claire Foster at the Australian National University, published their results last week in the journal Science.

We have records of pathogens since the time of the dinosaurs, and without question, this is the deadliest disease that has ever struck wildlife in all time,” Luis Felipe Toledo, a professor at the University of Campinas’s Biology Institute in Brazil and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

A mountain yellow-legged frog showing signs of severe chytridiomycosis including abnormal posture (left) and dead frogs following a chytridiomycosis outbreak in Milestone Basin, Calif. (Jamie Voyles et al./PLoS ONE 7(4): e35374/licensed under CC BY)

Scientists had already linked the disease with amphibian declines and extinctions around the world, but exact figures had been hard to get due to a lack of data. The researchers compiled decades’ worth of studies and unpublished research from experts around the world to come up with what they consider to be a conservative estimate of the disease’s toll.

As Foster compiled the results from different researchers in different countries, she recalled in an email, “the overwhelming feeling was probably sadness.”

Many of the species reported to be driven to extinction by the disease were ones she hadn’t heard of them before, so she Googled them as she went.

So many amazing and beautiful species have been lost,” she wrote, “and for many we know hardly anything about how they lived.”

Native to Central America, this Mossy Red-eyed Frog (Duellmanohyla soralia) is one of hundreds of species negatively impacted by chytrid fungus and now threatened with extinction. (Jonathan E. Kolby/Honduras Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Center)

The study found that population declines caused by the disease peaked in the 1980s — at least a decade before the 1998 discovery of the diseases. But only 12 per cent of affected species show signs of recovering. Four in 10 affected species are still declining.

Pet trade blamed

Evidence suggests that the disease originated in Asia, and was spread around the world by humans importing and exporting amphibians as pets.

Foster said governments and other agencies need to start taking biosecurity and the illegal wildlife trade far more seriously to prevent the spread of diseases.

Wendy Palen is a biology professor at Simon Fraser University who does research on freshwater ecosystems, including amphibian populations. She co-authored a commentary published with the new paper that described the fungus as having the “perfect recipe to drive its hosts to extinction.”

It’s very transmissible through water, where it can reach many different kinds of amphibians. It has a wide variety of hosts, and can infect some species without causing symptoms, allowing them to spread it more widely.

This is an endangered Australian corroboree frog with chytridiomycosis, which attacks the animal’s skin and eventually causes breathing problems, cardiac arrest and death. (Image courtesy of Jamie Voyles, Alex Hyatt and Frank Fillipi)

Palen said the study confirmed that the disease was to blame for many amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide, as many scientists in the field expected. “But it is also larger than anyone has quantified before.”

She added that its destructive effect on biodiversity has been much worse than that of other deadly wildlife diseases, such as white-nose syndrome in bats and avian malaria in birds.

This disease has caused more harm to more species than any other disease in the history of science,” she said.

While none of the worst-affected species are in Canada, Palen said, the disease does exist here and has caused problems for some of our amphibians.

“It’s really global in scale,” she said in an interview.

But she noted it can still get worse, as it hasn’t yet reached some parts of the world that are particularly rich in amphibian diversity, such as Papua New Guinea

This is a microscope image of the fungus that causes chytridiomycosis. It can spread through the water and even swim after potential hosts. (Christian Martin)

Her commentary adds that Image chytridiomycosis may also be “a harbinger of other disease outbreaks to come” as humans “inadvertently spread pathogens around the world.”

That, I think, is a cautionary note,” she said. “And it does immediately sort of demand that we think carefully about policies regarding the import of especially live amphibians.”

However, she noted that disease is not the only or even biggest threat to amphibians around the world..

“We know that climate change and habitat destruction and the draining of wetlands and changes to terrestrial ecosystems are causing an equal or large number of amphibian declines,” she added.

The disease is “another nail in the coffin,” she said. “And it compels us as a society and our communities to do something about it.”

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Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down

Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down

Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair was non-committal Wednesday about delivering a government-commissioned report on a handgun ban during this parliamentary session.

Blair also suggested the Liberals could revisit this issue if the government is re-elected in the fall.

“Canadians expect us to take the time to do it right and I’ve been doing my very best to take that time,” the former top Toronto cop told a Senate committee studying Bill C-71 Wednesday.

