Catholics are optimistic following the election of MP Andrew Scheer as the Conservative Party of Canada's new leader May 27. Photo by Jake Wright

Catholics optimistic following Scheer victory

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  • May 30, 2017

OTTAWA – The Conservative Party has elected a staunch pro-life Catholic to lead them into the next federal election, but what happens when Andrew Scheer’s faith confronts the pragmatism of politics remains an open question.

Despite an unblemished record in supporting life and family issues during 13 years in Ottawa, Scheer, the 38-year-old son of a permanent deacon, has said he has no intention of introducing legislation on abortion, same sex marriage or other potentially divisive social issues. But should he become Prime Minister, Scheer indicated during the leadership campaign that he would not prevent backbench MPs from bringing forward private members’ bills on these matters and he would “absolutely protect” the right of MPs to vote freely on matters of conscience.

His apparent willingness to grant party members a free hand to debate these issues has left pro-life and family groups encouraged that Scheer’s election will benefit their cause.

“In the long run I think we’ll be better off with Scheer than with (Maxime) Bernier,” said Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition.

Due to Scheer’s reluctance to wade directly into the abortion issue, Campaign Life did not support him in the leadership race.

“Andrew didn’t promise much, that’s why we didn’t support him, but he’s still a pro-life MP, so he’s certainly not going to do any damage to our cause,” Gunnarson said. “In fact, some of his peripheral ideas may till the ground for future pro-life initiatives.”

At a suspenseful Tory leadership convention in Toronto May 27, Scheer beat Bernier, the perceived front-runner, after 13 ballots by just two percentage points, 51 to 49.

Scheer, who grew up in a Catholic family in Ottawa, has been an MP for Regina-Qu’Appelle since 2004. Before that he cut his teeth in politics working in the communications office of then opposition leader Stephen Harper, and also worked with former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day. In 2011, at age 32, he became the youngest House Speaker in Canadian history and served in that office until 2015.

The married father of five has endorsed many pro-family views, including improvements to parental leave and education tax credits. He has opposed same-sex marriage, voted against the bill that legalized euthanasia and has opposed Bill C-16, which would amend the Human Rights Act to recognize gender identity and expression.

Scheer has criticized Justin Trudeau’s policy of refusing to let pro-life supporters run for election as Liberals as well as the government policy to spend $650 million to support overseas abortion and abortion advocacy. He has also supported amendments to the Criminal Code that would make it a crime to kill or injure an unborn child while committing a crime against a pregnant mother.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a pro-life Catholic who worked on the Scheer campaign, said the win of the former Speaker of the House is “good news for the party, for the country and for our values.”

“The reaction since then has been very positive and encouraging,” he said. “It’s very clear our team is coming together strongly.

“Andrew’s campaign was successful because it was able to draw on the support of different kinds of conservatives.”

Mike Schouten, director of WeNeedaLaw.ca, said that as voting narrowed the leadership contenders down to four candidates it became clear that “the environment would be a lot more friendly to advance pre-born human rights than in the Stephen Harper era.”

“So now that we know that Andrew Scheer is the new leader, we are very confident that the environment will be such that all parliamentarians will have the opportunity to debate and discuss laws that will protect our pre-born neighbours.”

When he was House Speaker, Scheer issued a landmark ruling that said the Speaker can ignore a party whip’s list of MPs who have been picked to speak on the floor of the House and instead recognize other backbench MPs.

Yet Ottawa pro-life activist Suzanne Fortin urged pro-lifers “not to get too excited” about Scheer’s victory.

“Expecting an Andrew Scheer government to pass abortion restrictions is somewhat premature,” she wrote on her blog. “He is a step in the right direction. But he's not the pro-life messiah that you might expect from a practicing Catholic who's the son of deacon.

“We need to be realistic about what is achievable. We also need to push aside wishful thinking.”

But she also urged social conservatives to “hold his feet to the fire.”

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