Québec strategist who helped Harper unite the right in 2003,
under attack for comments on LGBTQ
A bilingual political activist who was Stephen Harper’s Québec lieutenant when the former leader united the right, has launched his own bid to become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Richard Décarie, who served as Harper’s Québec organizer and deputy chief of staff when he was Leader of the Opposition, assembled a campaign team and had a soft campaign launch in early January. When he appeared on CTV’s Power Playwith Evan Solomon on Jan. 22 and talked about his views on LGBQT issues, he was quickly pilloried online by several other leadership hopefuls.
Décarie told The Interim that he is running to get rid of the Liberals, thwart Jean Charest and Peter MacKay’s leadership bids, and provide “full spectrum conservatism” to the party and country. After the interview, former federal Progressive Conservative leader and erstwhile Québec Liberal Premier Jean Charest announced he would not run for the leadership.
Décarie said that Charest and MacKay were from the progressive wing of the old Progressive Conservative Party and would turn the Tories into another Liberal Party if either was elected leader.
Décarie said “I am running to get rid of the Liberals; we have to react to Jean Charest’s potential run. He is a Liberal.” He called the possibility that Charest might run “appalling.” He said both Charest and MacKay would move the party toward the left and toward the Liberals, undoing the work of Stephen Harper in 2003 to unite the conservative movement.
Décarie said he was a “true-blue conservative” who represents “all the shades of conservatism” and that includes being an “unrepentent social conservative.” He noted that when he worked with opposition leader Harper in the early 2000s, he helped the Canadian Alliance and Conservatives fight same-sex “marriage.”
On the marriage issue, he proposes today that the term marriage be reserved exclusively for religious marriage, acknowledging that many religions and denominations sanction same-sex “marriages.” As a matter of public policy, there would be civil unions. He said that this policy would invite a debate about marriage in society, the churches, and Parliament.
Décarie has also vowed to defund abortion. He said that he would change the Canada Health Act to make clear that abortion is not a medical intervention that provinces can fund, and if they continue to fund it he would consider scaling back health transfer payments and other measures.
Asked whether he supports gestational limits on abortion, he gave an categorical no. “Life begins at conception. It is not my definition of when life begins. It is what natural life is.” He smoothly pivoted from the science of the abortion issue to the science of gender identity politics. “From the day you are conceived you are a man or woman for life.” He is “against the gender craziness of the liberals.”
Peter MacKay made headlines following the Oct. 21 election which saw Justin Trudeau returned to power. MacKay blamed the supposed social conservatism of then-leader Andrew Scheer, calling the personal pro-life and pro-marriage positions Scheer held a “stinking albatross” around the neck of the Tories. But an analysis of the election by Campaign Life Coalition suggests that Scheer might have lost votes with pro-life and pro-family voters staying home because of Scheer abandoning his principles on these issues and declaring them settled.
Décarie stated clearly that he is against abortion and differentiated himself from Scheer, saying “my personal values will be put forward if I am the leader of the party.” He said he would not take part in gay pride parades, saying doing so is a “personal choice.”
He said there would be free votes for MPs and that he would not thwart private members’ business from addressing social issues. “I don’t believe in dictatorship and unfortunately the system creates that possibility: prime ministers and premiers are like a dictatorship if they win majorities.” He vowed to be different.
Décarie also said he would not be afraid to address controversial issues such as illegal immigration and birth tourism in which foreigners give birth in Canada so they can become automatic citizens. He said that as a Christian and a conservative he wants to “conserve the ecology of the planet” and that “we need to address pollution,” but says that as a matter of policy the government must be a responsible steward of natural resources including oil and gas. “We need them,” he said, and that means he supports pipelines, which is a more environmentally friendly way to transport oil than trains. He is open to finding technological or other solutions to mitigate against pollution, but he is against the carbon tax because “it is completely ineffective.”
Décarie said that as a French-speaking, social conservative he violates several stereotypes, but he maintains that Québec is more socially conservative than many people believe. He noted that when he worked with Harper during the same-sex “marriage” debate, party polling found that the views of Quebeckers were not that different than the rest of Canada. The problem, he said, is visibility. “They do not have someone who represents them.” He added: “A lot of true-blue Quebeckers are waiting for someone to carry the flag.”
He also said that social conservatives from across the country approached him to run. He said “social conservatives should have a voice” in the leadership campaign and he believes he will be the clearest and most articulate voice for that wing of the party.
Décarie had some early media coverage when he indicated he was interested in running in order to oppose a potential Charest leadership, but when he announced he was against abortion, the media began to ignore him.
The English-language media did not ignore him after a Jan. 22 interview on CTV’s Power Playwith Evan Solomon. Décarie called LGBTQ “a Liberal term” and said “I don’t talk about people that way.” Pressed by Solomon of whether he thought homosexuality was a choice or biological, he answered: “I think it’s a choice. How people are behaving, it’s one thing. I think government has (the) responsibility to encourage the traditional value that we have had for the past years.”
Many Tory politicians and strategists attacked Décarie on social media. MacKay tweeted: “Being gay is not a choice and nobody should be running for office on a platform to roll back hard-won rights.” Erin O’Toole called the comments “ridiculous.” Marilyn Gladu, an MP who announced she is running, labeled the comments “unacceptable.” And Calgary MP Michelle Rempel tweeted: “I vehemently reject this message. I will not serve under someone whose leadership pitch is that someone’s sexuality is something to be ‘fixed’. I am full on tired of this type of shit defining the conservative movement in Canada. Giddyup, you’re going to have to go through me.”
The next day, Décarie was grilled by CBC Power and Politicshost Vassy Kapelos for seven minutes on the topic and later there was a panel with pro-LGBTQ Tory strategist Kory Teneycke and Décarie’s campaign chair and former leadership contender Brad Trost. Teneycke said the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) should prevent Décarie from running because his comments cross a “clear line” of “bigotry.” Trost responded that if the party believes Décarie only represents a tiny fraction of the party faithful, let him run; the fact that some want him disqualified, Trost said, indicates they are worried he will do well. Teneycke said in the unlikely chance Décarie became leader, he expects most of caucus would refuse to sit with him.
The Québec pro-lifer said he is “further right than the others (candidates) but he can unite the party and the country. He is also confident that he can attain the required entry fee and signatures to qualify as an official candidate for leader.
Trost supported Décarie in online comments, calling him a “100% conservative” and he has taken the position of campaign chair. Russ Kuykendall, who managed Tanya Granic Allen’s 2018 Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership campaign and was deputy campaign manager for Trost’s 2017 federal leadership race, is Décarie’s campaign manager. Kuykendall is an occasional contributor to The Interim.
After working in federal and Québec politics – which included working on Daniel Johnson’s provincial leadership bid and with various conservative provincial parties through the years – Décarie returned to the private sector and became a consultant, during which he became involved with a network of Québec food banks. He helped them reorganize and improve their relationships with major food stores and food manufacturers, drawing on his pre-political days in the grocery industry. The work was a marriage of his professional experience and Christian faith; “the values of compassion and helping others are the core of my life,” he said. He also had a family – his wife and two daughters – to support him.
Décarie left politics in 2005 because “I did not want a career in politics” and he sought his opportunity in the private sector. He returns to the political sphere as a first-time candidate 15 years later to ensure the Conservative Party remains true to conservative principles.