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Andrew Scheer.

Scheer can only blame himself, say critics

  • December 21, 2019

OTTAWA -- The Dec. 12 resignation of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was ultimately caused by his reluctance to more vigorously champion social conservative values based on Catholic faith, claim pro-life and social conservative groups.

And they are quick to make it known that they will try to influence the race to select a new leader.

Even though Scheer’s Conservatives received more votes than any other party and reduced the Liberals to a minority government in the Oct. 21 election, organizations such as Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) and Right Now claim his reticence to promote his values as a practising Catholic on issues such as abortion and gay rights cost him the election and his job as party leader.

That conclusion is at odds with much of the post-election analysis, which showed that parties with so-called “progressive” viewpoints on social issues, such as the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and NDP, garnered more than 60 per cent of the votes.

Much of the media and even some factions of the Conservative Party cited Scheer’s personal beliefs on social issues, especially when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights, as key factors in his party’s failure to win more seats in the greater Toronto and Quebec. 

Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who may run for the leadership, went so far as to call Scheer’s personal views an “albatross” around the party’s neck, although he later backed away from that statement. Conservatives who had called for Scheer’s resignation continually claimed his views on social issues, especially his refusal to walk in gay pride parades, were out of step with Canadian society.

But CLC national president Jeff Gunnarson takes a different view. He claims that Scheer’s unwillingness to take a strong pro-life position and his promise not to reopen divisive debates in the House of Commons on issues such as abortion and gay rights betrayed many voters who would have supported him.

“While many in the media say that the Conservatives were limited to their base, we believe that many more pro-life, pro-family and religious Canadians would have voted Conservative if the leader and party gave them a real reason to, other than the fact they were not Justin Trudeau,” Gunnarson said.

“Scheer’s poorly articulated and clearly uncomfortable position of claiming to be personally pro-life while vowing to not touch the issue upset his socially conservative base, confused many people, and was seen as disingenuous.”

Despite any evidence to support suggestions that Scheer’s fence-sitting cost him more votes than it gained, the CLC analysis was shared, to a certain extent, by the pro-life group Right Now.

The organization claimed that 52 of 53 pro-life MPs running for re-election won their seats and 15 of the 22 newly elected Conservative MPs identify as pro-life. It disputes the notion that the Conservatives need a leader “that follows in Trudeau’s footsteps on abortion and gay marriage.” 

“The House of Commons is now more pro-life than before, the Conservative Party of Canada caucus is more pro-life than before, and some of the staunchest pro-abortion Conservative female MPs have been replaced by younger, more diverse, pro-life Conservative female MPs,” according to Right Now.

Montreal’s Concordia University associate sociology professor Marc Lafrance said in an op-ed published in The Conversation that Scheer’s views on issues such as abortion and gay rights are supported by many within the party.

“Media commentators have suggested that if the Conservatives hope to win the next election, they must elect a leader who is capable of communicating a more convincingly centrist position on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights,” Lafrance said.

However, Lafrance said Scheer’s views on contentious social issues align with many party members.

“While he may have lacked the strategic ability to keep his views from causing him problems on the campaign trail, Scheer’s beliefs are not out of step with those of the party he represents,” Lafrance said. “So if the party wants to shed the social conservatism label, it has to do more than just replace him. It has to completely transform itself.”

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