Pierre Poilievre’s victory to become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada raises questions about the status and power of the party’s social conservatives.
That well-mobilized grassroots division played a key role in helping previous leaders achieve power, with some calling them “kings”.
In the 2020 leadership contest, former leader Erin O’Toole directly appealed to social conservatives – broadly defined as people whose politics are informed by faith-based values, faith in the family and opposition to abortion – to choose him in the party votes.
Andrew Scheer, who holds such views, won the crowded 2017 race thanks to the number of votes that came after other socially conservative candidates were left out of the running.
But Poilievre was different. The 43-year-old longtime member of Congress won the first ballot with nearly 70% support.
Michael Diamond, a Conservative Party campaign strategist, said Poilievre won by drawing on multiple party interests at once through a larger message, rather than flirting with specific groups through through direct policy appeals.
Now, Diamond says, “He’s his own man.”
Former Conservative MP Brad Trost was one of the socially conservative candidates in the 2017 race whose backing helped Scheer.
He said while Poilievre’s victory would suggest differing views on what this means for the future role of social conservatives, he believes the relationship may have become less complicated. more complicated.
Trost said socially conservative voters are worried that Scheer and O’Toole will return to their leadership campaign promises once they take power, and focus on engaging Canadians. more widely.
O’Toole, for example, was angry for reneging on a promise he made to protect the right of conscience of nurses and doctors when it came to referring patients to services that were not available. they disagree, such as abortion, sex reassignment surgery, or medical assistance upon death.
But because Poilievre didn’t make specific promises, Trost said social conservatives weren’t worried about disappointment.
“Pierre is neither socially conservative nor anti-social,” says Trost. “He’s a political pragmatist who sits on the right side of our party, and I think that makes it all the more obvious.”
During the race, Poilievre vowed not to reopen the abortion debate but would continue to allow his party’s caucus to vote for free on issues of conscience.
Trost added that there are socially conservative members of Poilievre’s leadership, including former cabinet minister Gail Shea as well as incumbent MPs John Williamson and Kelly Block.
However, Poilievre is not a leading candidate for two anti-abortion organizations that encourage supporters to buy memberships to help choose the next leader.
Both RightNow and the Campaign Life Coalition endorse Leslyn Lewis, who is the only candidate promising some restrictions on abortion.
To the surprise of many, Lewis earned only about 9% of support from party members, placing third.
She entered the contest as a rookie congressman based on the popularity she gained in the 2020 contest, where she finished third but won Saskatchewan.
This time, she faced the juggernaut Poilievre, whom many members felt had similar appeal, but with a much larger profile and more experience in Congress.
Steve Outhouse, Lewis’ campaign manager, said the contest was unique because concerns about COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates played a big role, especially among social conservatives, in a in some cases, overshadowing their feelings towards the abortion.
He said many voting members are directly affected by policies related to the pandemic and feel there is excessive government interference in individual health decisions.
“Liberty is at the forefront of this voting cycle for them,” Outhouse said.
“Pierre is very strong on those issues, and clearly some social conservatives feel comfortable casting their votes with Mr Poilievre.”
Lewis has also campaigned vigorously against COVID-19 health measures, but Poilievre outsold her and every other candidate for party membership.
Regardless of how Lewis’ results appear, Outhouse says she’s improved since 2020. Her campaign says she’s earned more support from the first ballot, raising more money. and received the approval of two more MPs.
The Campaign Life and RightNow coalitions, which support her, said Poilievre should choose Lewis to serve as a prominent critic as a sign of respect for that party’s social conservatives.
Diamond said with his resounding victory, Poilievre earned the respect of the coalition.
“He is free to build the team he wants.”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published on September 14, 2022.