The Conservative Party is doing some soul-searching as it searches for its next leader. The party won the popular vote in the last federal election yet finished second in the results. Some blame the social conservatism of leader Andrew Scheer on certain issues for the loss and believe it’s time the party distanced itself from such views.
But a new poll shows that those with social conservative values still account for a considerable portion of Canadians, and on many issues such as abortion they hold a majority within the Conservative Party support base.
The Social Values in Canada poll by Angus Reid shows that 49 percent of Canadians are in favour of a law prohibiting abortion during the third trimester of pregnancy unless the health of the mother is endangered, while 51 percent believe women should have access to legal abortion at any time while pregnant. Among Conservative Party supporters, 68 percent are against abortion during the third trimester unless the mother’s health is in danger.
According to the poll, 40 percent of Canadians think we should “publicly celebrate the role of faith in our collective lives,” while 60 percent are against. The support for celebrating faith in the public square is at 54 percent among Conservatives, while it is only at 38 percent and 35 percent among Liberal and NDP voters respectively.
Nationally, those calling for “more recognition of the importance of traditional families where a man is married to a woman” account for 30 percent of the population, while those calling for “greater acceptance of people who are LGBTQ” make up 70 percent. Within the Conservative Party support base, 58 percent are in favour of recognition of the importance of traditional families consisting of a man and a woman.
Those numbers don’t surprise Jeff Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition. His experience with Conservative candidates, MPs, and MPPs suggests that social conservatives “are a strong faction and people are respectful of that and expect us to be there.”
The Conservative Party and social conservatives need each other, Gunnarson says.
“We have to understand that there is no other mainstream party that accepts social conservatives. The NDP and the Liberals do not accept pro-lifers [or] social conservatives at all.”
Social conservatives add important numbers and valuable support to the party, he notes.
“Many social conservatives are churchgoing people and they’re used to giving of their time and their money. And if you lose enough of us then the party’s going to go down the tubes—not only in a fiscal way but also in an ideological way. … It would become just another Liberal party.”
Ted Morton, a former Progressive Conservative MLA and cabinet minister in Alberta, says outspoken Conservatives who want to eschew social conservatism “are looking at downtown Toronto and downtown Montreal and Vancouver. But I don’t think those are ridings that Conservatives have to win. Harper didn’t have to.”
Morton says Conservatives should focus on suburban Canada and connect with recent immigrants who value small business, economic growth, and parental rights. Casting off social conservatives is a losing proposition.
“If you ignore such an important part of the coalition, you’re going to have fewer votes and fewer contributions at the end of the day. I think that’s a bad strategy.”
Candice Malcolm, former Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and founder of the True North Initiative, agrees. “Social conservatives certainly do have a place in the Conservative Party. I think in many ways they are the heart of the party.”
Can a social conservative be put at the helm of the party and win? Possibly, Malcolm says.
Scheer failed not so much because of his pro-life views but due to an inability to assure Canadians regarding abortion laws, she notes. “If you think something is morally reprehensible but say you won’t do anything about it, how can you have credibility?”