Andrew Scheer walks thin line on abortion and residential schools controversies

The Conservative leader has looked indecisive in dealing with the public backlash over Lynn Beyak and Rachael Harder storms, but the degree of nativist feeling among his base is far greater than we think

Political commentators have been stunned by what they see as Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer’s incompetence and dithering in his handling of recent controversies. 

Last week, it was his defence of MP Rachael Harder as his nominee to chair the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Harder is opposed to abortion legislation and a woman’s right to choose. Harder lost her bid this week for status of women chair. It was, at first glance, a bizarre and absurdly provocative move. 

Before Harder, Scheer took his sweet time to condemn Conservative senator Lynn Beyak’s ahistorical and vile comments on residential school survivors. Beyak defended “well-intentioned” teachers at residential schools, and wrote that Indigenous peoples should become Canadian citizens and promote their culture “on their own dime, on their own time.”

Scheer’s predecessor Stephen Harper made some appalling appointments to create a Conservative majority in the Senate. Before her appointment, Beyak’s time in politics was mostly spent failing to win a seat for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in both the 1995 and 1999 provincial elections. 

Scheer did eventually distance the party from Beyak’s remarks, removing her from all Senate committees, although she remains in caucus.

But is Beyak a fringe player or a trial balloon in Scheer’s plans? And is Harder a mistaken appointment or a calculated risk? 

Scheer has looked indecisive, as he did earlier this summer over Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media and its sympathetic coverage of the Unite The Right alt-right chaos in Charlottesville. Most responsible conservatives quickly made their disgust well known when Rebel host Faith Goldy appeared in an interview with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to “salute” the conduct of white supremacists at the rally. But Scheer was reluctant to condemn Canada’s version of Breitbart News.

While most of us are appalled by the Rebel, find Beyak to be an embarrassment and think it obscene that someone who opposes women’s rights should lead a committee on women’s rights, Scheer’s base positively adores this stuff.

The degree of nativist feeling among Conservative voters is far greater than we think. 

Beyak spoke the way she did because it’s precisely what she thinks, and while Scheer may well have a more sophisticated understanding of the cultural genocide that took place in this country, he appreciates the enormous resonance this cruel nonsense has with those who voted him into leadership.

Scheer delayed his criticism of the Rebel for as long as possible because he hoped the controversy would evaporate. And people who support the Rebel are Scheer’s constituency, his voters. 

As for his direct promotion of Harder, Scheer is a conservative Roman Catholic who is a committed opponent of abortion. 

He has said that he will not reopen debate on the subject but there’s a political dichotomy at play. 

If the Conservatives are to win the next election, they will have to mobilize a large constituency that feels that Justin Trudeau, “special interest groups,” the mainstream media, intrusive government and an Ottawa- and Toronto-based elite have stolen the authentic Canadian voice. 

The plan for Scheer’s victory is the mobilization of Don Cherry types: the good-old-boy reactionaries who escape harsher descriptions because they laugh a lot and speak fondly of small towns, hockey and old Canadian values.

Scratch away at the surface, however, and you’ll find a view of foreigners, natives, gays and liberals who defend abortion rights that is also held by the people who projected Donald Trump to power. | @nowtoronto

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