Pierre Poilievre’s landslide victory as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada raises questions about the status and power of the party’s social conservatives.
This well-mobilized section of the party base played an important role in helping former leaders rise to power, with some calling them “kingmakers”.
In the 2020 leadership race, former leader Erin O’Toole directly called out social conservatives – broadly defined as those whose politics are informed by religious values, a belief in family and an opposition to abortion – to choose it in the party ranking. ballot.
Andrew Scheer, who holds such views himself, was propelled to victory in the crowded 2017 race thanks to votes that occurred after other social-conservative candidates were knocked out of the race.
But Poilievre is different. The 43-year-old longtime MP won the first round of voting with almost 70% of the vote.
Michael Diamond, a Conservative campaign strategist, said Poilievre won by appealing to many party interests at once through a broader message, rather than courting specific groups through appeals. direct policies.
Well, Diamond said, “He’s his own man.”
Former Tory MP Brad Trost ran as a social conservative and came fourth in the 2017 race. other contenders, helped Scheer to a narrow victory.
Trost said that while Poilievre’s win will prompt differing opinions about what it means for the role of social conservatives going forward, he thinks the relationship may have become less complicated.
Trost said social-conservative voters worried that Scheer and O’Toole would renege on leadership campaign promises once in office, and focused on appealing to Canadians more broadly.
O’Toole, for example, became angry for abandoning a promise he made to protect the conscience rights of nurses and doctors when it came to referring patients to services with which they disagreed, such as abortion, sex reassignment surgery, or medical assistance in dying.
But because Poilievre hasn’t made specific promises, Trost said social conservatives aren’t worried about the disappointment.
“Pierre is neither a social conservative nor an anti-social conservative,” Trost said. “He’s a political pragmatist who sits on the right of our party, and I think that makes the relationship clearer.”
During the race, Poilievre vowed not to reopen the abortion debate but to continue allowing his party’s caucus to have free votes on matters of conscience.
Trost added that there were social-conservative members in Poilievre’s leadership organization, including former cabinet minister Gail Shea as well as current MPs John Williamson and Kelly Block.
Still, Poilievre was not the best candidate for two anti-abortion organizations that encouraged supporters to buy memberships to help choose the next leader.
RightNow and Campaign Life Coalition supported Leslyn Lewis, who was the only candidate to promise some restrictions on abortion.
To the surprise of many, Lewis only got around 9% support from party members, ranking third.
She entered the contest as a rookie MP thanks to the popularity she gained in the 2020 contest, where she placed third but won Saskatchewan.
This time around she took on the juggernaut that was Poilievre, who many MPs said had a similar appeal but with a much wider profile and more experience in Parliament.
Steve Outhouse, Lewis’s campaign manager, said the contest was unique because worries about COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates played a big role, especially in conservative social circles, in some cases overshadowing their feelings towards the ‘abortion.
He said many voting members were directly affected by pandemic-related policies and felt the government had abused personal medical decisions.
“Freedom was a big issue for them this voting cycle,” Outhouse said.
“Pierre was very strong on these issues, and clearly a number of social conservatives felt comfortable voting with Mr. Poilievre.”
Lewis also campaigned against COVID-19 health measures, but Poilievre outscored her and every other candidate in party memberships.
Despite the appearance of Lewis’ results, Outhouse said she had made improvements from 2020. Her campaign said she gained more support in the first round, raised more money and won approval two other deputies.
Campaign Life Coalition and RightNow, the groups that have backed her, said Poilievre should choose Lewis to play a prominent critical role as a sign of respect for the social conservative wing of that party.
Diamond said that with his resounding victory, Poilievre already had the respect of the coalition.
“He is free to put together the team he wants.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 14, 2022.