Social conservatives are an unignorable part of Conservative Party
Those awful social conservatives, how could they! They cost the Conservatives the election again! The “progressive” overtures the Conservatives had made on abortion and other issues near and dear to the hearts of woke culture were deemed insufficient offerings. The stinking albatross of the social conservatives had to be purged. With the rules in place, the media narrative was set for a purge of the social conservative rump from the CPC.
But, along the way we learned a few things about social conservatives and the Conservative Party.
First, unlike the media, politicians are required to count votes. The Jean Charest team leaked their polling data which concluded that one third of existing Conservative Party members were opposed to abortion and still opposed to “gay marriage.” Paired with polling data on gun control and the carbon tax, the Charest campaign concluded they would need to sell 100,000 memberships to take over the CPC. The social conservatives are no rump in the CPC.
Second, what you say on social issues has to be consistent and clear. Days after indicating to newspapers in French that he was trending to a more liberal abortion position than he had previously taken, Pierre Poilievre was calling social conservatives in the party to personally “clarify” his position. The damage however, was done and both social conservatives and other party members had lost trust in him.
Third, social conservatives don’t need high profile candidates. If in December of last year, you had asked readers of The Interim who Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis were, almost all readers would have been clueless about them (including me). Several other candidates with deeper roots and higher profiles tried to enter the leadership race, but without the dedicated support of pro-family supporters they all dropped out. Social conservatism in Canada is unique in the major parties in Canada in its ability to organize grassroots members. Social conservatives still have the community and social bonds to act as a coherent force in society. That is increasingly rare in our society.
Finally, we learned social conservatives aren’t really “stinking albatrosses” after all. Every one in the Conservative party seems to now love social conservatives. Peter MacKay’s team sent out a list of all their social conservative MPs to vouch for his love for the social conservative. (I was amazed by many of the names on the list, so many secret socons!) Team Mackay and O’Toole sent out dueling emails professing their great respect for Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis and their stances. Policies were announced. Peter MacKay was now in favour of free votes on abortion and Erin O’Toole was now opposed to overseas funding for abortions. It was not just Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan who were pitching something to pro-family voters, the other two candidates decided that they the had to recalibrate from previous positions and offer something to social conservatives if they wanted to win the leadership.
We don’t know what the results of this leadership vote will be, but when this leadership campaign started there was a clear desire on the part of some commentators to drive the pro-family, pro-life wing of the party to the fringe. That clearly has not happened. This leadership race will leave the social conservative wing of the CPC with the ability to influence the party, its and opportunity we should not squander.
Brad Trost was the Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt (2004-2015) and Saskatoon-University (2015-2019). He finished fourth in the 13-person Conservative Party of Canada leadership race in 2017.