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Too Soon To Despair For Andrew ScheerToo Soon To Despair For Andrew Scheer

Too Soon To Despair For Andrew Scheer

Convivium’s Rebecca Atkinson argues that, attacks from his political and media enemies withstanding, Canadians haven’t rejected the federal Conservative leader because of his religious faith.

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Topics: Religion, Government, Religious Freedom
Too Soon To Despair For Andrew Scheer November 6, 2019  |  By Rebecca Atkinson
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Jagmeet Singh pronounced last week that the 2019 election results meant something “very clear” for Canadians: Andrew Scheer cannot be prime minister. Not because of his dual citizenship, nor his fib about once being an insurance broker, nor the party’s proposal to eradicate the carbon tax. Instead, the NDP leader has decided that Mr. Scheer is unfit due to his beliefs on abortion and same-sex marriage. HuffPo credits Singh as criticizing Scheer “for being out of touch with a majority of Canadians.”

His comments came in a post-election caucus meeting, the first since the NDP lost 15 of its seats. But Scheer’s been coming under post-election fire from all corners of the country for the last two weeks: comments from Peter MacKay that the loss was like missing the net on a breakaway, a Twitter post that (once again) criticizes Scheer’s lack of presence in pride parades, the Montreal Gazette opinion piece saying the Tory leader was “out of sync” in Quebec.  As my colleague, Daniel Proussalidis, wrote earlier this week, voices from both the left and right have “coalesced on the same point: Scheer’s Catholicism is a problem,” and he was the only candidate to be treated as such due to his religion.

But Scheer isn’t the first person to publicly declare he won’t bring his personal beliefs into Parliament. CBC’s Neil Macdonald claimed in a column that Scheer is effectively pro-choice, as he follows suit with many previous prime ministers who have had personal views that differ from the government’s legislation (or lack thereof): Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper and yes, even Justin Trudeau. 

Each upheld personal pro-life views, contrary to the wide access and far-reaching public opinion that women have a “right to choose.” It worked for all of them, so why now has Mr. Singh stepped out to say it can’t happen for Scheer? Are we at a point where the prime minister has to maintain a posture of absolute secularism—nay, anti-social conservative values—to absolutely, without a doubt, ensure that abortion legislation never happens?

Yet I digress. Singh, in an election scrum said that he was not in favour of Quebec's secularist law, given that he is “not in agreement with laws that divide the population,” he is “only in favour of laws that bring people together.” Well, good. But might I suggest that abortion always has—and always will—divide Canadians? That the issue may be closed for discussion but surely a prime minister still has every right to hold his or her own personal views? That beyond trying to change laws, there are millions who would have readily accepted a pro-life prime minister who stated that he would not, in fact, re-open the abortion debate? 

The 2019 election’s popular vote went to a party led by a self-proclaimed personally pro-life practicing Catholic. More than 34 per cent of voters would have been just fine with a personally pro-life prime minister. Decades of previous prime ministers demonstrate that it is certainly possible to hold a personal view on abortion without closing down every abortion clinic in the country. So why this eruption now? Those who voted blue this election are not necessarily pro-life, but they were satisfied enough with the option that it would have been just peachy-keen to have Scheer step forward as PM. 

Personal belief does not dictate law, nor does law dictate personal belief, and the separation of church and state has been working just fine for Canada—well, except for our newly re-elected prime minister having removed Canada’s Summer Jobs funding from religious groups, thereby taking money from university students and others. Justin Trudeau’s first administration made it loud and clear: pro-life groups have no right to funding in the country. And now a national party leader, indeed the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, who associates himself as pro-life cannot, and has no right to vie for leadership of the country either? 

Do our federal politicians really want to send such a message that restricts the religious freedoms of all, that tells religious groups nationally: “You’re not welcome here”? If the prime minister is forbidden from holding these views, who else might find themselves similarly restricted? 

Let’s pause for a moment, though, and not be too quick to assume that pro-life (or Catholic) people can no longer work in the public square. While Mr. Singh’s pronouncement was at the very least upsetting to those who hold pro-life views, we must not fear the worst. 

Scheer’s loss was predictable, as my colleague Father Raymond de Souza wrote in the election aftermath. As Father de Souza said, the only time a first-term government in Canada has been defeated was 84 years ago, when former prime minister Mackenzie King defeated R.B. Bennett. 

Scheer winning the 2019 federal election would have marked something almost unprecedented for Canadians. Obviously, he would not have won on the basis that he is pro-life. How, then, can anyone claim he lost because of it? A single issue did not win or lose this election. Outlandishly claiming, as Singh did, that Scheer’s beliefs make it “pretty clear” he cannot be prime minister, is factually unsustainable. 

So perhaps the situation is not as grim as it seems. We cannot be too quick to assume that the majority of Canadians feel the same as Singh. Even if they do, we must take heart in remembering those prime ministers who have previously held office, even with pro-life personal views. While my colleague Daniel Proussalidis says Scheer’s Catholicism was the problem for the media and many voters, Catholics are certainly not the only pro-life people in this country. And Singh’s push for a secular Canada does not consider other devoutly religious Canadians across the country. 

We can muse over what Scheer woulda-coulda-shoulda said about the religious issue. The fact religion was an issue in the campaign was concerning. Yet it should not have surprised Scheer’s team that, in a time when the incumbent prime minister dismisses anything hinting of religious freedom if it is inconvenient, the Conservative leader’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage would be brought up. The half-hearted response from Scheer was understandably disappointing to the religious among us who hoped for a proactive declaration such as: “I am pro-life, I won’t change the laws, Canada isn’t in a place to do so, but I am allowed to have my own views.” 

Or to put it even more bluntly: “This is who I am—pro-life, a family man, a devout Catholic and representative of all religions and ethnicities. This is who the incumbent PM is—pro-choice, scandal-ridden, forcing secularism on the religious, and taking funding away from university students who seek to spend their summers well. Canada, you choose.”

Well, he didn’t and now here we are: An NDP leader, leading a party that lost 15 seats, insisting Canadians have decided pro-life beliefs cannot exist in the prime minister of the country. Never mind the abortion debate—it’s closed. The election was concerning for those of faith, but we must not despair: in the same way that Scheer’s loss does not reflect general public views about Catholicism, Singh’s declaration does not accurately reflect the reason for the loss. 

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