A speech Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer delivered in opposition to same-sex marriage 14 years ago is back in the spotlight courtesy of the Liberals, but some political observers have questioned the strategy and whether it will resonate with voters.
Liberals, however, argue Canadians should have information about a leader’s values before casting their ballots this fall.
Will the video impact the election?
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the edited video shared on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale‘s Twitter likely won’t have any impact on the Oct. 21 vote.
“People that are outraged about this are people that were intending to vote Liberal or NDP in the first place,” Wiseman told the Bill Kelly Show.
“Gay marriage isn’t the pivotal issue for almost any voter in this election,” he continued. “You won’t find someone who’s going to tell you, ‘the reason I’m voting the way I’m voting is because of this one reason.'”
However, public relations consultant Elissa Freeman suggested that such issues aren’t what the Conservatives want to be addressing this close to the election.
“The fact that this video is becoming viral is bringing up narratives that the Conservatives would rather not have at the forefront of their platform,” she told the Scott Thompson Show.
And according to Jonathan Rose, an associate professor of Canadian politics at Queen’s University, the clip is setting the stage for the campaign to come.
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“All parties need is to sow the seeds of doubt,” Rose told the Canadian Press. “This won’t cause anyone to change their mind, probably, but over time, the slow, steady drip, drip, drip of these kinds of allegations from now right to election day may have people change their minds.
“It’s the first salvo in a long, ongoing war.”
A preview of campaign strategy?
Kate Harrison, Conservative strategist and vice president of Summa Strategies, said the Liberals were trying to “pawn off” comments made 14 years ago — a move she said speaks volumes about the party’s confidence.
“I think that overall it kind of came across as very desperate for the Liberals to release this,” she said. “They’re trying to drum up a lot of these kinds of identity issues with religion, sexuality et cetera because I think that they’re not super confident in what they want to present to Canadians in terms of a plan.”
She said the Liberal party would like to frame the election around “wedge issues” such as gay marriage, abortion and perhaps immigration.
“But what we see in public opinion data is those aren’t really the top of mind concerns for a lot of Canadians,” she said.
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According to Harrison, if the Liberals do attempt to shift the conversation to those types of issues, it is important that the Conservative party address it quickly, but to also refrain from “taking the bait.”
“I think address it in the moment,” she said. “But also kind of keep your eyes on the prize in terms of that forward-looking optimistic plan that you want to provide for Canadians, because I think that’s ultimately going to be a better motivating factor for people to come out and vote.”
Amanda Alvaro, a former Liberal strategist and co-founder of the PR agency Pomp and Circumstance, said while discussions about values will be included in the Liberal campaign, they likely won’t dominate the conversation.
“There will be a lot of conversations at play. That is typical in an election campaign, and some of those will be focused around issues and policy and some will certainly be focused around values,” she said.
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Alvaro said some of these discussions, including a woman’s right to choose, same-sex marriage and religion, have been “percolating for several months” and that Canadians have a “right to know” what the views of the next potential prime minister are.
“I think that there’s a question in people’s minds that is partially related to issues that will really matter in this election like affordability and the environment and child care and straight-up values,” she said. “Is the next leader going to share the values that I share? Are they and do they feel like the kind of person who reflects the values that me and my family have?”
The timing of the video has prompted criticism, suggesting the Liberals released the footage in order to shift attention away from the ethics commissioner’s scathing report on the SNC-Lavalin affair on Aug. 14.
However, Alvaro says the video’s release was timely, considering the Pride Parade to be held in Ottawa Sunday.
“It’s very timely to be talking about same-sex marriage and we’ve been talking about SNC-Lavalin for four months now, and in the wake of those discussions we’ve also had discussions about other issues and values that are paramount to Canadians — this is among them,” she said.
“And so I think what the Conservatives should be focusing on is a direct and concrete response to their leader’s previous views and to the fact that he continues to boycott Pride in 2019.”
What did Scheer say?
In the 2005 speech recirculated on Twitter by Goodale on Thursday, a then-25-year-old Andrew Scheer addressed the House of Commons, opposing the Civil Marriage Act.
