Politics Blog: Don’t underestimate the social conservatives

Many were surprised to see Andrew Scheer win the Conservative Party leadership race in the 13th round against Maxime Bernier, the libertarian candidate everyone from pollsters to the media expected to win. Bernier would have brought a new vision to the Conservative Party, while Andrew Scheer is commonly referred to as “Harper with a smile.” So what happened on May 27, 2017?

The main mistake people made was to underestimate the social conservative wing of the party. Out of the 13 leadership candidates who stayed in the race until the very end, the social conservative candidates like Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux, campaigning against gay marriage and abortion, were often dismissed as marginal candidates who would get few votes. However, when the results came through, they did surprisingly well. How did this lead to Scheer’s victory?

The party used a preferential ballot system to pick their leader. What this means is voters ranked their choice for leader in order of preference, and when it came time to read the ballots, candidates were eliminated one by one depending on how many votes they received. If your first pick for leadership is eliminated, for the next round, your second choice is the one counted. And so, when the results were released for the first round, Bernier had a big lead on the 12 other candidates﹘however, those social conservative candidates did much better than expected.

Scheer has stated many times he will not reopen the abortion debate, however, on a personal level, he is a Catholic who holds socially conservative values. His voting record would suggest this as well. That being said, his voting record from over ten years ago certainly doesn’t reflect what he would bring forward as leader and those who suggest otherwise are trying to portray him as a radical social conservative, which is just fear-mongering.

However, Scheer’s personal beliefs definitely reassured the social conservative crowd more than Bernier, a libertarian who advocates for personal freedom above all else. He is as progressive as it gets socially. So the voters who ranked candidates like Trost and Lemieux as their first pick may very well have ranked  Scheer as their second or third choice. Once their first choices were eliminated, their votes went to Scheer, and finally, in the last round, Scheer managed to beat Bernier by less than two per cent.

Another big factor in Scheer’s victory is Bernier’s stance on abolishing supply management, which angered a lot of dairy farmers. Because of this, Bernier didn’t even win in his own rural Quebec riding of Beauce.

So perhaps the media was a little overexcited by Bernier’s drive to steer the party in a new direction, and with little caucus support compared to Scheer, it would seem MPs and Senators knew what their voters were looking for in their next leader. Perhaps having Bernier as leader could have been divisive for the party, with social conservatives no longer feeling they had a voice.