Politics

Conservative insiders say Scheer, party need to evolve on LGBTQ issues

Two Conservative strategists say both the party and leader Andrew Scheer need to modernize their approach to social issues if they want to convince more Canadians to vote for them.

2 strategists say Conservatives won't win another election until they amend stance

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks at a news conference following last month's federal election. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Two Conservative strategists say both the party and leader Andrew Scheer need to modernize their approach to social issues if they want to convince more Canadians to vote for them.

In an opinion piece published by the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, long-time Conservative strategists Melissa Lantsman and Jamie Ellerton said Andrew Scheer's "visible discomfort" with issues like same sex marriage during the recent election campaign warrant serious introspection by the party. Ellerton also managed Scheer's road tour during the election and served as a spokesperson for the campaign. 

"For the Conservative movement to grow, unequivocal support for LGBTQ people cannot be up for debate," they wrote.

They said the party "should consider breaking from the past" and adopting "a more contemporary conservatism that resonates more broadly across the country," adding that LGBTQ rights "ought not to be a question at all."

Scheer was dogged throughout the campaign by questions about his personal views on social issues, like marriage equality and abortion.

The issue was resurrected on week one of the campaign when a tweet from a then-Liberal cabinet minister showed a 15-year-old video of Scheer speaking against same-sex marriage in the House of Commons. The contents of that speech followed the Conservative leader for the remainder of the campaign.

The Liberals are shining a spotlight on video of an anti-gay marriage speech by Andrew Scheer from 2005. 3:44

Scheer told reporters that he was not interested in divisive topics and would not seek to reopen the debate on matters of marriage equality or a woman's right to choose. When pushed further, he eventually added that he was personally opposed to abortion.

"My personal position has always been open and consistent. I am personally pro-life but I've also made the commitment that, as leader of this party, it is my responsibility to ensure that we do not reopen this debate, that we focus on issues that unite our party and unite Canadians," he said at a press conference in early October.

Many critics took issue with the number of times Scheer appeared to sidestep the questions or answer them incompletely — and that became a problem during the campaign, Lantsman and Ellerton said.

"While it is rightfully troubling for politicians to be chastised to declare their personal views, the agonizing inability to provide a coherent response raises just enough doubt for many to overlook that entirely," they wrote.

CBC News has reached out to Andrew Scheer's office for comment.

Ellerton told CBC News he's often been uncomfortable with the way questions of support for the LGBTQ community have been addressed within the party, but now was the appropriate time for him to speak up because of the "lack of change in tone and direction on this issue."

He suggested one of the first things the party should do is have a discussion with caucus about how to handle these topics on a daily basis and proactively show support for marginalized Canadians.

For now, Ellerton said he is warily supporting Scheer's leadership.

"I'm going to give him a chance to correct course on this."

Wednesday evening, former interim Conservative Party leader, Rona Ambrose, tweeted her support for the strategists' piece.

"I was proud to have been the first Tory leader to march in a Pride Parade. It's time to move forward together and show ALL families we have their backs! Great advice here from two smart Tories," Ambrose said on Twitter.

Prominent Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner also heaped praise on the strategists.

Party split on Scheer's leadership

Scheer's response to social issues during the election also drew a range of responses from other Conservative supporters. Some wanted more clarity on his individual stance, while one MP accused those asking the questions of "anti-Catholic bigotry."

The Conservative leader has maintained that you can be the prime minister of Canada and be socially conservative.

"I believe you can have both of those positions. You can have a personal view and you can acknowledge that in Canada, the prime minister does not impose a particular viewpoint on Canadians," he said of his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Conservatives appear split on whether Scheer should resign or stay on as leader. 

A poll by the Angus Reid Institute showed 42 per cent of Conservative respondents said he should step down, while 41 per cent said he should stay. The rest said they were undecided.

At their first caucus meeting after the election, Conservative MPs voted overwhelmingly against a motion that would have given them the power to fire Scheer before the mandatory leadership review in April at the Conservative convention.

But Ellerton and Lantsman warn that until the party plots a path forward, questions about its approach to social issues won't go away.

"Until they figure out how to move forward, Canada's right will have to be satisfied with second place."

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