National Post Barbara Kay: Social conservatives need to find common ground

National Post - Wednesday February 26th, 2020

Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis

Leslyn Lewis is an interesting newcomer to the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Superficially, she’s a contemporary dream candidate: a female black immigrant and a single mom who struggled her way out of poverty to earn a PhD in international law and build up a law practice in Toronto.

She’s fairly inexperienced politically — she ran for the Conservatives once, in 2015, and lost — but Canadians have been known to take a chance on a fresh face if they like the cut of the candidate’s jib in other respects.

If only she could have channelled all these intersectionality points into the correct political conduit, she might have soared high. But alas, Lewis is a social conservative, endorsed by Campaign Life Coalition and evangelical Christian Charles McVety, who called Lewis a “breath of fresh air” for her pro-life and traditional marriage views.

Well, Lewis might be a breath of fresh air to him, but McVety’s endorsement is the kiss of political death to her.

Social conservatives obviously have the right to translate their passionately held beliefs into political influence any legal way they can. But they are wasting their time if they think the Conservative party is going to make the mistake of choosing another socially conservative candidate as its leader.

Social conservatives should face up to reality rather than die on this hill.

Since 2016, Conservative policy has been one of official neutrality on same-sex marriage. Before that, it endorsed the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The change in policy reflects the acknowledgement that certain cultural ships have sailed in our era, and they aren’t returning to port.

A recent Globe and Mail Nanos poll of 1,003 Canadians, who were surveyed at the end of January, tells the story. The “ideal” Conservative leader, say a third of those polled who identity as conservative, want more fiscal conservatism and less social conservatism. Only 15 per cent want a “very socially conservative” leader. Another third wanted a leader who is “neutral” on social issues.

According to Nik Nanos, the founder of the eponymous polling company, the data shows that the Conservatives have to be “very careful” about possible perceptions that the party is veering more conservative socially. He said it is a “tried and true Liberal trap” to draw the leader out on social issues that most Canadians consider settled. No kidding. What happened to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wasn’t pretty. And it could happen again to any other social-conservative candidate. Which is why Lewis hasn’t got a hope in this race.

The hard truth for older social conservatives is that younger conservatives who have grown up with progressive social values as the cultural norm exhibit far more accommodating attitudes to core social issues than their elders. In the U.S., for example, 59 per cent of Republicans under 30 believe legalizing same-sex marriage is good for society, as compared to 27 per cent of Republicans 65 and older.

Alberta Conservative MP Garnett Genuis is the public face of this trend in Canada. Genuis is a pro-life Catholic and the father of four young children. It is unlikely that Genuis believes in his heart that gay marriage is an equally desirable foundation for the establishment of a family as heterosexual marriage. But he also understands that politics is the art of the possible.

Canada’s Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer speaks during Question Period at the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Feb. 4, 2020. Blair Gable/Reuters

So he is urging the party to concentrate on “family” values, without singling out heterosexual families for special favour. Genuis stated in an interview with the National Post that Conservatives “can, in a pluralistic society, still contend that family is the cornerstone of a strong society, without prescribing a single template. We can be a pro-family party in a pluralistic society.”

Many social conservatives feel betrayed by Genuis. Jack Fonseca, the director of political operations at Campaign Life Coalition, expressed contempt for Genuis’ “wrong adjective.” Canada “is not a ‘pluralistic’ society, but rather a ‘hedonistic’ society that’s heading toward collapse, precisely because it has turned its back on the laws of God,” he told LifeSite News.

Belittling Genuis’ sincere attempt to throw a political lifeline to social conservatives won’t go over well with any Canadians who aren’t already members of Fonseca’s shrinking demographic choir. Personally, I think Genuis has come up with the best possible bridge the party can hope for, if it expects to find traction amongst millennials and those who follow them.

Social conservatives should face up to reality rather than die on this hill — which they will, if present cultural trends continue, dragging the party’s fortunes down with them. One thing mainstream conservatives and social conservatives do share is deep frustration and anger over progressive policies that compel or suppress freedom of speech in the public forum, a trend that affects social conservatives disproportionately. Their best hope, and the smartest strategy, is to champion the leader who they consider to be principled and forceful enough to reverse the corrosive effects of cancel culture on our nation.

National Post