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Politics and faith an uneasy mix: poll

  • December 5, 2019

OTTAWA -- A belief that federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s Catholic faith contributed to his failure to become prime minister has been supported by the results of a new poll.

The poll results come as Scheer’s leadership faces attacks from both the party’s social conservatives and progressives, with the tipping point revolving around social issues such as same-sex relationships and abortion.

According to the poll, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in association with Cardus, while most Canadians (55 per cent) say a candidate’s religious beliefs should be a non-issue during an election campaign, a small majority (51 per cent) said Scheer’s Catholic faith negatively impacts their opinion of him as a possible prime minister.

The poll was done after the Oct. 21 election. It found that “more than half of those who saw, heard or read about Scheer’s faith say it left them with a negative opinion of him.”

That was especially true of young women and Quebecers, who said they had a negative view of Scheer on issues such as abortion and same-sex relationships. Among Quebecers, which as a percentage of its population is technically the most Catholic province in Canada, 62 per cent said they had a negative view of Scheer in relation to his personal beliefs. Only six per cent said that his faith gave them a positive view of him.

In the two provinces with the largest Catholic populations, Quebec and Ontario, the Conservative vote declined from 2015. It fell by 1.8 per cent in Ontario and 0.7 per cent in Quebec, although the party’s seat total in Quebec decreased because of a strong showing by the Bloc Quebecois.

“There’s clear evidence that hot-button social issues were a factor in how Canadians voted in the 2019 federal election,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Cardus. “However, they were a bigger factor in Quebec than in other parts of the country because Bloc Quebecois voters took the hardest line on those issues.”

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A clear and substantial majority of the 1,400 Canadians polled said that a party leader’s personal views on abortion and same-sex relationships impacts their vote. According to the survey, seven-out-of-10 Canadians indicated that a political party leader’s personal views on those issues is a factor, although that result does not indicate whether it would be regarded as a positive or negative factor.

The poll adds weight to arguments of Conservatives who want Scheer replaced. For every former Tory MP such as Rona Ambrose, who touts the fact that she proudly marched in a Gay Pride parade when she was the party’s interim leader, there is a social conservative trashing Scheer for not staying true to his Catholic faith and being a weak advocate against abortion and same-sex marriage.

“For the Conservative Party of Canada to be electorally relevant to the majority of Canadians, it should consider breaking from the past and look to a more contemporary conservatism that resonates more broadly across the country,” former senior Conservative party staffers Melissa Lantsman and Jamie Ellerton wrote in the Globe and Mail.

While Scheer was often confronted about his personal beliefs as a Catholic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,  also Catholic, avoided the same scrutiny. That would “suggest that it is not necessarily a leader’s faith that provokes negative or positive reactions, but how the leader approaches and handles the issue on the campaign trail,” said a summary of the survey results.

Scheer continually said during the campaign that, as prime minister, he would not reopen the debate about abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But when asked directly about his personal beliefs as a faithful Catholic, he often refrained from giving a direct answer.

Trudeau, by contrast, has been clear throughout his political career that he is pro-choice and an advocate for gay rights. 

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