Despite Peter MacKay’s comments about social conservatives being the “stinking albatross around the neck” of the Conservative Party following Justin Trudeau’s re-election last October, social conservatives are making their mark in the Conservative leadership campaign.

Two candidates rated as pro-life by Campaign Life Coalition are bidding for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, facing two presumptive frontrunners, MacKay and Erin O’Toole. CLC has given the green light to Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis, giving them grades of A+ and A respectively. It gave a red light and F-grades to MacKay and O’Toole.

CPC candidates Voters Guide

Two other pro-life candidates were prevented from being on the ballot. In February, the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LECO) barred Richard Decarie from running after he made comments about homosexuality being a choice, although the party never officially gave a reason for barring him.

In March, the Dispute Resolution Appeal Committee (DRAC) disqualified Jim Karahalios when the candidate appealed the decision of the Returning Officer, Derek Vanstone, over a fine for an allegation of islamophobia put forward by the O’Toole campaign. On May 20, Judge Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, ruled DRAC acted outside its authority to disqualify the candidate and gave Karahalios 14 days to raise money to pay the fine. The following day, LEOC voted to disqualify Karahalios.

While nothing has been officially announced, sources within the Conservative Party have told The Interimthe party hopes to mail out ballots to members the last week of June or first week of July. Ballots must be completed and received by the party by August 21. The announcement of the winner will be made sometime afterward when it is safe to count them, depending on quarantine protocols.

The ballot is preferential, meaning that members can vote for one or more candidates in order of preference.

CLC launched their Voter’s Guide on May 21, and urged supporters who are Conservative members to “vote for these unapologetic pro-life/pro-family candidates as your #1, #2, and #3 choices, in whatever order you prefer,” in reference to Sloan, Lewis, and Karahalios. The Guide explains that the grades were slightly different because of the number and quality of the life and family policies each candidate put forward and how outspoken they have been on socially conservative issues during the campaign. LEOC’s decision means that Karahalios will not be on the ballot so pro-life Conservatives are urged to vote for Sloan and Lewis first and second in the order they prefer.

Right Now, another politically active pro-life group, encouraged supporters to fill the entire preferential ballot and rank O’Toole ahead of MacKay, largely based on his promise to allow free votes and welcome social conservatives as members of the party.

CLC’s Voter’s Guide said that both MacKay and O’Toole “are disqualified from consideration owing to their support for abortion, which is a disqualifying factor. Please do not rank their names at all.” It explains that “it would be strategically counterproductive to our cause in the long-term, over the coming years,” because by “withholding support from politicians who promote and affirm abortion, or who refuse to do anything to stop the killing of children before birth, we will be cultivating more courageous leaders in the future.”

Jeff Gunnarson, national president of CLC, told The Interim, “As supporters of the abortion status quo, neither O’Toole nor MacKay is willing to do a thing to protect innocent human life in utero, so they do not deserve the support of pro-life voters.”

The Voter’s Guide notes that Sloan and Lewis both oppose all abortions and euthanasia, and have vowed to repeal Bill C-7, the Trudeau government’s euthanasia expansion bill currently before Parliament. O’Toole opposes euthanasia and voted against it, but has not committed to any policy on the matter. MacKay voted for euthanasia in 1998, voted in favour of legalizing it in 1998 but reversed himself and voted against it in 2010. Now, however, his website says he “respects” the 2015 Carterdecision which found the Criminal Code provisions on euthanasia unconstitutional.

Sloan and Lewis have publicly vowed to rescind foreign funding of abortion. O’Toole has indicated he wants a return to Stephen Harper’s maternal health policy which did not include funding of abortion overseas. MacKay has not taken a public position on the issue.

All four candidates support conscience rights, although MacKay has only addressed the issue in terms of euthanasia. Sloan has promised to introduce legislation enshrining protection for conscience rights.

All five candidates said they would allow Conservative MPs free votes on issues of conscience if they became leader. MacKay, however, said cabinet ministers would not be allowed to vote their conscience and if they did, they would be booted from cabinet. CLC’s Voter’s Guide raised issues about whether O’Toole or MacKay could be trusted on this promise of free votes considering media reports that link their campaign teams to efforts to remove Sloan and Karahalios from the leadership contest. MacKay was among the first Conservatives to call for Decarie to be barred from running.

On the LGBQT+ agenda, Sloan and Lewis have vowed to repeal Bill C-16 which established a “right” to gender identity and gender expression. O’Toole and MacKay support it. Likewise, Sloan and Lewis said they would repeal C-8, the Trudeau conversion therapy ban while O’Toole and MacKay support C-8. Sloan and Lewis have vowed to never march in a Pride Parade, while O’Toole has said he will if uniformed police officers are permitted to march and MacKay is committed to participating in such events.

Sloan and Lewis have released specific pro-life platforms. Lewis released a four-point plan: banning coerced abortions and sex-selective abortions, ending foreign funding of abortion, and providing financial support for crisis pregnancy centres. Lewis says that Liberals attack Conservatives on charges of having a hidden agenda, but her platform means her agenda is not hidden. “I believe we need to be clear about our position on this issue and I have been very specific about what steps I would take as leader.”

Sloan released a 12-point plan on life issues including laws to ban partial birth abortion and sex-selective abortion; enacting both an Unborn Victims of Violence law and a Born-Alive Infant Protection Act; ending foreign funding of abortion and funding of domestic special interest groups; extending the official parliamentary euthanasia review “to ensure the strongest safeguards for the most vulnerable;” a promise to invest $10 billion on palliative care over the next decade; encouraging provinces to protect conscience rights, lift bubble zones, and require universities to respect free speech or lose part of their equalization payments; and encouraging provinces to require abortion-minded women to receive information about the procedure, including an ultrasound.

One pro-life Conservative activist told The Interimthat the most exciting promise Sloan made was, whether or not he is elected leader, to work with grassroots supporters to remove CPC Policy declaration #70 which states “A Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion.” Sloan’s platform noted that “I was present at the Halifax convention, and I was very impressed with Campaign Life Coalition’s effort to rescind this policy.”

Policy 70 is often pointed to by MPs, strategists, and pro-abortion Conservative members as to why the party should not pass pro-life resolutions or why MPs cannot introduce pro-life private members’ bills and motions.

Gunnarson told The Interim, “there is no reason for any pro-lifer who has a valid Conservative membership to not cast ballots for Sloan and Lewis,” even if they are justifiably upset with the party for its shabby treatment of Decarie and Karahalios. Gunnarson continued: “They have gone out of their way to publicly declare themselves pro-life and offer compelling and important policies that should excitepro-lifers to support them.”