In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Kenney was asked about Scheer’s refusal to answer when a reporter put that question to him last week, following Scheer’s first caucus meeting with new and defeated Tory MPs since last month’s election.
It’s a question all the other federal leaders have since said “no” to in remarks to Global News.
But Scheer’s refusal to give a definitive yes or no answer comes on the heels of an election loss that has raised repeated questions from both pollsters and those within his own party, asking whether Scheer’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage is out of touch with the majority of Canadians.
“Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked this week about whether he believes it’s a sin to be gay. He wouldn’t answer that question,” Stephenson said to Kenney. “Do you think that we have a right to expect our political leaders to answer those kinds of questions clearly in 2019?”
“I don’t think Canadians want religious tests to be applied to people in public life,” Kenney responded.
“We’re a pluralistic society and there are folks of many faiths and no faiths who run for public life and I don’t think we want to get into a sort of doctrinal debate about what their faith traditions are. What leaders and legislators owe the public is to focus on the public good, a belief in human dignity for all and equality for all before the law.
“Those are values I think we share — across all and no faith traditions — that we should stay focused on in our pluralistic democracy.”
“But should you be able to articulate what your personal beliefs are? Because he wouldn’t even say that,” Stephenson asked him in response.
“Where does that end?” Kenney said back.
“Those are pretty universal Canadian values.”
Critics of Kenney have for years accused him of attacks on gay rights going back decades, pointing to his lobbying efforts as a student in San Francisco during the 1980s to overturn a California law during the AIDS epidemic that extended hospital visitation rights to gay couples. They also cited his government’s passage of a bill that removed some protections for gay-straight alliances in schools.
Kenney has said he regrets his work trying to overturn those hospital visitation rights and pointed to his support for a motion at the 2016 Conservative party national convention that removed an affirmation of the traditional definition of marriage from party policy.
Scheer’s socially conservative views first came under scrutiny in force when he ran for the leadership of the party, but most recently in the context of his election loss, after which voters returned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to power — albeit with a reduced minority mandate.
The Liberals frequently attacked Scheer, posting a clip of him speaking in the House of Commons. In that clip, he said calling a marriage between same-sex couples a real marriage was akin to calling a dog’s tail its leg.
Peter MacKay, former leader of the Progressive Conservative party and a former Tory MP, likened Scheer’s position on same-sex marriage and abortion, which he opposes, to a “stinking albatross” that the Liberals were able to hang around his neck during the campaign.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also said last month that in his view, “you cannot have Mr. Scheer’s beliefs and be Prime Minister of Canada.”
Scheer insisted in post-election interviews with Global News and the Canadian Press that he will never march in a Pride parade and that someone with his views can still be prime minister of the country. However, multiple former candidates and party insiders have pointed directly to his views as the reason the party failed to pick up crucial seats in the Greater Toronto Area and Quebec, which are necessary in order to form government.
Conservative members will decide in April 2020 whether Scheer should remain leader.