MP says so-cons should rank Pierre Poilievre as second choice. Pro-life groups disagree

Social conservatives are much more cautious about who they support, having done so for Erin O’Toole who then pushed them aside

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Will social conservatives play a role in Pierre Poilievre’s possible path to victory in the Conservative leadership race?

Tory MP Garnett Genuis, an advocate for social conservatives in the party, said he would recommend his supporters mark Leslyn Lewis – the only openly pro-life candidate in the race – as the first choice while encouraging them to rank Poilievre – who is pro- choice – second.

“Both are strong, principled conservatives and capable leaders,” he tweeted.

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While pro-life groups RightNow and Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) agree that Lewis should indeed get their members’ first vote on the ranked ballot in order to choose the next leader, they disagree on ranking Poilievre second on voting.

RightNow conducted interviews with all six candidates and assigned them scores based on their winning potential, pro-life policies, and voting record on abortion or physician-assisted dying.

Lewis managed to achieve an 80% mark, while Poilievre achieved a passing mark of 68%, largely due to his race-winning potential. Roman Baber, who managed to score more points than Poilievre on pro-life policy issues, scored 56% according to RightNow.

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The other three candidates – Jean Charest, Patrick Brown and Scott Aitchison – obtained the fewest points, varying between 30 and 39%.

Scott Hayward, co-founder of RightNow, said members shouldn’t feel pressured to follow the suggested ranking when asked to vote this summer. In fact, he heard members say they would only rank Lewis as their number one pick and no one else after that.

“Our recommended preferential ballot is just that: a recommendation,” Hayward said.

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  2. Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre speaks during the Conservative Party of Canada leadership debate in French in Laval, Quebec, May 25, 2022.

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Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for the CLC, told the National Post that his group will soon release its voter guide for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, but he could already confirm that they will definitely not recommend not that Poilievre is ranked second.

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“If social conservatives give Poilievre second place, the message it sends to Poilievre and all other establishment politicians is that they can take us for granted,” Fonseca said.

“That is precisely the wrong message to send.”

Social conservatives are far more cautious about throwing their support behind a candidate, having done so for former leader Erin O’Toole who then sidelined them. They are now asking candidates to clearly commit to defending their issues if they are elected to lead them.

In transcripts of their interviews with RightNow, most candidates pledged to let MPs introduce their own private members’ bills, as is already the case, but not all candidates pledged to let MPs vote freely on matters of conscience.

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Poilievre, Brown and Charest, in a rare moment of agreement, reiterated that their government would never introduce or pass a law banning abortion.

Lewis and Baber were fully committed to free votes on matters of conscience, even in cabinet.

“I will always support freedom of caucus and freedom of conscience. This would include members of my cabinet. Every politician should be able to vote according to their conscience, regardless of their political position,” Lewis said according to a transcript of his interview.

For some pro-life conservatives, Leslyn Lewis is the only choice for party leader.
For some pro-life conservatives, Leslyn Lewis is the only choice for party leader. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia/File

Baber drew on his own experience in Doug Ford’s government to pledge to vote freely. “I have been made to vote against my conscience several times in my career, and I will never subject anyone to this. I will allow free votes on all matters of conscience,” he said.

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The CIS said it was still evaluating Baber, who it said offered more “meaningful political commitments” than Poilievre.

Poilievre has a mixed record when it comes to conservative social issues. He has always voted against bills related to assisted dying, but voted against MP Cathay Wagantall’s private member’s bill that would have banned sex-selective abortion in 2021.

With the Supreme Court possibly overturning abortion rights in the United States, the presumed frontrunner has been pressured by his opponents – notably Lewis – to state his personal position on the issue. He had so far said he would not reopen the debate.

It wasn’t until the French debate, held last week in Quebec City, that Poilievre finally admitted that he is in fact “pro-choice.”

Hayward said there were many social conservatives who were enthusiastic about Poilievre at the start of the race in February, but many have been “turned off” by him in recent weeks due to his stance on the issue of abortion during the debates.

“I think he kind of burst the bubble, so to speak, for a lot of people who are pro-life.”

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