Scheer’s election as Conservative leader cheered by anti-abortion groups

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OTTAWA—The election of Andrew Scheer, an avowedly anti-abortion Conservative Party leader, has cheered and emboldened anti-abortion groups who say his victory shows the growing strength of the social conservative wing of the party.

“This is what happens when pro-lifers do politics right,” said Scott Hayward, co-founder of RightNow, on his Facebook page.

Scheer campaigned on a promise to allow backbench MPs to bring forward private member’s bills that could potentially reopen the abortion debate but, like predecessor Stephen Harper, he said if a Conservative government was elected, he would not introduce government-sponsored legislation.

That was enough to make Scheer the go-to candidate as other more staunchly anti-abortion candidates dropped off, say anti-abortion campaigners.

Three anti-abortion groups told the Star they sold thousands of Conservative party membership cards, by their count perhaps as many as 18,000, hoping to affect the outcome.

Some, like Campaign Life Coalition, told supporters to vote for Scheer’s rivals Brad Trost or Pierre Lemieux. RightNow backed Scheer as a second choice to Lemieux based in part on an assessment of his “winnability.”

All said, it’s clear that the swing of social conservative voters pushed Scheer past top contender Maxime Bernier on the 13th and final ballot count.

RightNow established itself last year as a political action committee for the anti-abortion movement, seeking to promote anti-abortion activists at local riding, provincial and federal levels, to nominate more anti-abortion candidates and to elect more anti-abortion legislators.

“So having a pro-life leader who will respect the democratic process internally within the party does help us so we can win those nominations in 2019.”

While the overarching goal for many social conservatives would be a criminal code amendment to ban abortion, RightNow is aiming at other legislative changes that it says already have a measure of popular support: a late-term abortion ban; increased punishments for crimes against a pregnant woman where the fetus is harmed; a ban on gender-selective abortions; measures to require parental consent for pregnant teenagers to have an abortion; mandatory ultrasound scans provided to women before an abortion is performed; or the elimination of abortion as a provincially funded health care service.

RightNow sold about 5,000 membership cards, and concentrated on low-membership ridings where each vote could carry a lot of weight, said Hayward.

Campaign Life Coalition says it sold more than 11,000 memberships to supporters in every province and territory, covering 303 ridings, and “ran a strong get-out-the-vote campaign.”

In a written statement it boasted that Trost and Lemieux “finished in fourth and seventh” place respectively and Scheer won in a clear demonstration of “the strength of the social conservative movement and importance of pro-life and pro-family voters.”

Another group, the Institute for Canadian Values, said it sold “thousands of memberships” — but Dr. Charles McVety said he did not want to reveal exact numbers.

Campaign Life coalition made clear it intends to keep up the pressure on Scheer. Spokesperson Johanne Brownrigg said in an interview that while it did not endorse Scheer, Campaign Life “looks forward to working with him” and sees him “as a man of integrity, who will be true to his word.”

“He has promised to allow backbench MPs to bring forth legislation” on support for paternal and maternity leave and on abortion “when the time is right for the party and for the government,” she said. Brownrigg said it’s important for legislation to be put to debate because the discussion helps to “shape the culture” which in turn “shapes the law.”

The group also disagreed with Scheer’s comment in a televised interview in which he apparently suggested that anti-abortion legislation would not survive a constitutional challenge.

Charles McVety, the evangelical head of Canada Christian College and the Institute for Canadian Values, said in an interview he expects Scheer to live up to his promises and hopes he will champion other issues dear to social conservatives, such as free speech. McVety referred specifically to Liberal government efforts to clamp down on what it called Islamaphobia as unacceptable limits on free speech.

McVety said Scheer may have been the third choice of many social conservatives, but there is “absolutely no question” he finally won due to their support. Further, he said, Bernier’s support for “LGB Tories” hurt him.

“I frankly think that he (Bernier) would be leader today,” said McVety if Bernier had not marched in last year’s Pride Parade. McVety praised Scheer as someone who can be expected to keep his word.

“We’re excited that a man of his conviction is leading the party, and we don’t expect him to pull a Patrick Brown on us,” said McVety, referring to the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader’s reversal on updating sex education curriculum in schools.

“He (Brown) betrayed us of course, and went against us and announced that we’re not even welcome in the party when we’re the ones who put him in the party.”

McVety said other conservative leaders like Jim Prentice in Alberta, Tim Hudak and Ernie Eves in Ontario, and Stephen Harper federally, tried to water down policies in search of broader electoral support, and divided their parties.