Embattled Conservative leader Andrew Scheer announced on Dec. 12 he was resigning as the leader of the party he led to modest but less-than-expected gains in the October federal election. Scheer increased the Conservatives seat totals from 99 in 2015 to 121 and narrowly won the popular vote, but he was facing criticism for a lackluster showing following a year of controversies for the Trudeau Liberals. Because of questions about his socially conservative views, specifically on abortion and same-sex “marriage,” many in the media and within the party said Scheer was unable to capitalize on Trudeau’s unpopularity.
Some pro-life and pro-family Canadians were upset with Scheer for abandoning his principles on life and family issues by stubbornly refusing to address the topics in the last few years, other than to state a Scheer government would never reopen so-called contentious issues.
Scheer beat Maxime Bernier in the 13th round of a preferential ballot vote in the 2017 Conservative leadership race, and did so with the support of pro-lifers who voted for Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux at the top of their ballot. The two stalwart pro-lifers accounted for 16 per cent of the points; Scheer, who had a perfect record according to Campaign Life Coalition’s rating system before he ran for the leadership but was not deemed supportable by the pro-life group, picked up a considerable number of Trost and Lemieux voters and jumped ahead of Bernier on the final ballot. Many pro-life Canadians calculated that even though Scheer vowed not to reopen the issue, he would likely be the best choice among the rest of the field and would provide some sort of brake on the radical pro-abortion agenda pursued by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Alas, Scheer eventually took positions indistinguishable from abortion advocates, saying he would ensure pro-life initiatives in Parliament would be defeated and promising to maintain Trudeau’s expansive foreign aid program to promote abortion globally.
Scheer’s resignation came after attacks from Red Tories, journalists, and political elite who blamed the leader’s personal views for the party’s inability to make gains in the Toronto suburbs and big cities. Scheer was a wounded leader before it was revealed that the Conservative Party picked up part of his children’s private school education, which had been arranged beforehand with party officials.
Campaign Life Coalition argues that Scheer could have done better by sticking to his pro-life and pro-family principles to inspire his socially conservative base to turn out for the Tories on election day. That is plausible. Or perhaps a clear articulation of his position, rather than his mealy mouthed attempts to satisfy all camps, would have soothed concerns amongst some suburban voters. (Or, more likely, there is a constellation of reasons Scheer failed to ignite strong interest for his party in the Greater Toronto Area, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.)
With the full-out assault on social conservatives an admittedly imprecise term used to describe pro-life and pro-family voters in Canada by Red Tory darling Peter MacKay and his political and media allies, there will be tremendous pressure for the membership to reject any hint of traditional or religious values. Scheer made a pitch for the socially conservative vote after his October defeat by arguing that it is possible for someone to personally hold pro-life views and Canadians to accept that he or she will not act on them. Many Conservative pundits and strategists reject that argument. Pro-life and pro-family conservatives should, too; they should want a leadership candidate who shares their values and is willing to act on them.
The Conservative Party has yet to set a date for the leadership race, but there is reasonable speculation that the April 16-18 policy convention will become a leadership convention, instead. The rules and deadlines will not be set until the party’s National Council establishes a Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), but they will have to decide soon if they consider four months enough time to organize a leadership race. The Ontario Progressive Conservatives had a leadership campaign that lasted less than two months last year. There is also the fact the Liberals are governing with a minority and could lose a confidence vote, which would force another general election at any time, even if the conventional wisdom is that it should last at least two years.
Thus far two people have admitted to being interested in the leadership: former cabinet minister Peter MacKay and current MP Erin O’Toole. Former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Ontario Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney, and former MP Brad Trost deny any interest in running. There has been public endorsements of former interim leader Rona Ambrose from the likes of Wall and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney; Ambrose is mum about her intentions.
There is no shortage of potential candidates, with media reporting that Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, and MPs Pierre Poilievre and Gérard Deltell are all considering running.
There is widespread speculation that Mark Mulroney, vice-chairman of corporate and investment banking at Scotiabank, MP Michelle Rempel Garner, and former MP Lisa Raitt could run.
There was a movement on Twitter promoting the idea of a woman leader, namely Ambrose, Rempel Garner, or Raitt. There has also been a campaign advocating that only those who have marched or promise to march in a pride parade be given consideration.
Most of the top tier candidates are either pro-abortion (Deltell, Ford, MacKay, Caroline Mulroney, Raitt, Rempel-Garner, O’Toole) or have mixed records on life and family issues (Wall who calls himself pro-choice, Kenney who calls himself pro-life, Ambrose who took flack for voting for Stephen Woodworth’s pro-life motion, while she was the Minister of Status of Women but who permitted importation of the abortion drug mifepristone as Health Minister).
Pierre Lemieux, who had a perfect pro-life and pro-family record in his nine years as an MP, had a respectable showing in the 2017 Conservative leadership race, but he lost his bid to keep his seat in Glengarry – Prescott – Russell in 2015 and did not succeed in taking it back last year. It is hard to mount a credible bid for leadership after losing twice locally.
Kenney would no doubt win over many socially conservative voters, but he has a mixed record in recent years. The Jason Kenney who co-chaired the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus two decades ago is very different than the United Conservative Party leader who did not even oppose the NDP government’s legislation bringing in anti-free speech bubble zones around abortion facilities in Alberta. But Kenney also supported the campaign at the 2016 Conservative policy convention to move away from the definition of marriage as solely between a man and a woman. While Kenney would not be hostile to pro-life MPs like Deltell, MacKay, and Rempel Garner would very much be, it is hard to imagine him fighting against the abortion regime or resisting the LGBTQ agenda.
There is hope in some circles that Trost reconsider his decision. Others hope that Tanya Granic Allen, the former head of Parents as First Educators and a former head of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, might run, considering her surprisingly strong showing in the 2018 Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership contest. Both Trost and Granic Allen are courageous in their defense of life and family and would champion those causes in any bid to lead the federal Conservatives.
The Interimhas heard rumours of a smart, talented, pro-life Quebecker running for the leadership, but so far nothing has been announced. Meetings with stakeholders are expected to take place over the Christmas holidays and early New Year. There are also rumours of a pro-life visible minority candidate in the Greater Toronto Area. While neither has the profile of a Trost or Granic Allen, it is good to remember that they were hardly household names when they launched their respective leadership bids.
There may well be other pro-life candidates that are not being mentioned in media reports or whispered amongst political insiders. They may be current MPs (Rachael Harder? Garnett Genuis?) former MPs, a provincial representative, or someone outside elected politics.
Regardless of who runs, it is important for pro-life and pro-family Canadians to have a valid Conservative Party of Canada membership immediately. Campaign Life Coalition is encouraging its supporters to sign up immediately through the party’s website or check to ensure they have a valid membership. With the possibility that the April policy convention in Toronto could become a leadership convention, the timeline may be truncated compared to the 2017 leadership race. If we want an unambiguously pro-life candidate to win, we must be ready to unambiguously support him or her when they announce.
Potential pro-life candidates must remember that to get the pro-life community solidly behind them, they will need to not merely hold pro-life views, but offer little in the way of policy or MPs who count on their record speaking for them. To win the enthusiastic support of pro-life Conservatives, candidates must excite them the way a Brad Trost or Tanya Granic Allen did. Fearlessly talking about life and family issues is the gold standard, and while ideally Trost or Granic Allen – or Trost and Granic Allen, if it is a preferential ballot – will run, someone hoping to win their supporters from previous leadership races must maintain that gold standard. The pro-life vote cannot be taken for granted.