The House

The future of social conservatism in Canada

This week on The House, we talk to a Conservative strategist and a member of Campaign Life Coalition about whether Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's stance on social issues cost him votes. We dive into the Wexit debate with two former MPs from Alberta. And: A political researcher shares her thoughts on Parliament's record when it comes to electing women.
(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's attempt to reconcile his views on abortion and same-sex marriage may have cost him votes among Canadians who see themselves as "progressive" — but some say it also eroded his support among social conservatives.

Dogged by questions about his personal views throughout the 40-day campaign, Scheer said he is "pro-life" but promised a Scheer government would not re-open the debate to limit a woman's right to choose, or act to roll back same-sex marriage rights.

Throughout the campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau worked to convince pro-choice Canadians that Scheer's hands-off assurances weren't good enough. Conservative strategist Ginny Roth said those Liberal efforts were "impactful" and repeatedly knocked Scheer off message.

Hanna Kepka of Campaign Life Coalition called Scheer's campaign message on abortion and same-sex marriage "weak."

"Every time he spoke in this way, we were just seeing shots in the foot," she told The House.

"The very significant socially conservative voting bloc was in absolute dismay every time he said something like this, because it showed an individual who seems to be conflicted between his private position and his public position, which you do not see at all on the left side of the spectrum."

Some analysts lay the blame for the Conservative party's showing at Andrew Scheer's social conservatism and his inability to counter suggestions that he would allow his MPs to re-open issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But there's another view. Groups such as Campaign Life Coalition argue that the party would have done better - especially in the suburbs around Toronto - if Scheer had embraced social conservatives. Chris Hall hears two different views from Ginny Roth, a Conservative strategist, and Hanna Kepka, the government relations director at Campaign Life Coalition. 9:29

Kepka said she did not want to speculate on the fate of Scheer's leadership, but said social conservatives, including some in the influential immigrant population, are looking for a strong advocate — not someone "who acknowledges that view is out there, but won't give it any voice."

She said she believes Scheer's approach to these issues cost him the election.

"We were counting on Andrew Scheer to be a faithful Catholic, a faithful man of God who would stand for those fundamental positions, not only in his private life, but also in the public square," Kepka told CBC's Chris Hall.

Roth said she believes Canadians made their voting decisions based on a variety of factors, including the party leader and platform promises, and not because of any single issue. She said Scheer was selected as leader, and remains her preferred choice, because his position on abortion is acceptable to a broad range of Canadians.

"He represents exactly what every Conservative is confident will hold the party together ... this big tent concept (that) we have to be a home for social conservatives, we have to be a home for red Tories, we have to be a home for fiscal conservatives," she said.

"And we have to attract voters that don't necessarily identify as Conservative, but who think we have the best offering in the context of an election."

Campaign Life said 48 candidates who got the organization's "green light" due to their views on abortion won their seats in the general election.

The West wants out?

Supporters of the Western Canada Concept party march in support of Alberta Separation in Red Deer in 2003. (CBC)

The spectre of Western separatism dogged former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980. Now, nearly 40 years later, its reincarnation haunts Justin Trudeau's minority Liberal government.

But even one of the strongest and most vocal supporters of Wexit — or Western exit — says the call for Alberta's sovereignty won't be taken seriously by the rest of Canada until it is put to a vote.

"The reality is, central Canadians will not wake up to the seriousness of this until there's a referendum on the table, just as it was with Quebec," former Conservative MP and cabinet minister Jay Hill told The House.

"When we were facing that moment of decision in 1995, suddenly the rest of Canada said, 'These people are serious about leaving.' Until we get that, we will not get the recognition of how serious the problem is and the need to address it properly."

The spectre of Western separatism dogged Pierre Trudeau in 1980. And now, nearly 40 years later, its reincarnation haunts Justin Trudeau's minority Liberal government. Wexit — or Western exit — began as a call for Alberta's sovereignty, but it's also gaining some traction in Saskatchewan. Martha Hall Findlay and Jay Hill were once on opposing sides in the House of Commons and now, both live in Calgary, but they are on opposing sides of a polarizing debate. The one thing they do agree on? Justin Trudeau and the rest of Canada should be paying attention. 10:15

Hill represented a riding in northeastern British Columbia as a Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative MP from 1993 until his retirement in 2010. He now lives in Alberta, and says there should be a referendum in that province and Saskatchewan.

Hill and Martha Hall Findlay, a former Liberal MP from Toronto, were once on opposing sides in the House of Commons, but these days, they are on opposing sides of the polarizing Wexit debate.

Hall Findlay, CEO of the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation, told The House the level of frustration in Alberta, where she also lives now, is palpable.

"Through all of the challenges we saw in the late '70s and '80s, and there was talk then, similar talk, it's way worse now," she said. "It's deeper, it's broader. I just happen to not believe that separating is the best answer."

The one thing Hall Findlay and Hill do agree on? The rest of Canada — and especially Trudeau — should be paying attention.

"National unity and the national interest is the prime minister's first responsibility and should be his first priority," Hall Findlay said.

Progress for women in politics, but a long way to the finish line

There will be 98 women in these seats when the House of Commons returns following the Oct. 21 election - a record number, but still far short of parity with male MPs. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The increasing number of women in politics is something to celebrate, but more roadblocks need to be removed, says an expert. 

Grace Lore, a politics and gender lecturer at the University of Victoria, says women are still set up to fail in federal politics. 

"Women were running in tougher ridings, more likely to lose ridings," she told The House, listing ridings where there were incumbents as an example.

"There is a need to do more proactive recruitment with a focus on those winnable ridings."

The increasing number of women in politics is something to celebrate, but more roadblocks need to be removed, says expert Grace Lore. 7:28

She hailed the successes of the women who did run. There are 10 new women in the House of Commons, and the parties collectively ran more female candidates than ever before. The NDP put a strong focus on achieving gender parity in their nominees and the Conservatives nominated the most women in the party's history.

Despite those efforts, the total number of female MPs only increased 2 per cent. 

In Lore's mind there's still a long way to go to create an environment that welcomes women to politics. Making childcare more accessible, nominating women in ridings in which the party is competitive and attracting more diverse candidates could all help encourage more women to throw their hats in the ring, she said.

"The increase has been so slow. This election was a bit better than the previous one. But at this rate ... it's another 40 or 50 plus years," she said.

"I think Canadians deserve policy that comes from a table that looks like them with really important and diverse skill set."


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