“As everyone can appreciate, this is a very complex discussion. We’ve looked at a number of ways we can maintain public safety but my job was also … and it’s an important caveat that the prime minister put on my mandate … to conduct that examination in a way that was also respectful of those Canadians who do responsibly own those firearms.”

Blair said he and his department are still engaged in an “exhaustive examination” of handguns in Canada. Blair initially said he would finish his consultations on the subject by the end of 2018.

When asked by Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran if the government’s promised report would be made public by the time Parliament rises at the end of June, Blair hedged.

“As quick as I’m able, ma’am, but I can’t give you a time,” he said.

Bill C-71 is considered by many gun control advocates to be a relatively modest set of reforms to firearms law. Blair suggested Wednesday that if the Liberal government can’t do more on the firearms file this year, he’ll try again later. McPhedran said that suggestion was based on an “interesting assumption” — that the Liberals will win the fall federal election.

“It’s not an assumption, it’s an intent,” Blair said to McPhedran.

“If I can’t get it done now, I’ll come back and do it later. I know there are people who are saying, ‘Just do it quickly,’ but frankly I think we should do it right.”

When asked about the minister’s comments, a spokesperson for Blair said: “The government is still planning on releasing the report early 2019.”

The chances of the government introducing and passing new gun legislation at this late stage of the parliamentary process — with only eight weeks left on the calendar before Parliament rises for its summer break — is next to non-existent.

Legislation typically takes months to move through the House of Commons and Senate. Bill C-71, for example, was introduced more than a year ago and is still being studied by the upper house.

Heidi Rathjen, a gun control activist and survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, said anything less than a law introducing a handgun ban in the government’s current mandate would amount to a broken promise.

It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign.– Heidi Rathjen

The 2015 Liberal election platform included a commitment “to take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.”

“They are breaking their word to Canadians. It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign,” Rathjen said.

“The Liberals, historically, have been in favour of gun control and now they’re just living in fear of the gun lobby and a small but very well-organized, very aggressive group of voters who speak of gun ‘rights.’ There is no right to own a gun in this country.

“It’s extremely discouraging. This government has been dragging its feet. Bill C-71 was only tabled last March and even that’s weak and the bare minimum of what the Liberals should do.”

To that end, McPhedran has suggested Bill C-71 should be amended to classify all handguns as “prohibited” firearms — the most restrictive classification for a firearm in Canada’s three-tier system, a move that would make tens of thousands of licensed owners ineligible and all but dismantle the existing legal supply chain.

“A bird in the hand, minister,” she said.

C-71 includes enhanced background checks for anyone applying for a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a restricted PAL, mandatory record-keeping for firearms retailers, changes to the authorization to transport (ATT) rules, and the reclassification of two types of firearms.

Any would-be gun owner in Canada already has to submit to an extensive background check and complete a training course.

The Liberal government has faced mounting pressure from gun control groups to take action on the firearms file after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern implemented a sweeping ban on so-called “military-style” semiautomatic firearms only days after a deadly mosque shooting in Christchurch.

“New Zealand shows us that if there’s political will, political courage, political leadership, a government can move extremely quickly to take action when its comes to protecting public safety,” Rathjen said.

But Blair said the Liberal government is not interested in implementing a handgun ban in such a short span of time.

“I think it’s important, before we make a decision on such an important issue of public policy and public safety, we make ourselves as well-informed as possible.”

Gun rights advocates maintain targeting legal firearms owners, through either C-71 or a potential ban, is the wrong approach given that much of the gun-related crime in this country is perpetrated by criminals using handguns smuggled from the U.S.

“The lion’s share of firearms homicide is committed by illegal gun owners. No methodologically valid study has been able to find evidence that stricter gun laws, or even gun bans, have reduced general homicide rates or spousal homicide rates,” said Gary Mauser, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University and a noted gun rights advocate.

Out of all the violent gun crimes in 2017 in Canada, 59 per cent involved a handgun, 18 per cent involved a rifle or a shotgun, 6 per cent involved a fully automatic firearm, sawed-off rifle or shotgun and 17 per cent involved a firearm-like weapon or an unknown type of firearm, according to data from StatsCan.

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