“There is nothing more important to society than the raising of children, for its very survival requires it,” Scheer said in the speech. “Homosexual unions are by nature contradictory to this.
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“There is no complementarity of the sexes,” he continued. “Two members of the same sex may use their God-given free will to engage in acts, to co-habit and to own property together. They may commit themselves to monogamy, they may pledge to remain in a loving relationship for life.”
“In that sense, they have many of the collateral features of marriage, but they do not have its inherent feature, as they cannot commit to the natural procreation of children,” he said. “They cannot, therefore, be married.”
The Civil Marriage Act vote
The 2005 Civil Marriage Act passed by a vote of 158 to 133, legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada.
Libby Davies, a former MP elected in 1997 and became the first openly gay woman in Parliament in 2001, says she remembers the vote well.
In an interview with Charles Adler Tonight, Davies said the debates in the House of Commons were “vitriolic.”
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“I remember this so well, because the leader of the NDP at that time was Jack Layton and unbelievably, Jack was criticized for saying to his caucus in the NDP that nobody could vote against the bill,” she said.
“He did not consider it a matter of conscience, he considered it a matter of human rights.”
Those who voted against the legislation included 93 Conservatives, 32 Liberals and one NDP member — who left caucus after the vote and didn’t seek re-election.
Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, who voted against the act, expressed regret on Friday.
“Of the thousands of votes that I cast in Parliament, this is the one I wish I could do over,” he wrote on Twitter. “Canada is an inclusive country where we accept everyone regardless of sexual orientation.”
Goodale himself voted in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage in 2005, but he did vote against a private member’s motion calling for the recognition of same-sex spouses in 1995.
In 1999, Goodale voted in favour of a motion saying it was necessary to state that marriage should remain between one man and one woman, and that parliament should do what it could to protect it.
What was the response?
In a tweet accompanying the video, Goodale called on Scheer to end his “lifelong boycott” of Pride events and explain whether he would “still deny same-sex couples the right to marry.”
In a statement released Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the video a “resurfacing of Andrew Scheer’s disgusting prejudice against LGBTQI2S+ people.”
“This is exactly why, if Canadians deliver a minority government in October, I will not prop up Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives,” Singh said in the statement. “We can’t trust Mr. Scheer or his caucus to champion the fundamental rights of Canadians.”
Scheer’s press secretary Daniel Schow rebuffed the release of the video.
“This is yet again another desperation tactic from Justin Trudeau on the eve of an election to distract from his record of failure and incompetence,” Schow said in a statement.
“When this vote took place a decade and a half ago, Mr. Scheer voted the way several Liberals did, including some who currently sit in the Liberal caucus and are running for re-election. Mr. Scheer supports same-sex marriage as defined in law and as Prime Minister will, of course, uphold it.”
Liberal party spokesman Parker Lund said the views of Canadians have “evolved over the years.”
“Including those of Minister Goodale, while the views of Andrew Scheer on this matter remain the same,” the statement said.
“A prime minister should stand up for all Canadians.”
Since the debates over the Civil Marriage Act, Scheer has softened his stance on same sex-marriage.
He supported a move to erase the traditional definition of marriage from the Conservative Party of Canada’s policy book at its 2016 convention, arguing Canadians already had their say in two elections where same-sex marriage was a major issue, and that it had been legal for more than a decade.
Still, the Conservatives said earlier this year he would not take part in any Pride events, and he has dodged questions about his personal beliefs.
And with the Pride Parade in Ottawa on Sunday — a week after the city’s Mayor Jim Watson came out as gay in a Ottawa Citizen opinion piece — Liberals have called on Scheer to attend.
“Mr. Scheer has been an MP for 5,533 days, but hasn’t found a single day to celebrate Pride, and thus defend EVERY Canadian’s human rights,” Goodale wrote in a tweet on Thursday. “Where better to begin than this weekend at his very own hometown Pride in Ottawa?”
— With files from the Canadian Press