This past Saturday Andrew Scheer narrowly won the leadership of the Conservative Party. Depending on who you speak to, Scheer was either propelled to the top by staunch social conservatives who will be looking to cash in their favours imminently, or Scheer is the one true Conservative capable of bringing together different factions of the party under the same banner.
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Both statements can obviously be true, but both small-c and capital-C conservatives are bristling at the notion that Scheer’s social conservatism would even be an issue given the fact that as a devout Catholic any attack on his stated beliefs or voting record is tantamount to a direct attack on his religion.
Former communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Andrew MacDougall, wrote a piece recently for the Globe and Mail and even went so far as to accuse the Liberals of anti-Christian, anti-white male bias. MacDougall also made the point that Scheer’s voting record is because of his faith stating, “…to Mr. Scheer’s voting record supporting his Catholic beliefs: pro-traditional marriage and life, and opposition to transgender rights.”
I must have missed the part of the Bible that rails against granting protections for one of the most marginalized and discriminated groups in our society, but OK.
What conservative commentators like MacDougall are essentially saying is that religious people are incapable of separating themselves from their religion at any given point, which is incredibly insulting to anyone of faith, and is also demonstrably false. Imagine if all religious people guided themselves professionally on the basis of their faith and not of their education and profession.
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Would anyone go to a doctor of anyone of the three major religions if it meant that those physicians believed in creationism over evolution, and refused to acknowledge the way bacteria and viruses evolve?
Similarly, would anyone want to be represented by a lawyer in the family court system whose religion prohibited divorce? Last I checked there wasn’t an onslaught of physicians getting held up in court for medical liability for committing blatant malpractice by refusing to treat a strain of bacteria that had evolved counter to their religious teachings or lawyers losing their legal licenses because they let their religion come in the way of their commitment to their client.
There’s also the example of NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh, who is a devout Sikh. Other than racists and staunch secularists who feel uncomfortable with a brown man in a turban, the difference in the public’s concern over any social conservatism emanating from Singh is palpable.
And no, this isn’t “anti-Christian” or “white male” bias as MacDougall and others have suggested, but because of the fact that Singh is fully committed to civil rights issues, and his statements and voting record reflect this. Singh is clearly able to differentiate between how his faith shapes his private life and how he lets it influence his role as a legislator.
Criticism of Scheer is not based on his Catholicism, but his voting record and his own statements. It’s fair to say that the criticism of Scheer will ultimately be rendered moot, as he himself has stated that he is apparently able to separate himself from his religion in order to move the party forward and ultimately be viable to win the next election. Indeed, Scheer has asserted that he has no interest in re-opening civil rights issues such as marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.
While it’s all well and good to say you won’t open up civil rights issues that go against your own religious beliefs, the Canadian public has no reason to trust Andrew Scheer beyond his own voting record and public statements. As such, I don’t fault those in the LGBTQ community for feeling weary about a guy who in the last few months voted against expanding federal protections to the transgender community and stated in an interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton that he had his own personal view when it came to marriage equality.
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Nor do I fault any person who believes that women should have dominion over their own bodies for feeling like Scheer at the helm of the party means once again that female bodily autonomy is up for debate and discussion. After all, while Scheer himself was absent from the March For Life rally, an anti-choice gathering on Parliament Hill, he had a representative read out a statement on his behalf in order to solidify his bona fides as a social conservative.
Attacking Scheer for his Catholicism just simply isn’t happening. It does, however, happen quite regularly to our prime minister who is constantly pilloried by the right for not being religiously dogmatic enough in his own Catholic beliefs; that somehow being staunchly pro-choice and for demanding that his caucus vote along the party’s stated line on abortion means that the prime minister is a hypocrite.
Scheer is free to believe whatever he chooses, and our own laws and jurisprudence recognize the fundamental nature of being able to practice one’s religion however they see fit. That doesn’t mean Canadians can’t question how he will govern his party – and if he gets the chance – the country, based on how he has voted or what he has said. That’s not attacking his faith, that’s attacking his record.