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The ousting of Erin O’Toole as Conservative Party leader has been applauded by Canadian social conservatives. Photo from Facebook

Social conservatives cheer O’Toole demise

By 
  • February 9, 2022

While social conservatives crow over the demise of Erin O’Toole and begin trying to draft rookie MP Leslyn Lewis to take another run at the Conservative Party leadership, Liberals and other left-of-centre parties are more quietly smiling, political analysts have told The Catholic Register.

“The social conservative element of Canada may be thrilled with that development, and the Liberals will be too,” said King’s University College political scientist John Grant. “Last fall the Liberals had a really hard time when it came to their usual strategy of pinning the label on Conservatives of them being backward and scary people that are going to move the country backwards 50 years socially.”

Less than an hour after the Conservative caucus in Ottawa voted O’Toole out as their leader in Parliament, Campaign Life Coalition director of political operations Jack Fonseca was drumming up support for a more right wing, pro-life leadership candidate.

“We hope that Leslyn Lewis and other pro-life contenders will enter the race,” Fonseca said in a release.

Fonseca wants a Conservative Party that will oppose COVID restrictions and vaccination mandates, restrict abortion access and support traditional families.

“It’s time to elect a truly pro-life, pro-family and pro-freedom Conservative leader,” he said.

“It’s about time this fake conservative was given the boot,” said Campaign Life national president Jeff Gunnarson.

Gunnarson accused O’Toole of betraying the party’s base by supporting “abortion, LGBT ideology, oppressive lockdowns and liberty-destroying passports for abortion-tainted vaccines.”

Though ardently and sincerely held, social conservative views have mostly been a political bust in Canada, said Grant.

“Their views are going to be very difficult to sell. It’s not impossible, but I think it’s going to be difficult,” said the political scientist.

Any assumption that social conservatism, or any other political ideology, is the Catholic position is dangerous, said Catholic Conscience executive director Brendan Steven.

“It’s always important to remember that there’s a difference between Catholic social teaching and the many ideologies that we can find all around us in political and cultural life,” Steven said. “Those ideologies exist on the left wing and they exist on the right wing.”

This does not mean that religiously inspired politics are forbidden in Canada, said Grant.

“I don’t think having a religious component automatically makes an ideological position unpalatable or unsellable,” he said. “The difficulty is that if those religious views become strongly associated with what are regarded by many as outdated social positions regarding battles that seemed to be fought and decided long ago, then I think that indeed could be trouble.”

The danger at this moment may be that the Conservative Party will break apart into a libertarian, fiscally conservative but socially laissez faire party and a socially conservative party aligned with a variety of regional grievances, said Steven. Fractioning the conservative movement into multiple parties would leave the Liberals free to dominate as they did for most of the 1900s.

“When you have a system that’s dominated by one party, I think that is fundamentally unhealthy for democracy,” said Steven. “I think you want a healthy, competitive Conservative party — an alternative.”

O’Toole’s Achilles’ heel was his inability to impose the kind of discipline Steven Harper had over the Conservative Party in mid-2000s, said St. Paul’s College rector and University of Manitoba political scientist Chris Adams.

“Generally speaking, he (Harper) did not allow any debates on gay marriage, on abortion. This was more a matter not of his personal belief, but more to keep his party operating. He had to control the eruptions of the socially conservative in his party.

“It just looks like Erin O’Toole didn’t have the ability to control his party in that manner,” said Adams.

A more polarized political landscape with more extreme rhetoric, at least in the short term, may eventually translate into more parties on the right. For now, however, the social conservatives are going to do their best to control the one viable right of centre party with seats in Parliament, said Grant.

“They (social conservatives) didn’t actually meet their goal in the last week of taking out the leader they wanted to. They wanted Trudeau,” he said. “But I think for them, getting O’Toole out is the next best thing.”

If Gunnarson and his allies can’t impose their will on the Conservative party, the conservative movement may again find itself split into two or more parties on the right.

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