Federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer poses for a photo with a supporter at a small event of about 50 attendees at a Naramata winery, as Scheer tours the country following his election to party leader. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Andrew Scheer talks NAFTA, cabinet shuffle at Naramata event

The federal leader of the opposition spoke at an event at a Naramata winery Monday evening

With NAFTA negotiations fully underway, newly elected Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer says he intends to shuffle his shadow cabinet with an emphasis on trade.

At an event at a Naramata winery Monday evening, Scheer spoke to a small crowd of supporters, as part of his Canadian tour, largely speaking to the need to “make sure Justin Trudeau is a one-term prime minister.”

It was Scheer’s first trip to the Okanagan since he was named the Conservative Party leader in the spring, with a stop in Kelowna also planned for Tuesday.

At the event, Scheer briefly took questions from reporters on a variety of subjects.

Related: Canadian wine is on NAFTA negotiating table

Asked by the Western News what kind of deal he would like to see for Canadian wineries out of NAFTA negotiations, Scheer pointed to trade more broadly as a part of his party’s strategy.

“We’re going to be making some changes to our shadow cabinet and trade is going to be a huge issue. There are so many jobs in Canada that depend on trade, that depend on that open border,” Sheer said, adding the U.S. can also be guilty of the issues it accuses Canada of.

“The United States often, they sometimes point to things in Canada, but they have a lot of mechanisms that support their industries as well, and we have to approach these things with our eyes open.”

Scheer said he believed the Liberal Party has “mishandled the trade file” by waiting and gauging the temperature before taking action.

Trump: Canada being “difficult” in NAFTA talks

However, he offered no position on how he hoped Canadian wine would flow across the border to the south.

But perhaps higher on mind in a media scrum was the cabinet shuffle from the Liberals, which included the resignation of Judy Foote, who helmed the public works and procurement ministry.

“We have a lot of respect for Judy Foote; she’s in a different party, but she’s had a long career of public service,” Scheer said.

“Wait and see how each minister performs, but I do think a lot of the times, the Liberals are good at changing symbols and changing letterhead, changing titles.”

That comment was directed more specifically at one of the more dramatic changes for the Liberal Party cabinet. The Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs was effectively split into two ministries, with one tackling reconciliation and the other tackling more day-to-day issues like education.

Federal Liberals reshuffle cabinet

“The First Nations people I talk to, they want opportunities, and a lot of the things that the Liberals have done, unilaterally killing opportunities,” Scheer said, noting in particular the moratorium on exploration and natural resource development in the North.

“They talk a lot about consultation and they talk a lot about engagement with our First Nations communities — time and time again, they just don’t do it.”

That said, Scheer said he was waiting to see how the newly split Indigenous affairs departments would work, but he didn’t see the change as significant without actual action.

“When it comes to actual practical policies that improve the lives of Indigenous communities, they haven’t done any of that,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of issues with their management and direction of the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry, so we’re going to adopt a wait-and-see approach and see what they actually do.

“But changing titles, changing letterhead doesn’t actually improve services for people.”

Related: Head of MMIW inquiry says she understands frustrations over hearing delays

Having lost a pair of seats in the Okanagan last election, Scheer said he expected to “come back with some exciting policies that will speak to creating prosperity here in British Columbia” in an effort to win back those seats.

“Preserving our wonderful environment, at the same time making sure that job creators are able to do what they do best, which is create opportunities for people,” Scheer said. “The two can go hand-in-hand.”

He added that he wasn’t intimidated by a leftward swing in Western Canada, with Alberta electing the NDP, the B.C. NDP taking power alongside the B.C. Green Party and the waning popularity of the Saskatchewan Party’s Brad Wall.

“I’m confident that we can offer a positive vision, an aspirational vision to Canadians that rejects the politics of the NDP.”

Related: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer visits Lower Mainland


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