Waters: Kelowna-Lake County Tory taking the high road…for now

Tracy Gray leaves criticism of her Liberal opponent to party leader Andrew Scheer

It was a picture in contrasts.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer popped into Lake Country on Monday for a quick campaign announcement and a photo op, and he took every opportunity he could during his session with the local and national media to bash his chief political rival, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Repeatedly, he worked Trudeau into his answers to reporters questions, regardless of what he was asked. Most of his answers were about what the Liberals have done wrong —specifically Trudeau — rather than what he and his party, if elected, would do right.

It appeared Scheer wanted to talk more about Trudeau than the return of the child-focused tax credits, the purported reason for the campaign stop.

Standing on a sports field in a public park with strategically placed kids playing soccer behind him — at 9 a.m. on a school day — the Conservative leader stuck to his script; get the announcement out of the way early and then hammer away at the Trudeau for conflicts of interest, broken promises and mismanagement of the economy.

And, to add a little local colour, he even took a few swipes at Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate incumbent MP Stephen Fuhr.

According to Scheer, Fuhr “let down many people” by voting to support Liberal programs that have raised taxes on Canadians.

But if Scheer was willing to go there, the woman trying to unseat Fuhr was not.

Asked repeatedly about Scheer’s criticisms of Fuhr, Conservative candidate Tracy Gray demurred, declining to follow her leader’s lead, saying only she would talk about herself and what she would do if elected.

It was an interesting approach given claims when she was seeking the Tory nomination about how the riding needed a change because it was not being represented properly in Ottawa.

READ MORE: Waters: Looking back to get ahead as election campaign kicks off

Heading into this election, Fuhr repeatedly said he expected the Conservatives would throw everything they had at unseating him.

Local Conservatives are still smarting from the 2015 election, which saw the first Liberal MP elected for the riding in 45 years.

But in these early days of the campaign, that all-out Tory offensive hasn’t materialized.

What was clear, however, is that while Fuhr owes a lot to Trudeau for getting elected four years ago, this time he may need to distance himself a little more or run the risk of getting caught up in the avalanche of criticism being levelled at his party’s leader by the Conservatives.

So far, Gray has been fairly low key with her campaign, concentrating more on leg work than rhetoric.

She said she has knocked on thousands of doors in the riding, listened to constituents and has a sense of what they are concerned about, specifically housing affordability and taxation. But there’s still plenty of time for her to turn her attention to Fuhr.

On Monday, Scheer opened the door for her to do just that but she declined to walk through.

So, could we have that most rare of political happening here, a race — at least at the local level — that is focused on issues and not personalities? Don’t bet on it.

It’s early days, there’s plenty of time for the rhetoric to heat up — on all sides. And it likely will.

Alistair Waters is a regional editor with Black Press in Kelowna.

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