In late August, Ralph Goodale, the Liberal Minister for Public Safety, tweeted video from 2004 in which Scheer spoke against homosexual “marriage” in the House of Commons. Goodale said, “the Conservative Party leader should now end his lifelong boycott of Pride events and explain whether he would still deny same-sex couples the right to marry.” The video showed Scheer saying homosexual couples should not be allowed to marry because they could not “commit to the natural procreation of children.”
At about the same time, Scheer was being dogged by questions about his abortion position. Since announcing he was running for Conservative leader in 2016, Scheer has insisted if he formed government he would not reopen the abortion issue. This past spring, he pointedly did not answer a question about how he would deal with members of his caucus bringing forward private members’ bills. And in August, Global News reported that Scheer’s Quebec lieutenant, MP Alain Rayes (Richmond—Arthabaska), told Conservative candidates in the province that as backbench MPs, they could not introduce private members’ bills or motions to restrict abortion.
For a week, Scheer did not respond to the Liberal attacks or media reports. On August 29, he broke his silence with a hastily called news conference, during which he said he would “oppose” all “measures and attempts” to reopen the abortion issue or any other “divisive social issues.” He said, “Canadians can have confidence that these issues will not be reopened under a future Conservative government,” and went so far as to say he would vote against any effort himself. He did not clarify what he meant by insisting that MPs can “express themselves on matters of conscience,” but that he would “ensure” the issue was not reopened.
Scheer tried to deflect the issue by arguing that the Liberals were bringing up social issues to avoid addressing topics like their economic record and scandals. It was certainly no coincidence that the Liberal attacks against Scheer on social issues began at the time the ethics commissioner Mario Dion released his report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Campaign Life Coalition Jeff Gunnarson toldThe Interim that Scheer is violating his leadership pledge to allow free votes by MPs by saying any attempt to reopen the issue would be shut down. Gunnarson said that Scheer is also alienating himself from a large portion of the Conservative Party base, which is pro-life and pro-family, by explicitly taking those issues off the table. Scheer’s press conference, Gunnarson said, “is a slap in the face of pro-life Canadians, many of whom voted for him in the Conservative leadership race.” Instead of listening to his base, Gunnarson said, “Scheer is bowing down to the very loud minority of abortion activists who claim the abortion issue is settled.”
Gunnarson also noted that Scheer has gone beyond Harper’s stance on abortion. The former Conservative leader and prime minister also took the position that his government would not reopen the abortion debate, but despite some behind-the-scenes pressure, still allowed several private members bills and motions to be brought forward. Whatever pressure Harper and his operatives might have put on caucus, he never publicly avowed to prevent any such debate.
When asked by a journalist at the press conference, to “clarify today whether backbench MPs will be able to introduce motions or bills on issues touching on abortion or same-sex marriage and if you would allow a free vote both for your caucus and cabinet on such matters,” Scheer offered his rote response that has not prevented further questioning of his position: “I’ve always been very clear, nothing has changed for our party on this issue.” Scheer continued: “We operate under the same policies as the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper, which is individual MPs have the right to express themselves on matters of conscience, but that a Conservative government will not reopen these divisive social issues.”
But then he went further: “Our party constitution grants, recognizes the rights of individual MPs, but it also recognizes that a Conservative government will not reopen these types of issues, and I will ensure that that happens.” Scheer continued: “We will oppose measures that reopen these types of questions,” he reiterated,” and “I will oppose measures or attempts to open this debate.” The Conservative leader did not say precisely how he or his government would ensure and oppose all efforts to raise the abortion issue.
Gunnarson told LifeSiteNews, “This is a soft version of Trudeau’s anti-pro-life edict from 2014. What he’s saying is, you can ‘express’ yourselves on matters of conscience, but if you do, I’ll silence you, because we’re a team, and the party is more important than your personal beliefs and the beliefs of the Canadians who elected you.”
Gunnarson said Scheer’s position could cost the Conservatives an election victory. Noting that Campaign Life Coalition has identified dozens of pro-life Conservative candidates and encouraged its supporters to volunteer and vote for them, many grassroots pro-lifers just won’t be excited to vote for pro-life Tories if their leader is not going to allow them to act on their pro-life principles. Still, Gunnarson said, pro-life candidates, regardless of party, deserve the votes of pro-life Canadians.