March 10 was quite the emotional roller coaster. The widely-anticipated release of the Ontario PC leadership election results was delayed. Rumours swirled that Tanya Granic Allen had placed in third, and Doug Ford and Christine Elliott were neck and neck and battling it out in the backrooms. Then, out of Saskatchewan: News that Brad Trost had lost his riding’s nomination. Social conservatives across the country who had rallied behind him during the CPC leadership race were dismayed, but those watching the happenings at the Ontario PC convention only temporarily so, for reports soon emerged that it was Ford who had won, with Granic Allen in last, but close behind Caroline Mulroney. Late that night, Ford was officially announced leader, and the following day Elliott finally conceded. In a matter of a few weeks, social conservatives had gone from having the dismal prospect of Patrick Brown as Kathleen Wynne’s challenger to having a candidate who has promised the repeal of the sex-ed curriculum and who spoke frankly about his belief that minors shouldn’t be able to get abortions willy-nilly without their parents’ knowledge.
Ford defied the conventional wisdom. He “opened up” the abortion debate, and didn’t get burned for it, and many people noticed, and commented on it, and comment they should. I am so sick of abortion being treated as the third rail of Canadian politics. What the election of Donald Trump and Ford should teach us is that the playbook on campaigning is still being written and re-written, for politics is dynamic. Conventional wisdom is not predestination.
Another important take-away from Trump’s victory should be that candidates are capable of succeeding even when the mainstream media are openly hostile towards them. Socially conservative politicians should take this lesson to heart, because we’re probably never going to win over the media (or at least, not anytime soon), and we should stop bending over backwards to try to do so. Just give it up. Playing the media’s game – ducking questions on social issues, contorting responses to please the interviewer – has gotten us nowhere. We’re still without a law on abortion. We’re censored and discriminated against more and more every day.
Andrew Scheer is so committed to taking a neutral stance on abortion as leader, that when faced with the rather invasive assertion, “So your daughters will grow up to be able to make the choice for themselves to do whatever they want with their own bodies,” in a Chateleine interview this past summer, he just changed the topic. He did not want to risk undoing the work he has done to distance himself from his social conservativism and so he essentially let the interviewer dangle the potential of his own grandchildren being aborted in front of his face. That was the price for his silence on abortion, and he paid it. Tell me: Was it worth it? I think not.
Pragmatic politicians (like Scheer) who say things like “I’m personally pro-life, but am not going to open up the abortion debate” are damaging the pro-life movement. They’re missing out on a huge educational opportunity, and worse, they’re actually contributing to the stigma around being pro-life. They act as if being against the killing of innocent human beings is something of which to be ashamed or apologetic. When they refuse to explain their pro-life position, the common interpretation is that it is because the pro-life position is weak and indefensible. So, really, the belief that social conservative causes are losing issues is just another self-fulfilling prophesy – they’re only losing issues if they are believed to be. Thus, the mainstream media only bears some of the blame for the taboo around abortion. The rest falls squarely on the shoulders of cowardly “pro-life” politicians who do not know the meaning of leadership.
One of the few shining exceptions is my hero, Brad Trost. Yes, Trost did lose the CPC nomination for his riding, and likely in part for his outspoken opposition to gay marriage and abortion. However, he, unlike most other politicians, did not lose his integrity, and that, my friends, is more valuable than any political victory. He can keep his head held high, no matter what he chooses to do next.
So, to my fellow social conservatives with political ambitions: Take a cue from Trost and Trump and say what you mean, regardless of how politically incorrect it is. You could still win your race, despite suggestions to the contrary, but even if you don’t, you will have widened the window of discourse, and stayed true to your beliefs, and those accomplishments ought not to be scoffed at.