On a visit to an agricultural fair in a battleground riding east of Montreal Tuesday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer defended his promise to review the Canada Food Guide in order to make the document reflect research put forward by the country’s food industry.
Scheer drew the Liberals’ ire last week after he told dairy farmers in Saskatoon the guide is flawed.
Health Canada’s new guide did away with traditional food groups and portion sizes and focused instead on broader guidelines, including eating more plant-based protein and drinking more water.
The Liberals say the document has received an overwhelmingly positive response, including from nutrition experts. They allege Scheer is bowing to special interests and declaring war on Health Canada’s research.
“Their reaction is exaggerated and merits an Oscar for acting,” Scheer said in St-Hyacinthe, Que., about 60 kilometres east of Montreal.
“There are (industry) sectors saying their information was not included,” he added. “There have been dietitians and nutritionists that highlighted weaknesses in the guide, such as a lack of emphasis on iron and calcium.”
WATCH: (From Jan. 2019) Experts weigh in on Canada’s new food guide
While Scheer rejected Liberal accusations he was pandering to the agricultural industry, he and the province’s dairy farmers have a history together.
Scheer’s former rival for the leadership of the party, Maxime Bernier, accuses him of colluding with the province’s farmers in the last months of the 2017 race. Bernier says roughly 10,000 Quebecers joined the Tories during that period but didn’t renew their membership the next year.
Bernier, who advocates abolishing the federal supply management system that protects the poultry, dairy and egg industry from foreign competition, says farmers bought memberships in order to ensure he lost to Scheer, who advocated keeping supply management. Scheer ended up narrowly beating Bernier.
Marcel Riendeau, 71, was one of those farmers who voted for Scheer in the Tory leadership race. But he kept his party membership.
“I’m voting for Scheer (in the election),” the farmer from St-Hyacinthe said Tuesday. “I’ve stopped voting Liberal.”
Riendeau said he doesn’t think Trudeau can defend Canada’s interests on the world stage. “Trudeau walks around saying he’ll stand up, but he doesn’t. He sits down,” he said.
WATCH: Canada’s Health Minister criticizes Scheer for questioning science behind food guide
“Look at what Trump did to him at the last G-7 meeting,” Riendeau said, referring to the U.S. president calling Trudeau weak and dishonest following last summer’s conference in Quebec.
Scheer will need more people like Riendeau on his side if he hopes to take the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot. The agricultural region is currently represented by the NDP’s Brigitte Sansoucy, and the Tories finished fourth in 2015.
This year the Conservative candidate is former television boxing analyst Bernard Barre.
Lise Boulay, 56, said though she voted Liberal in 2015, she is open to considering other parties – but not the Conservatives.
“I don’t think so,” Boulay said about the Tories as she watched Scheer walk through the agricultural fair. “They don’t share my convictions, my values. He is just too conservative.”