Double standard applied to Andrew Scheer's social conservative views sends wrong message

Andrew Scheer has been scrutinized for his personal beliefs while other federal party leaders have not, and this is simply wrong in a democratic nation, writes Maria Harrison.

Andrew Scheer has been unfairly scrutinized for his personal beliefs: Maria Harrison

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, seen here during a news conference in Regina on Oct. 22, has attracted criticism throughout the election campaign and in the weeks since for his social conservative views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

This column is an opinion by Maria Harrison, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto studying public policy. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please read the FAQ.

Andrew Scheer's social conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage are being touted as primary reasons for his defeat in the 2019 election. Jagmeet Singh poignantly summarized this assertion when he recently said you cannot have social conservative views and be prime minister.

People who support that idea would do well to consider some of the incorrect inferences associated with Scheer's social conservatism, the double standard being applied, and the implications of chastising a candidate because of their personal views.

Scheer never brought up the issue of abortion or same-sex marriage once during the campaign. The only time it was discussed was when his opponents brought it up as a tactic to paint him as a misogynist and bigot.

Peter MacKay commented in the wake of the election about how no voter wanted to talk about issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, "yet that was thrust onto the agenda and hung around Andrew Scheer's neck like a stinking albatross, quite frankly, and he wasn't able to deftly deal with those issues when opportunities arose."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, missed a 'breakaway on an empty net' in failing to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Conservative minister Peter MacKay said at an event in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 30. (Canadian Press photos)

Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh often spoke during the election campaign about their support of women and the right to choose whether or not to get an abortion. They stressed it is a decision between women and their health care providers, and that a man cannot tell a woman what to do with her body.

It has been incorrectly inferred that Scheer believes women do not have the right to choose whether or not to get an abortion, and that men have the right to tell women what to do with their bodies.

Has Scheer ever said this? No.

People have also incorrectly inferred that because Scheer does not personally support abortion, he would take away women's rights.

In fact, he clearly stated he would not re-open the debate.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer listens to questions during a campaign event in Ottawa on Sept. 14. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Nevertheless, some have fairly criticized Scheer for his lack of clarity and strength in responding to probes about his personal views. He did not directly address the concern of whether or not he would discourage backbenchers from bringing forward motions on abortion, for instance.

Undeniably, he could have handled himself better, and even used the attacks by his opponents as opportunities to speak about conservative and democratic values that unite Canadians, such as individual freedom.

Notwithstanding his weak responses, it is questionable why solely Scheer was scrutinized for his personal beliefs.

There is clearly a double standard being applied to Scheer's social conservative views. It is assumed that because he has or had certain personal views on abortion and same-sex marriage, these views would impede his ability to govern the country (why else are we so concerned?).

Yet fundamental to free societies and democracy is the notion that individuals are free to think as they want, so long as their views are not being forced on others.

Fundamental to free societies and democracy is the notion that individuals are free to think as they want, so long as their views are not being forced on others.

It was not assumed that the other election candidates would impose their personal or religious beliefs on the Canadian public, or that those beliefs would have undue influence on their decision-making.

For instance, Jagmeet Singh clearly ascribes to some of the basic rules and tenets of his faith. Why didn't anyone question whether or not he would let those beliefs seep into his governance and ability to be prime minister? Why was it assumed he would not enforce his religious beliefs on Canadians?

That seems to be what we did with Scheer.

Top row, from left: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier. Bottom row, from left: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. (CBC)

We need to think about the implications of attacking a political leader because of his or her personal views.

​​​​​Scheer describes himself as a Christian. Being a Christian (or ascribing to any faith, religious or not), means your outlook on the world is likely slightly different from that of someone with different beliefs. It is like looking at the world through blue coloured glasses, whereas being an atheist, for example, might be like looking at the world through red coloured glasses. Of course, the Christian will see everything with a tinge of blue and the atheist will see everything with a tinge of red.

People view the world differently based on their philosophical and religious beliefs, but that is OK, as long as each person does not try to impose their beliefs on others.

Yet Scheer's views were incorrectly inferred to suggest he is authoritarian. He was unfairly scrutinized for his personal beliefs when other candidates were not.

If we chastise Scheer for his personal beliefs, which he says he has no intention of inflicting on others, what message are we sending? That we all must think the same lest we be labelled bigots, misogynists, or out of touch with reality?

In a democratic society, it's simply wrong to be indirectly sending out a message to future political candidates that their personal views must be aligned with a particular dogma if they want to be given a serious shot in Parliament. It behooves us all to think critically about our decision to shun those with social-conservative views.

  • This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.


Maria Harrison is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto studying public policy.