Scheer's position on same-sex marriage 'could be fatal' Conservative insiders say
OTTAWA – Stephen Harper’s former director of communications has joined the outspoken criticism of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, telling CTV’s Question Period that Scheer’s position on same-sex marriage “could be fatal” to his future as leader because not supporting same-sex marriage is “viewed increasingly as bigotry.”
“I think it could be a fatal issue. Maybe not in terms of a leadership vote within the Conservative Party but I think in terms of actually being successful in being elected to be the prime minister of the country, I think it’s a deal-stopper,” said Kory Teneycke, who was also a campaign manager to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
In an interview that airs on Sunday, Teneycke said that Scheer is going to have to “come around” on the issue of same-sex marriage or he’s going to have big problems” keeping the job he has now. Teneycke compared the evolution in Canadian society on same-sex marriage to the civil rights movement in the United States.
“Overwhelmingly Canadians do not accept that you can hold the position that ‘I am not in favour of equal rights for gays and that I have a moral, a personal moral problem with gay marriage, I think that is viewed increasingly as bigotry,” Teneycke said. He said it’s not about marching in parades, it’s about whether Scheer, as a practising Catholic still views homosexuality as a sin.
“To view it as a sin means that you think that being gay is a choice and I think most people would say it’s not,” said Teneycke, adding that he thinks there has been a sea of change in Canada on the issue since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005 and, unlike abortion, he doesn’t think it’s acceptable to be personally opposed to same-sex marriage and lead the country contrary to Scheer’s assertion.
This stands in stark contrast to what Scheer has said since the election loss. Just days after the vote Scheer said he has no plans to march in Pride parades in the future and that social conservatives who do not personally support same-sex marriage among other issues, can still become prime minster.
Not marching is something that Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer called a “mistake.” He said he’s been hearing from Conservatives “all over Canada,” who are questioning Scheer’s assertion that a social conservative can lead the country in this day and age.
“The question here, what he has to show, is that… there’s lots of different ways you can show support for the gay community and he’s got to find a way between now and April to show that, because that is the key, or one of the keys... to winning the next election,” Lietaer said.
These perspectives follow on the heels of former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay saying earlier this week that he thought the social conservative issues “hung around Andrew Scheer’s neck like stinking albatross,” and made female voters nervous.
Both Teneycke and Lietaer said that MacKay is not being disloyal by doing what is supposed to be done after an election loss, namely “a full and frank discussion” about what went wrong.
“I think he was sharing his views, I think they are shared by others,” he said.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who was also a longtime federal Conservative cabinet minister, said he doesn’t think that Scheer’s position on same-sex marriage will be “fatal,” adding that he didn’t think that it was a “live issue” in the 2019 election campaign.
“His position is the same as Stephen Harper’s was and won three elections,” Kenney said. “They won every urban seat in Alberta and nobody was talking about issues that were debated and resolved 15 or 20 years ago in Canadian politics. It’s time to move on, the Conservative Party has.”
CTVNews.ca has asked Scheer’s office for comment and to further clarify his personal view. While he has said he remains personally pro-life but would uphold the law, when asked during the election if the same delineation applies to his views on same-sex marriage, Scheer did not answer directly.
Scheer's record on LGBTQ rights to date
Throughout the campaign Scheer faced questions about his position on same-sex marriage, in part because, prior to the election, the Liberals recirculated a 2005 video of then-backbench MP Scheer speaking against it. In the 14-year-old House of Commons speech Scheer said that “homosexual unions are by nature contradictory” to the inherent qualities of marriage and compared the idea of granting same-sex couples the legal right to marry to being like calling a dog’s tail a leg.
He has not, and has no plans to march in pride parades, a position other federal leaders have chided him for, and as recently as the last Parliament he joined some of his caucus colleagues in voting against a bill that enshrined protections for trans people by adding gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination under Canadian law.
Scheer and his office have sought to defend his stance, saying that his views have evolved, that Scheer considers the matter settled, and he would not reopen the issue if he was prime minister. He voted in favour of the Conservative party scrapping their internal policy definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman in 2016, and supporters have pointed to the party’s past record for fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people in other countries.
"I find the notion that one's race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anybody else absolutely repugnant. And if there's anyone who disagrees with that, there's the door,” Scheer declared in a pre-campaign policy speech. During the race he did say that a Conservative government would “support and introduce” legislation that “protects LGBTQ Canadians,” though the Criminal Code and Human Rights Act already prohibit discrimination or hate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Leadership hurdles ahead
Because of the election loss, a leadership review will be triggered at the party’s convention in Toronto in April, but it’s possible, if there are enough unsatisfied MPs who got elected under Scheer’s banner, that they unite and oust their leader sooner.
Under the Reform Act — a contentious legislative initiative led by once-Conservative leadership hopeful Michael Chong and passed in 2015 — MPs in a caucus have the ability to trigger a leadership review and vote within their caucus, when they meet in Ottawa on Nov. 6.
Should the Conservative caucus agree to the parameters of the Act— something they did not do at the start of the last Parliament — it would take just 20 per cent of the caucus to sign on in agreement of a review. The actual secret ballot vote requires a majority to vote to replace the leader.
Both Teneycke and Lietaer said that they think Scheer will need to come out of his April review — viewing the early caucus mutiny as unlikely — with a very strong mandate, citing the 80 per cent threshold Harper set for himself during his tenure.
Whether he will? “The jury is out on that” Teneycke said.
“To beat Justin Trudeau, who has proven to be a strong brand who has weathered a lot of storms and the Liberal brand is very resilient, I think you need a party that is behind the leader, as much as possible,” said Lietaer.
“We’ve got to be together… He’s got to bring everyone together and that requires a very strong mandate.”
CTV’s Question Period airs on CTV News’ Facebook page, CTV News Channel and CTV on Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT.