In light of the public discussion that has taken place since the Dominion Election on October 21st, a point that I made in my reflections on the outcome of that election deserves reiteration. The views which Andrew Scheer, Conservative leader, was said to hold on abortion and same-sex marriage, are not the reason the Conservatives failed to win the election, nor are they even a significant contributing factor to the loss. The evasive, wishy-washy, manner in which Mr. Scheer handled these matters when they were raised during the campaign may have been a contributing factor, but the right-wing views attributed to him were not.
The vast majority of commentators in the mainstream media, being overwhelmingly progressive, maintain otherwise, of course, but in this, as in most things, they are completely wrong. Indeed, on some level they know that they are wrong, which is the very reason they insist so strongly and so frequently on their mistaken notion that social conservatism cannot be sold to the Canadian public. They want it to be true and believe that if they tell Canadians it is true often and loudly enough that will make it true. The principle they are operating upon is one famously spelled out by an infamous, Austrian psychopath in the tenth chapter of his memoirs, ninety-four years ago.
Andrew Scheer in an interview with the Canadian Press shortly after the election said that he believed it was possible for someone with conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage to be Prime Minister of Canada. He was right, but it would have been better if he had been saying this firmly, strongly, and consistently prior to the election. A few days later, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh responded by saying “You cannot have Mr. Scheer’s beliefs and be the Prime Minister of Canada. It’s pretty clear.” One wonders if he was able to say this with a straight face. Of all the electable parties in Canada, Mr. Singh’s takes the position furthest to the left on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and they were the biggest losers in the election, dropping from third to fourth place in total number of seats, and going down four percentage points in the popular vote. Mr. Scheer’s party, by contrast, increased their number of seats and their percentage of the popular vote. If the election results say anything about social conservatism, and it does not, it is not what Mr. Singh thinks.
Let me put it to you plainly. Some people claim to believe that it is every woman’s right to terminate the lives of her children, at least prior to their births. Of these lunatics, the number that would have voted Conservative had someone other than Andrew Scheer been leading the party is miniscule. It is probably not enough to make the difference between the win or the loss of a single seat.
Conversely, there are sane people in our country, a lot more than the mainstream media would like you to think, who rightly consider it to be morally outrageous that in Canada women are legally able to obtain abortions right up to the moment of birth. This includes people with a wide range of differing opinion as to what legal limitations there ought to be on abortion. Some would like to see it prohibited only in the third trimester, others would like to see it restricted to the first, and others still would ban it altogether. There are those who would make an exception in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape, while others would say that to do so is to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. Some maintain that abortion should be permissible when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mothers, others would say that while saving the life of the mother is certainly a priority, termination of the pregnancy is permissible only as an unintended consequence, never as the intended outcome. There are also differences of opinion as to who bears the burden of criminal guilt over abortion – the doctor, the mother, or both – and what the penalty ought to be. Those of us who take the most hardline anti-abortion position possible and would ban any and all abortions from the moment of conception with no exceptions but with strict penalties for all involved are, sadly, a minority but those who think that there should be legal restrictions of some sort are much larger in number, almost certainly the vast majority.
Let us make two unwarranted and absurd assumptions about such people. The first is that these are all aware of the difference between their own position and the post-1988 status quo and therefore of the fact that Parliamentary legislation would be necessary to arrive at the place in which they want the country to be. The second is that they view everything other than abortion through the lens of ceteris paribus and so choose whom to vote for based solely on this one issue. How, given these assumptions, would Scheer’s campaign have appealed to such people in the last election?
The answer is that while Scheer’s pro-life and socially conservative background would not have driven them away, like it would all the hard-line pro-choicers who would never vote Conservative anyway, his insistence, in response to progressive badgering, that he would not re-open the issue, would have given them no incentive to vote Conservative. What Scheer was saying was that the Conservatives, under his leadership, would in practice, act no differently than the Grits or the Socialists. In which case there was no reason whatsoever for pro-life, socially conservative, people to vote for the party that has long taken their votes for granted, while doing nothing to deserve them.
The conclusion is inevitable – while Scheer’s stated views in the past on abortion and same-sex marriage were not a significant contributing factor to the Conservative loss his waffling on these same issues during the campaign was. The weasely, mealy-mouthed, evasive manner in which he conducted this waffling, did not help things much either.
For decades progressive politicians and pundits have been telling the Conservatives that they need to limit their platform to fiscal conservatism because social conservatism loses elections. For far too long, the leadership of the Conservative Party has been listening to them. The exact opposite is the case. How many people practice rigid, self-denying, austerity in their private lives? Of these, how many make it their political priority that the government do the same? Fiscal conservatism is rational, sensible, and responsible, but it appeals only to economic eggheads and not the public. For most people, the immediate benefit to themselves of government spending programs will always outweigh their portion of the collective cost of government. This is the obvious political application, perhaps even more valid than the original ecological application, of Garrett Hardin’s famous parable of the “tragedy of the commons.” Nobody has ever won an election on fiscal conservatism alone. It has to be packaged with other, more appealing, policies. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were no exceptions to this rule.
This is the lesson that Andrew Scheer and the Conservative leadership ought to learn from our last Dominion election.
What are the odds that they will learn it?
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