OTTAWA (CCN)--Pro-life groups are celebrating their clout in the May 27 election of MP Andrew Scheer as leader of the Conservative Party.
At a suspenseful Tory Leadership Convention in Toronto, Scheer beat perceived front-runner Maxime Bernier by 51 to 49 per cent after 13 ballots.
Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition said the result was not a shock. “Everyone thought it was going to be Bernier or Scheer.”
“In the long run I think we’ll be better off with Scheer than with Bernier,” Gunnarson said.
The few things Bernier, a libertarian, offered social conservatives “would have petered out once he realized where he was” and listened to his “handlers,” Gunnarson said. “Andrew didn’t promise much; that’s why we didn’t support him, but he’s still a pro-life MP, so he’s certainly not going to do any damage to our cause.”
Campaign Life Coalition had only endorsed Trost and former MP Pierre Lemieux, urging supporters to only fill out two spaces on the 10-space ranked ballot. It declared all other candidates “disqualified,” including Scheer who had a perfect pro-life voting record in the House of Commons.
“In addition to congratulating Scheer on his victory, we congratulate and thank Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux who were unapologetic in their pro-life convictions, and made pro-life issues part of their leadership platforms,” said Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition. “Scheer was propelled to victory by the redistribution of the Trost votes.
Trost surprised everyone, including his supporters, by coming in fourth in a field of 13 that included former cabinet ministers.
“There is no doubt in the numbers that pro-lifers won this leadership race for Andrew Scheer,” said Right Now co-founder Scott Hayward. It was only after Lemieux dropped off that Scheer was able to “eat into Maxime’s lead.”
He got 28 per cent of Lemieux’s support and 56.5 per cent of Trost’s, Hayward said.
“I think it shows that pro-lifers were willing to use strategy and forward thinking to elect a pro-life leader who is willing to welcome social conservatives along with uniting the party,” said Alissa Golob, co-founder of Right Now.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a pro-life Catholic who worked on the Scheer campaign, said the win of the former Speaker of the House is “good news for the party, for the country and for our values.”
“Andrew’s campaign was successful because it was able to draw on the support of different kinds of conservatives,” Genuis said.
“There’s no question that when you’re running an election or for leader, or in a riding, you have to build a broad winning coalition,” Hayward said. “Conservatives right across the country need pro-lifers to be part of that coalition, when we are organized and smart when go about our business.”
Golob believes Scheer would have won by a larger margin if all pro-life voters voted for more than two candidates. “The numbers show the majority of Trost voters did not listen to the Campaign Life strategy or Brad Trost’s strategy for that matter and put Scheer on the ballot.”
“Through no fault of their own, the majority of pro-life supporters are not political,” Golob said. “They may not understand how the House of Commons works or why politicians use a particular strategy.”
Gunnarson credits the firm stands of Trost and Lemieux in bringing the other candidates and the voters further to right on socially conservative issues.
Mike Schouten, director of WeNeedaLaw.ca, said the organization knew from the final top four “the environment would be a lot more friendly to advance preborn human rights than in the Stephen Harper era.”
Ottawa pro-life activist Suzanne Fortin, a Trost supporter, urged pro-lifers “not to get too excited” about Scheer’s victory on her blog www.bigbluewave.ca.
“Expecting an Andrew Scheer government to pass abortion restrictions is somewhat pre-mature,” she wrote. “He is a step in the right direction. But he's not the pro-life Messiah that you might expect from a practicing Catholic who's the son of deacon.”
She also urged social conservatives to “hold his feet to the fire” and not “settle for nothing.”