On Sunday, August 4, 2019, a nearly unprecedented event took place in Vancouver. The leaders of three federal political parties walked side-by-side for a portion of the city’s Pride parade. For several minutes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May put aside their fierce partisan rivalry and joint forces to celebrate love in all its infinite diversity.
This joint stance was particularly heartening given both the rise in violence against the LGBTQ+ community within Canada, and the fact that the country is in the midst of a federal election campaign. In a political system that is so often defined by rivalry, it was a powerful message.
Noticeable in his absence, however, was Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. Scheer has declined to take part in any Pride celebrations since he became party leader in 2017.
The Conservative Party could never be defined as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, but under the interim leadership of Rona Ambrose from 2015 to 2017, concerted efforts were made to move the party in a somewhat more socially progressive direction.
During her two-year tenure as Conservative leader, Ambrose marched in the Toronto Pride Parade, openly campaigned against the party’s anti-gay marriage stance, and publicly chastised Conservative MP Brad Trost after he made homophobic remarks against gay pride.
Scheer’s narrow, and somewhat contentious, victory in the Conservative Leadership race came as something of a surprise. He had entered the race as a bit of an unknown being overshadowed by Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier.
Part of the ambiguity surrounding Scheer stems from the fact he spent much of his Parliamentary career as a Speaker of the House of Commons. While the Speaker holds an important administrative role and acts as something of a referee during heated political debates, the Speaker only votes on legislation in the event of a tie. Added to this is Scheer’s introverted and reserved public demeanour which has allowed him to remain below the radar for many years, particularly to those outside of conservative circles.
Quick research into his speeches, interviews, and voting record pegs him as a far-right social conservative. A devout Roman Catholic, he is on record as being anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, and voted against the Trudeau’s governments motion to entrench legal protections for transgender people in the Canadian Criminal Code.
In a 2017 interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Scheer awkwardly dodged a definitive stance on his personal views regarding LGBTQ+ rights and women’s reproductive freedoms. On same-sex marriage he stated:
“People have their personal views on things … um, there are a lot of things that divide us as conservatives. There are a lot of things that unite us. This is one of those issues that … that um, it’s, um … it happened in 2005. You know, I was a member of parliament at the time and I voted my conscience. I voted my constituents’ wishes. It’s not something…you know, you say live with it. It’s not something that I…I’m…um…looking to revisit or to re-open or things like that. I think I…the party has other things we want to talk about and connect with Canadians and deliver for their futures”
While every Canadian citizen has the right to their personal views, a person who wishes to become Prime Minister should expect that voters are going to be interested in their personal stances, particularly on major social issues.
While Scheer has attempted to downplay fears that he will re-open debates surrounding such issues as gay marriage or abortion, his voting record speaks louder than words. During his entire political career, he has not voted in favour of a single piece of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation. Rather, he has consistently voted down any enhancement of legal and protective rights for the community.
His refusal to participate in any Pride events across the country, clearly shows his personal views on the LGBTQ+ community. His office has provided various reasons for his absence such as Toronto Pride’s police ban — a tactic also employed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Don’t Hide Behind the Police, Doug!
Doug Ford’s political record displays a clear ambivalence– if not outright contempt — for the LGBTQ+ community.
When asked to comment on Scheer’s decision not to partake in any Pride festivals, Conservative spokesperson Daniel Schow told the National Post:
“Canada’s Conservatives have a proud history of fighting for the rights and protection of all Canadians, including those in the LGBTQ community, at home and abroad. There are many ways to support these communities, and it is vital that the rights all Canadians are protected regardless of race, gender or sexual preference. While Mr. Scheer does not plan to march in the Toronto Pride Parade, he will continue to stand up against hatred and discrimination in all its forms.”
While the sentiments may sound touching, most LGBTQ+ Canadians would likely struggle to think of an example where the Conservative Party proudly fought for them rather than against them.
It speaks volumes that while Scheer refuses to attend pro-LGBTQ+ events, he was more than happy to publicly cavort with and give interviews to white nationalist Faith Goldy.
It is increasingly obvious that the conservatives see a path to victory using the same populist far-right sentiments that have proved successful in the UK, United States, Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, political scientist Stewart Prest states that the politics of division that we have seen in the United States is being adopted by conservative strategists in Canada:
“We have this emerging movement in right-of-center politics, and it’s traceable to people like Jordan Peterson who focus on free speech as a sort of absolute…right to speak one’s mind and welcome speakers no matter the topic. That’s sort of a covering language, but the reality is that it mostly focuses on language or speakers that tend to denigrate or put down marginalized communities, especially parts of the LGBT community.”
Prest also raises Scheer’s LGBTQ+ record. He highlights that while Scheer has spoken out against the horrific anti-LGBTQ+ governments of Russia and Brunei, and officially supported the Liberal Government’s decision to apologize to LGBTQ+ Canadians who had been historically persecuted, Scheer has not gone any further. He contends that all of Scheer’s actions towards the LGBTQ+ community have been directed at other place or other times, but he fails to push for further action.
While we can debate Prime Minister Trudeau’s success in several policy areas, there is no debating that he is the strongest ally that the LGBTQ+ community has ever had in the country’s Head of Government. Singh and May also have proven histories as strong allies of the community — though May’s recent statement that she would be willing to prop up a minority conservative government, forces LGBTQ+ Green supporters to question her intentions.
While Scheer attempts to quell fears that he’ll re-open social debates, the thruth is that his actions speak louder than words. He is a man who openly cavorts with those who wish to do us legal and even physical harm. He has given us absolutely no reason to trust him.