On Super Tuesday II, I was watching the left-wing YouTube channel The Young Turks while primary results rolled in and I sat up when political pundit Krystal Ball joined the hosts. For some much-needed background, The Young Turks co-founder Cenk Uygur is also one of the founders of Justice Democrats, a political action committee committed to getting “progressives” like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar elected.

Ball argued that if Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, Sanders supporters have “got to realize that this whole ‘Vote Blue no matter who’ thing is a complete con” and that if they vote for Biden they “lose any kind of power.”

While Uygur disagreed with her, the vast majority of top commenters concurred, insisting that they’d rather stay home after how the Democratic Party had treated them.

Erin O'Toole

Erin O’Toole

I find it very interesting to contrast that with the situation of conservatives in Canada. I don’t want to directly address the “Vote blue no matter who” adage (which means something quite different here), but I think the shared rejection of this sentiment speaks to how activists on both the left and right appreciate that they lose their leverage if they’ll just vote for a candidate for being the lesser of two evils. That brings me to Erin O’Toole.

I shouldn’t have to talk about him because he’s so unmemorable, but for some reason a number of pro-lifers, including MPs like Garnett Genuis, have decided that he’s the candidate to back in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, despite the fact that he’s neither pro-life nor pro-family.

I understand that they want to avoid a dreaded Peter MacKay win, but as the CPC uses a ranked ballot, they could always primarily promote Campaign Life Coalition’s endorsed candidates Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis and only afterwards encourage voters to put O’Toole ahead of MacKay. Instead, Genuis and others are devoting their precious time and energy towards propping up O’Toole and trying to endear him to social conservatives.

Maybe it’s that they want to endorse an obvious winner in the hopes of jockeying for a favourable spot in a potential cabinet. We do need pro-lifers in prominent positions of influence. We’re playing the long game. I get it.

We must also recognize, though, that there’s a real trade-off in doing so. When pro-lifers back candidates who are not pro-life, not only are they making the morally questionable decision of supporting a candidate who condones the bloodshed of the innocent, but they are also obscuring the true strength of the pro-life voter base and contributing to the false rhetoric that vocally social conservative candidates can’t win.

In the last CPC leadership election, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux got a combined 15.73 per cent in the first round and Trost’s surprise fourth place finish has seemed to carve out a bigger space for social conservatives in political discourse. However, we know also that there were pro-lifers who ranked other candidates like Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier first. How many did so? Frustratingly, we don’t know.

Let’s say that this time around all pro-life CPC members place the pro-life candidates at the top of their ballots. With Sloan’s and Lewis’ combined supporter bases, we could very well have the numbers to elect a pro-life leader. Even without a win, the better they do, the greater the dent in the narrative that social conservatives should just be discarded and their candidates disqualified. We could provide a very clear indication of exactly how influential we are. Improved recognition will inevitably improve our chances of victory as well.

And indeed, our goal should be electing a pro-life leader (and one who isn’t apologetic about their position either). Injecting our viewpoint into the political mainstream helps normalize it and forces people to consider the pro-life argument more seriously.

Also, because social conservatives always get courted in leadership elections and promptly dumped in general elections, we must consider a candidate’s trustworthiness. While it has been proven that identifying as pro-life doesn’t prevent a politician from betraying the preborn (looking at you, Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer), logically, pro-lifers can have more confidence in those who actually run on a pro-life platform than those who just pay us lip service.

Whether you put O’Toole on your ballot or not (and Ball’s plea in the American context suggests we shouldn’t), we should all be rallying around the pro-life candidates first. We need to make our presence known, because that’s how we preserve our voice. We don’t retain power by settling for a mediocre candidate. Scheer taught us that. O’Toole’s no different.