New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is being reminded that his victory came with strong support from socially-conservative Tories. Photo courtesy Erin O’Toole

O’Toole must hear social conservatives

By 
  • August 25, 2020

OTTAWA -- A social conservative did not win the race to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Ontario MP Erin O’Toole did.

But even as O’Toole’s positions on gay rights and abortion are considered heresy to organizations such as Campaign Life Coalition, they believe they helped get him elected by blocking Peter MacKay’s march to the leadership and expect O’Toole to keep that in mind going forward.

O’Toole was crowned successor to outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in the early morning hours of Aug. 24.

The fact that two candidates strongly supported by social conservative organizations — Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Toronto-based lawyer Leslyn Lewis — attracted more than 35 per cent of the vote on the first ballot has pro-life and anti-gay marriage organizations warning O’Toole not to take socially-conservative Canadians and what is important to them for granted during the next federal election, which could come as early as this fall.

“Contrary to the red Tory and media narrative that dismisses socially-conservative candidates, these results prove that pro-life and pro-family candidates like Lewis and Sloan, who are unafraid to champion life and family issues, can draw strong support and be contenders,” said Jeff Gunnarson, national president of Campaign Life.

“We expect that Erin O’Toole will ensure that social conservatives are respected and their values represented within the party going forward.”

If O’Toole doesn’t, then “he will definitely lose the next general election. Everybody knows you can’t win a general election without your base,” he said.

The call for O’Toole, who said he has no intention of reopening debates about same-sex marriage or abortion in Canada, to take the concerns of socially-conservative party members into account are echoed by other organizations that want Canada’s non-existent laws surrounding abortion to at least be debated in the House of Commons.

The pro-life organization We Need A Law expects O’Toole to honour his commitment to allow sitting Conservative MPs to vote as they wish on matters of conscience.

“Mr. O’Toole needs to ensure that the Conservative Party makes room for and respects the pro-lifers that assisted in getting him elected as leader,” said Tabitha Ewert, a spokesperson for We Need a Law.

“As the results show, pro-lifers who supported both Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan were very influential in getting Mr. O’Toole the support needed to win.”

Campaign Life, which slammed former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer after the last federal election for trying to be “too liberal,” expects O’Toole to heed the views of social conservatives or face dire electoral consequences.

“We will hold the new leader to account on his promises,” he said.

While social conservatives have real concerns with many positions O’Toole has taken on social issues, their opposition to MacKay ran even deeper because of a comment MacKay made following the last federal election about social-conservative issues being a “stinking albatross” around the neck of the party.

O’Toole said building up trust in the Conservative Party and offering Canadians “a real principled Conservative” alternative to the minority Liberal government will be his number one goal. He added, that to him, it doesn’t matter if Canadians are straight or gay or religious or not, “you have a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.”

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