Politics

Prominent Tories turn on leadership hopeful who calls being gay a 'choice'

Prominent Tories, including a number of Conservative leadership hopefuls, are piling on prospective candidate Richard Décarie after he called being gay a "choice" on national television.

'I think LGBTQ is a Liberal term,' Richard Décarie tells CTV

The Conservative party voted to end its official opposition to gay marriage in 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Prominent Tories, including a number of Conservative leadership hopefuls, are piling on prospective candidate Richard Décarie after he called being gay a "choice" on national television.

"I think LGBTQ is a Liberal term. I don't talk about people that way," the former Conservative staffer told CTV's Power Play Wednesday night.

"Do you think that's a choice or do you think it's biological?" asked host Evan Solomon. 

"I think it's a choice," responded Décarie. "How people are behaving, it's one thing. I think government has [the] responsibility to encourage the traditional value that we have had for the past years."

A number of Conservatives who are expected to run for the leadership were quick to distance themselves — and the party — from Décarie's stance. The Conservative Party voted to end its official opposition to gay marriage in 2016, more than a decade after it was legalized.

"Being gay is not a choice and nobody should be running for office on a platform to roll back hard-won rights," tweeted former cabinet minister Peter MacKay after a clip of the interview began racking up thousands of views online. 

Erin O'Toole, another former cabinet minister who is musing a bid, called Décarie's statement "ridiculous," and Sarnia MP Marilyn Gladu, who like MacKay has publicly signalled a leadership run, said it was "unacceptable."

Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre, who had been expected to make a run for the top job until today, said Décarie does not speak for Conservatives.

"Being gay is not a choice. Being ignorant is," he tweeted. 

The social conservative vote 

In a followup interview with CBC on Thursday, Décarie apologized for offending people and said he didn't understand the visceral reaction to his comments.

"I was told that I was offensive, and if I've been offensive in the eye of some people I'm sorry about that," said the the former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper.

"Those who are very liberal should be joining Mr. Trudeau."

Décarie said that, if he's elected prime minister, he'd work to "clarify" same-sex marriage in Canada.

"I think it's important that marriage should be exclusive to men and women and all other unions are civil unions," he said.

Décarie said that while he's received a lot of backlash over the past day, a number of social conservatives have reached out in support.

"There are many social conservatives in our party and many Canadians want [a] true conservative voice to speak and stand up for them. So I feel I am their voice and we'll see who will be elected," he said.

"The so-cons are mobilized and they feel that I could be representing them."

It remains to be seen how much sway the social conservative wing will have on picking a leader to replace Andrew Scheer, who had his own socially conservative leanings.

Both Décarie and Ontario MP Derek Sloan, who announced his intentions to run on Wednesday, are pitching themselves to the social conservatives in the party.

In the 2017 leadership race, with the help of groups like Campaign Life Coalition, former MP Brad Trost came in fourth place in a field of 14 candidates.

"I am full on tired of this type of shit defining the conservative movement in Canada," tweeted Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner on Wednesday.

"I will not serve under someone whose leadership pitch is that someone's sexuality is something to be 'fixed.'" 

Who's running - and who's not - for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. (CBC News)

With files from Hannah Thibedeau and Catherine Cullen

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