Institute of Marriage and Family Canada executive director Dave Quist, research director Andrea Mrozek and communications strategist Eloise Cataudella. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Social conservatives need a more positive spin on message

  • November 18, 2012

OTTAWA - Social conservatives, often blamed for election defeats like that of U.S. Republican Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 American election, need to find better ways to stress the positives of their message if they want that to change, say members of a Canadian think tank.

“Statistics are on the side of social conservatives when we look at the outcomes for our children, for moms and dads, for families, and the negative consequences of abortion,” said Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) executive director Dave Quist.

But getting the message out is daunting in a climate where “the left has been way out in front” and most people do not engage in elections until the last weeks or days, he said.

As Republicans in the United States are analysing their election defeat, many pundits blame the social conservatives in the party for the loss. Media reports on gaffes made by several Republicans on abortion were plastered across headlines across the United States, and many believe helped President Barack Obama to his second-term as president.

It is no secret that most social conservatives are pro-life, and these views are deemed a liability in Canada. Quist noted abortion has been perceived by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the “third rail” of Canadian politics ever since Stockwell Day’s 2000 campaign where the openly Christian Day was painted as “scary” and ridiculed for his pro-life, creationist and evangelical beliefs.

Yet Quist pointed out “the abortion discussion is alive and well and perhaps thriving in many parts of the country.”

But Andrea Mrozek, IMFC research and communications director, said social conservative principles are about much more than abortion or opposition to same-sex marriage, though they have been “branded” that way. It is about the strength of civil society, promoting the common good and caring for families, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Mrozek predicted social conservative principles will become popular when Western social democracies, especially the United States and its $16-trillion debt and its yearly trillion-dollar deficits, hit the fiscal cliff “and government can’t fund programs any more and suddenly we have to get our act together.”

“When we contracted everything out to the government we did change our personal way of thinking that personal charity does not need to be done; somebody else takes care of that for me,” she said. “I’m alarmed by what I walk by on the street sometimes, that I think, well, someone else is going to take care of it.”

Social conservatives are used to supporting charities, such as crisis pregnancy centres, that receive no government dollars, she said. This kind of charitable impulse will be needed when government programs cannot be maintained, she said.

“If it crashed we’ll have a whole different conversation. People will either sink or swim and won’t have anybody to rescue them, except people who are prepared to reach out.”
IMFC communications strategist Eloise Cataudella, a Catholic from Toronto, spoke of the transformative nature of personal charity, both for the giver and the receiver. There’s a difference between the government’s social safety net and the giving of time and resources of a small charitable organization. Those who receive government help because they are unable to get a job might say “the government is taking care of me because they have been mandated to do so,” she said.
“This does not inspire the sense that the government cares for me as an individual,” she said. “A small organization, struggling to make ends meet, offers a sense of love behind that charity that is transformative and helps lift people out of poverty.”
Many are now “caught or stuck in a safety net,” she said.
While abortion remains one of the top issues identified with social conservatism, Harper has been able to “remain above the fray” as backbenchers in his caucus use private member’s business and other means to keep the abortion debate alive, Mrozek observed.
Harper’s strategy to push social conservatives aside “is one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” and “backfiring,” she said.
“These social conservative issues keep popping up and (Harper) has no way of dealing with it other than to say ‘stop’ or to use the resources of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office)” to get Tory caucus members to vote against various Conservative private member’s bills or motions, such as MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 that would have investigated the personhood of the unborn child, she said.

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