Scheer promised that his government would take no action on abortion if he became Prime Minister and that he would oppose private members’ bills intended to change the status quo. On same-sex marriage, he reiterated his view that the marriage debate was closed – the same position he took at the CPC convention in 2015 where he declared traditional marriage to be “anachronistic” when calling for his party to move on.
Too socially conservative? Give me a break.
“Yes,” the grandees will say, “but he didn’t march in a pride parade. That’s what sunk him. If only he had marched in a pride parade, he would have led us to political Nirvana.”
The banality of this assessment is nothing short of breathtaking.
According to the grandees, voters who supported everything Scheer proposed and were embarrassed by Trudeau’s antics and scandals voted Liberal anyway because Scheer did not march in a pride parade. What’s more, there were enough of these voters that they were the difference between winning and losing?
The suggestion is laughable.
It's an illusion to think that “pro-choice” voters for whom abortion is the ballot question will suddenly support the CPC if abortion is 100 percent “off the table.” They won’t, because in addition to their stance on abortion such voters oppose almost every policy that could legitimately be described as conservative. The same is true of those who assert that they will only support a party whose leader marches in a pride parade. These voters too oppose almost every other plank in even a moderately conservative platform, rendering them inaccessible to the CPC regardless of whether its leader marches in pride parades or not.
In contrast to this, “pro-life” voters for whom abortion is the ballot question are highly likely to support a political party with even a modest pro-life agenda, even if they dislike everything else that party is proposing.
If that is so, you might ask, why did Stephen Harper adopt the same strategy vis-a-vis these issues in previous campaigns as Scheer did in this one? The answer is simple – he didn't.
Far from declaring the question of marriage to be settled, during the 2005-2006 campaign Harper explicitly committed that if elected he would put the matter to the House of Commons once more in a free vote. That commitment actually played a key role in the CPC victory in 2006.
With respect to gay pride, not only did Harper never march in a parade, his government stopped funding Toronto’s Pride Festival in 2009, a decision that was loudly condemned at the time by a scandalized liberal press.
On abortion, while Harper did say that his government would not bring forward legislation altering the domestic status quo, he never promised that it would oppose such legislation if brought forward as a private member’s bill. On the contrary, it was understood that such bills would be matters of free votes. Funding of abortions, in the meantime, was excluded from the Harper government’s Maternal Health Initiative in 2010.
If what the grandees are saying is true, Harper should have been run out of office when Canadians went to the polls in 2011. Instead, he and the CPC were returned with a large majority. Even more telling, in all three elections won by the CPC under Harper’s leadership, the party dominated in suburban GTA and even won seats in the supposedly impregnable 416 area code.
This is not speculation, nor is it ideology. These are historical facts.
There is another reason why one would particularly choose to not participate in a pride parade. Photos of politicians joining in the revelry are carefully stage-managed to avoid capturing images of what the general public would rightly regard as inappropriate activities. One need only search "pride, parade, nudity" in google images to get a sense of the sort of behaviour these politicians are endorsing through their attendance.
There are many things the CPC must do in order to return to power. Making a hard turn to the left is not one of them. With three mainstream political parties already fishing for votes on the left of Canada’s political spectrum there is simply no room for a fourth.
If Conservatives want to win, they must look to the right, including on social policy. That’s where the votes are. This does not mean abandoning voters who occupy the centre of the political spectrum, but the way to win the support of those voters is to stop chasing the centre and start defining it. This is done by resisting the temptation to join the radicals in their inexorable march to the left and defending and promoting sensible conservative ideas and policies, including on such issues as abortion and pride parades.
That was the key to winning in 2006, 2008 and especially in 2011, and it will be the key to winning in the next election as well, regardless of who the leader is.