As Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer continues to battle claims that he is intolerant of the LGBTQ2 community, an openly gay candidate for his party said today he is convinced Scheer’s thinking has evolved over time.
“We’re ready to go for the election and I wouldn’t be running if I had any inkling, whatsoever, that I wasn’t welcomed or my sexual orientation wasn’t welcome in the Conservative Party,” said Eric Duncan, Conservative candidate for Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry.
As Scheer’s Conservatives try to build momentum for the coming campaign, the Conservative leader is being forced to clarify his position not just on same-sex marriage but on another divisive social issue: abortion.
The debate over Scheer’s views on same-sex marriage began last Thursday, when Liberal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted out a 2005 clip of Scheer in the House of Commons explaining why he thought same-sex marriage laws under consideration by Parliament were not something he could support.
Scheer said same-sex marriages have many of the “collateral features” of marriage but lack “its inherent feature”: the ability to naturally conceive children.
In Goodale’s tweet, he called out Scheer for his “lifelong boycott of Pride events” and asked the Conservative leader to publicly state whether he still would vote to deny same-sex couples the right to marry today.
Scheer brushed that challenge aside, letting the party answer for him:
“Andrew Scheer unequivocally supports equal LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage as defined in law,” the Conservative Party said in a statement. “He has advocated in the House for marginalized LGBTQ communities around the world.”
Trying to paint Scheer into a corner over same-sex marriage, said Duncan, is little more than a “desperation tactic” on the part of the Liberals.
“It’s rehashing old topics from 15 years ago, and until that tweet last week I don’t think it was on the radar of Canadians,” he said. “It wasn’t on the radar of voters and I still don’t believe that it is.”
Duncan said that he has been openly gay for two years now and has never attended a Pride parade. “People have different ways of expressing their support for the community,” he said, adding that he believes Scheer’s position on the issue has evolved.
Duncan said people should be judged on their actions and words, citing Scheer’s contribution to the public apology in the House of Commons over the way the federal government has treated the LGBTQ2 community in the past.
“We are here today, because many years ago, and for too long, the government of Canada failed in its duty to protect the basic rights of hundreds, of thousands, of the very Canadians who had dedicated their lives to public service,” Scheer said in the fall of 2017.
According to a story in the HuffPost Canada, Scheer’s Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes, the MP for Richmond-Arthabaska — whose job it is to recruit candidates — was compelled to admit that he has been publicly misrepresenting Scheer’s policy on abortion.
According to the article, Rayes has been telling candidates that the abortion issue is dead and that Conservative MPs will not be permitted to reopen the issue.
We need to know what Scheer’s position is: Joly
Scheer’s office reportedly pushed back, saying that sweeping description of party policy wasn’t entirely accurate, and Rayes was forced to issue a public statement.
“Andrew Scheer has always been clear: A Conservative government will not re-open this issue. He has delivered that message to all candidates and caucus members who have asked,” Rayes said in the statement.
“The previous Conservative government was in power for 10 years, and there were no changes to the laws on this issue,” he added, without saying whether backbench Conservative MPs would be permitted to introduce legislation to restrict abortion services.
Olympic synchronized swimming gold medallist Sylvie Fréchette, a Conservative candidate for the party in River-du-Nord north of Montreal, said on Twitter Monday that she has been assured the abortion issue will not be reopened by the party.
Backbench MPs were allowed to introduce abortion bills but Harper and his cabinet did not cast a vote in their favour. All such bills ended up dying before becoming law.
For the Liberals, however, the prospect of any possible effort to restrict abortion is political ammunition.
“The reality is we need to know what Scheer’s position is on women’s rights and also on LGBTQ issues, because he’s been flip-flopping on this issue,” said Liberal Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly.
“We need to make sure that he looks Canadians in the eyes and tells [them] exactly what he thinks in order to make sure that Canadians can make a choice on Oct. 21.”