A great many Canadians, it seems, are more willing to excuse the prime minister’s ethical lapses than overlook the reactionary views ascribed to Andrew Scheer and company on social issues like same-sex marriage.
When last we checked in on the long prelude to the federal election campaign, the big question was if the Liberals would suffer another SNC-Lavalin-weighted popularity plunge in the wake of Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s finding that Justin Trudeau violated the toothless conflict-of-interest law.
It turns out that those Canadians who noticed didn’t much care. If the pollsters are correct — a sizeable if — whatever damage the Liberals incurred from the Lavalin fiasco was already baked into voters’ preferences. It was old news when Dion’s report landed, and most folks were otherwise occupied, at the beach or on the golf course, anyway.
(Scheer) seems out of step because the Liberals dug out some old video of Scheer preaching traditional values like home, hearth and family, where family, or at least marriage, is exclusively a mom-and-pop operation.
Then came a little political prestidigitation that would have brought a proud tear to the eye of Allan J. himself. The Liberals changed the channel and turned the focus on Scheer’s puritan position on stuff Canucks don’t want their government messing in, like who people choose to love or to wed.
Prime Minister Trudeau is fully woke and thereby of the firm conviction that the state has no business in the bedrooms, or at the weddings, of the nation. He may be a chip off the old block after all.
Conservative Leader Scheer, on the other hand, seems out of step with the majority Canadian view on matters of gender and sexuality — a view that can be summed up as live and let live; love and let love.
Granted, he seems out of step because the Liberals dug out some old video of Scheer preaching traditional values like home, hearth and family, where family, or at least marriage, is exclusively a mom-and-pop operation.
Scheer’s unconvincing hands-off position on same-sex marriage plays into what we now call the narrative that these federal Conservatives are of an ilk that tolerates intolerance.
Liberals want Canadians to see in the Conservatives some of what Hillary Clinton once characterized as a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which is actually a whole lot scarier now that its undisputed champion is in the White House than it was when it somehow soiled Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.
The Conservatives dodged a bullet when Scheer snuck past Bernier to win the party’s leadership on the 13th ballot, after Mad Max led the first 12.
Scheer now says same-sex marriage is a done deal in Canada, and a Conservative government won’t undo it. But he hedges just enough to raise doubts and in an election that’s shaping up as a nail-biter, where a vote here or there can swing seats and decide who governs, doubts are decidedly unhelpful.
The specifics, whether they’re gender, abortion or any of the other sore points in the culture wars, are mostly irrelevant to the overall strategy. The Liberal goal is to define Canadian Conservatives as the northern remnants of Jerry Falwell’s old Moral Majority which was neither.
The strategy won’t shake loose Conservative votes. It’s not designed for that. It’s designed to raise fears among undecided voters that Canadian Conservatives are cut from the cloth of right-wingnuts like Donald Trump’s Make-America-White Republicans, Boris Johnson’s Brexiteers, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the guy who refused help to douse wildfires that are consuming the Amazon rainforests.
The overwhelming majority of Canadian Conservatives — Scheer included — don’t belong in that miscreant mass. But the party tolerates, or at least ignores, a few who do.
Remember, the Conservative Party of Canada came within a hair’s breadth of being led by Maxime Bernier, a neo-con of the most contemptable strain.
Bernier is worse than a mere political opportunist playing at populism. He’s devoid of basic decency, the kind of guy who would attack a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist as “mentally unstable,” and did. Greta Thunberg, the young climate warrior, is open about the fact that she has Asperger’s syndrome. Bernier, founder-leader of the People’s Party of Canada, is just openly odious.
The Conservatives dodged a bullet when Scheer snuck past Bernier to win the party’s leadership on the 13th ballot, after Mad Max led the first 12. But, to capitalize on their close call, they need to give Canadians confidence they won’t turn back time.
Scheer needs to do a better job than he has to date of defining where the Conservatives stand on social policy, while distancing himself from the intolerable intolerance that hangs around on the fringes of his party.
In the end, how much alt-right muck sticks to Scheer and the Conservatives is up to them.