Activists measure political candidates on 'winnability' as well as pro-life stance
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: Right Now co-founders Scott Hayward and Alissa Golob released their ranked ballot to coincide with the Manning Centre Conference that draws conservatives from across the country. They sponsored a hospitality suite during the conference.
For Right Now, a new group of pro-life activists, “winnability” matters as much as pro-life credentials in the upcoming Conservative leadership race.
“We have to elect someone who is both pro-life and able to win in a federal election against Justin Trudeau and the Liberals,” said Right Now co-founder and president Scott Hayward.
On Feb. 24, Right Now released a ranked ballot similar to the one Conservative Party members will have when they vote in May for a new leader to replace Stephen Harper.
With 14 candidates in the race now that television celebrity and businessman Kevin O’Leary has entered, Right Now is urging voters to rank 10 of the 14 candidates and not focus solely on one or two.
Right Now’s top three slots went to known socially conservative candidates: 1) former MP Pierre Lemieux, 2) former Speaker of the House MP Andrew Scheer, and 3) MP Brad Trost, all of whom had perfect pro-life voting records in the House of Commons.
“We interviewed as many candidates as we possibly could have,” said Hayward. “We went through their voting records in the House of Commons on abortion and euthanasia bills and motions, as well as (taking) into account their winnability.”
Alissa Golob, Right Now’s co-founder and executive director, stressed the importance of voting candidates who may not have a perfect pro-life record but would respect conscience rights and free votes.
“You obviously want to have someone who is more open and sympathetic to the pro-life cause than someone like Kevin O’Leary who says the party would be 100 per cent in favor of reproductive rights moving forward.”
Golob stressed the importance of voting strategically.
“Do we always want to be backing candidates that don’t have a chance of winning, but still bring up the issues, which is also important?” she asked. “Or do we also want to support candidates who have a chance at winning, who will allow votes to be brought forward and be passed in the future?”
“Every single time a motion or a bill has been brought forward in the House of Commons it has not passed,” Golob said. So if a government puts forward a bill that won’t pass, “it looks really bad on them and it looks really bad on us and it doesn’t actually do anything to decrease the numbers [of abortions].
“It doesn’t matter if a leader brings forth a government bill or a back bencher brings forth a bill,” Golob said. “What matters is if there are enough bodies in the House of Commons to stand up and vote for it.”
Right Now ranks the remaining candidates as follows: 4) MP Erin O’Toole; 5) former public safety minister MP Stephen Blaney; 6) former industry minister MP Maxime Bernier; 7) former foreign affairs Parliamentary secretary MP Deepak Obrhai 8) former labor minister MP Kellie Leitch; 9) former intergovernmental affairs minister MP Michael Chong; and 10) former immigration minister Chris Alexander. The ranked ballot and the interview transcripts can be viewed at itstartsrightnow.ca.
Right Now differs from Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) in its ranking of Andrew Scheer, who dismayed some pro-life activists after his leadership launch when he said he would not introduce government bills on abortion if he becomes prime minister, but would instead focus on issues that unite the party.
“For the time being at least, CLC is restricting its leadership race support to only Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux,” says its page ranking MPs according to their House of Commons voting records. “Although we have great admiration for Andrew's perfect voting record, his recent comments require us to pause and re-evaluate.”
Scheer, however, like several other candidates, among them Bernier, Chong, and Blaney, has promised to respect private member’s business and the rights of MPs to vote their consciences.
CLC’s Ottawa lobbyist Johanne Brownrigg said her organization will give more detailed advice to its members closer to the leadership vote in May.
“Our work remains the same as it has for the past several months,” she said. “Now is the time to encourage pro-lifers from 14 and up to purchase memberships.”
She said CLC will come out with detailed advice for voters in April.
“Two of those candidates have made abortion and euthanasia part of their talking points and platform: Trost and Lemieux,” she said. “Scheer has chosen not to approach these issues while being personally a strong pro-life man.”
Maxime Bernier “has continued to climb in my estimation in that he said he would handle abortion and euthanasia in the same manner as Scheer,” she said. “Neither would prevent a pro-life MP from bringing forth a bill or motion.”
Brownrigg said Sheer has “by far the most MP support within the Party, but what is less known is that there are solid pro-life MPs who support Bernier,” she said. “I find that interesting.
“What has not changed for me is that Kevin O’Leary would be a disaster for socons but also for the conservative movement,” she said.
Since O’Leary joined the race, polls have consistently showed him in top place. A recent iPolitics Mainstreet Research poll of Conservative Party members conducted Feb. 13-17 shows the top three – O’Leary (with 20.98 per cent), Leitch (16.2 per cent) and Bernier (15.3 per cent) – have seen their support decline somewhat, while Scheer has doubled his, to move into fourth place with 9.9 per cent. The poll surveyed 1,895 Conservative Party members and has a 2.24 margin of error 19 times out of 20.