Politics

Scheer accuses Trudeau of whipping up divisive social issues to distract from scandals

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dredging up divisive social issues to distract voters from a litany of Liberal scandals.

Conservative leader says he won't re-open abortion, same-sex marriage debates

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he will not re-open the abortion or same-sex marriage debates. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dredging up divisive social issues to distract voters from a litany of Liberal scandals.

At a news conference Thursday, Scheer fought back against a mounting controversy over his commitment to LGBT and women's rights, insisting he will not re-open the political debate on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

"Trudeau can't run on his record. He can't possibly defend all of his broken promises, massive deficits, tax increases and ethical and corruption scandals," he said.

"That's why he's dredging up divisive social issues, trying to distract Canadians from his litany of failures."

Scheer has not held any public events for more than a week, allowing the questions and criticisms to pile up as the Liberals attacked his positions on social policy issues. Several Conservative MPs have told CBC News that they have been hearing concerns about Scheer's positions on the doorstep while out campaigning.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says, as Prime Minister, he will not re-open the abortion debate and will oppose measures or attempts to open it. 0:33

Appearing on CBC News' Power and Politics Thursday, Rachel Curran — who was a director of policy for Stephen Harper when he was prime minister — called the Scheer campaign's response to the Liberal attacks "a failure of issues management on the part of the Conservatives."

"If I were the Liberals, I'd be talking about this, talking about these issues every single day of the campaign," she said, adding Scheer could have done more to put the controversy to bed.

"On same-sex marriage, what would have helped would have been to hear him say his own personal views had evolved since 2005, much as (Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney did during the Alberta provincial campaign. He's clearly not going to do anything about the law, he's not going to make changes to the law, but his personal views remain that same-sex marriage is somehow illegitimate.

"So ... voters are going to be weighing that against Justin Trudeau's record of incompetence and corruption and trying to figure out ... who's worse."

Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly tweeted this morning that Scheer has been "caught saying different things to different people," attaching a short video clip of a media interview with Scott Hayward, founder of the anti-abortion group RightNow.

"While some Conservatives say the abortion debate is closed, this new video proves Scheer tells anti-choice activists the opposite," Joly tweeted.

In the video, Hayward says that Scheer has promised a free vote for caucus and cabinet members on any piece of legislation coming forward related to abortion.

In an interview with CBC News, Hayward said that assurance was made in an interview with Scheer he conducted during the 2017 Conservative leadership campaign. Hayward said Scheer also told him he would not bring forward any government legislation on abortion if elected.

Scheer promised 'freedom of conscience'

According to a transcript of the interview provided by RightNow, Scheer answered in the affirmative when asked if he would allow freedom of conscience for backbenchers and cabinet ministers as prime minister.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Surrey BC on Thursday 0:32

"Absolutely. I think that's one of the things that makes the Conservative Party stronger, that we allow for a diversity of views on these issues within our own caucus and we don't tell anyone that they have to park their conscience or their faith at the door," the transcript reads. 

"It's important that the next leader of our party not only allows that, but celebrates that tradition of having free votes on matters of conscience."

In the interview transcript, Scheer said that he has always voted in favour of "pro-life" legislation.

"I can assure you that I support the right to individual MPs to speak out and bring, introduce matters that are important to them, but our party policy is clear on that and I think in order to maintain unity of our caucus it's important that the prime minister respects that," he said.

But today, Scheer said a Conservative government would oppose any move to re-open the abortion debate.

"A Conservative government will not re-open these debates. We will oppose measures that re-open these types of questions," he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says that every Canadian, including LGTB Canadians, have the same equality rights under the law and that he will defend those rights both here and abroad. 1:15

Insisting the party is "big tent" and welcomes a range of perspectives and convictions, Scheer said the Conservative caucus works as a team and will focus on issues important to Canadians. As for his own personal convictions, Scheer said he would govern "for all Canadians."

At an event in Surrey, B.C. today, Trudeau accused Scheer of obscuring his position on crucial issues.

"I think Canadians need to know where their leaders stand on this, and it's certainly not enough for the Conservative leader to try and reluctantly support laws, or be unclear on this issue," he said.

"Canadians deserve leaders who will be clear where they stand and, as I've said, I'm crystal clear. We will always defend women's rights and LGBTQ2 rights."

Last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale resurrected a 14-year-old video of Scheer making a speech in the House of Commons explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in Surrey BC on Thursday 0:51

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