The Social Conservative Lie

June 1st, 2017 | R. Rados

Social conservatives voted for Andrew Scheer in the Conservative leadership race. What they didn't do was push Andrew Scheer over the 50% that's required to win leadership. The Liberals, media and some Maxime Bernier supporters want us to believe that social conservatives are the only reason Andrew Scheer won. They're wrong and their math doesn't add up.

The reason they want us to believe that social conservatives put Andrew Scheer over the edge is simple. For the Liberals, the myth is important in painting Andrew Scheer as a regressive, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-woman leader. For Bernier supporters, it's just another excuse for losing.

Social conservatives are an important segment of the Conservative Party, despite being demonized by members of their own party. They undoubtedly played a role in the leadership race, and they had every right to. Without them, the Conservative Party would never win. Aside from some of their contentious positions on marriage and abortion, social conservative values are an integral part of conservatism. If you believe children should abstain from sex and alcohol consumption, you hold social conservative values. If you believe that child rapists and murderers should face tougher punishments, congrats, you have socially conservative values.

Despite making up an important portion of the party, social conservatives did not push Andrew Scheer over the edge. To most social conservatives, Andrew Scheer wasn't even a first choice. Had Scheer not been in the race, they would have voted for someone else. Had they all unified under Andrew Scheer in the beginning, Scheer would have held a lead on earlier ballots. The narrative suggesting that Scheer won because of social conservatives is overblown. Scheer rallied support from libertarians, moderates, progressives and social conservatives—the way a real Conservative leader is supposed to.

It's impossible to win the Conservative leadership by exclusively appealing to so-cons, but it's also difficult to win by alienating them. Andrew Scheer struck a perfect balance and won by taking a sizable share from every faction. To suggest that social conservatives are the only reason Scheer won is stupid and factually incorrect. Not only does it exhibit complete political illiteracy, it exhibits a complete failure in mathematical logic.

The Math

Brad Trost defied all predictions by coming in fourth and lasting more ballots than anyone could have imagined. Pierre Lemieux, the other social conservative, scored more than 7% of the vote on the first ballot and lasted more rounds than Lisa Raitt. Combined, the social conservative vote on the first ballot surpassed 15%.

The Liberal math goes wrong when it attempts to say that the Conservative Party's trove of social conservatives put Andrew Scheer over the edge. Of course they ranked Andrew Scheer highly, but many of them didn't make Scheer their first choice.

The fact is that by the time Brad Trost's and Pierre Lemieux's numbers were factored in, Andrew Scheer was still trailing Maxime Bernier by 2%. After all of the proven social conservative votes were tallied, Maxime Bernier was still in the lead.

Round 12:

Bernier 40%

Scheer 38%

O'Toole 21%

It's unlikely that the Conservative Party's social conservative base grew more than its libertarian base in this leadership race. Both Kevin O'Leary and Maxime Bernier sold more memberships than all of the socially conservative candidates combined. It might even be fair to say that many of the party's newer and younger members are what gave Maxime Bernier most of his 49%.

Those evil social conservatives that both Bernier supporters and Liberals are trying to blame were vastly out-numbered by moderate and progressive party members, so how the heck did Maxime Bernier lose?

The Inevitable Scheer Vote

A majority of the Conservative Party's social conservative votes were destined to end up going to Andrew Scheer in a ranked ballot. Anyone who thought Maxime Bernier was going to get more than a tiny fraction of the so-con vote shouldn't be advising any future Conservative campaigns. Even though Bernier said he would allow Tory MPs to vote their conscience and possibly re-open the abortion debate, he had no chance of gaining the social conservative vote—especially after rallying to redefine marriage at the 2016 convention and stacking his campaign team with pro-choice libertarians and progressives. Had Bernier been able to win more than a minuscule fraction of so-cons, he might have won.

Most social conservatives didn't rank Andrew Scheer as their first choice. Brad Trost's campaign even went as far as instructing supporters to only rank Brad Trost and no one else. This stems from a bizarre and long-standing rivalry between Trost and Scheer.

Through the process of elimination, social conservatives had only one choice left following the elimination of Lemieux and Trost. Again, once the Trost and Lemieux votes were reallocated, Andrew Scheer was still behind Maxime Bernier in round 12. The party's libertarian, progressive and moderate factions had mostly been dispersed and reallocated under Bernier and O'Toole, but also under Scheer. After all of that, Bernier managed to hold his lead.

Scheer wasn't the top choice for social conservatives and the party's so-con base was no more or less powerful this time than it was in the past. Scheer appealed to moderates, libertarians and progressive Conservatives alike. Unlike Bernier, he had a bigger tent that made social conservatives feel more comfortable.

Without social conservatives, the Conservative Party would lose perpetually. Like all of the other facets in the party, so-cons are an essential piece of the Conservative framework that need to be accepted and respected. Andrew Scheer knows that. So-cons would have voted no matter what and—without Scheer—they may have chosen someone far less palatable to the general public.

Since we've determined that social conservatives were vastly outnumbered and that Scheer also grabbed a healthy portion of moderates, libertarians and progressives, we're getting a bit closer to finding out why Andrew Scheer won and Maxime Bernier didn't.

The O'Toole Split

Had Erin O'Toole's votes split evenly down the middle, Maxime Bernier would have won. To win, Andrew Scheer needed 55% or more of Erin O'Toole's votes—which is what he got. Since Erin O'Toole wasn't a favourite among social conservatives, it's fair to say that the so-cons were no longer a major factor by the final ballot.

To be precise, about 60% of Erin O'Toole's votes went to Andrew Scheer. O'Toole finished with 21% and—by the final ballot—Scheer had 50.95%. 13% is roughly 60% of 21%, which is what Andrew Scheer gained from O'Toole's votes. If Erin O'Toole wasn't a candidate, his votes would have put Andrew Scheer ahead on earlier ballots.

The bottom line is that Maxime Bernier had Andrew Scheer beat until the O'Toole votes were counted. So what put Andrew Scheer over the edge?

Supply Management

For Maxime Bernier, supply management was a double-edged sword. It was what made him a warrior among libertarians and a hero among free-market conservatives, but it was also what cost him the leadership. How do we know?

No one rallied as hard against Maxime Bernier's stance on supply management as Erin O'Toole. Yes, pretty much every other candidate took jabs at Bernier's position, but no one fought as hard to appeal to, or defend, the rural voters who supported supply management. Much of O'Toole's late surge in mid-April could even be attributed to the several Facebook posts and campaign events that took pointed and direct shots at Maxime Bernier's position. If you don't believe me, watch some O'Toole campaign speeches from April and scroll through his Facebook page.

A majority of the Conservative caucus is in favour of supply management and no motion to scrap supply management even made it to the table at the party's 2016 convention. The truth is that a slim majority of Conservative members support supply management. Regardless of how we feel, those are the facts. That slim majority refused to give Bernier the win.

The Status Quo

The first complaint from Bernier supporters is one about keeping the Conservative Party's status quo intact under Andrew Scheer. Bernier's supporters are disappointed that their party didn't choose a dramatically new direction that may have alienated segments of the party and that most Canadians would have rejected.

Canada isn't an inherently conservative or economically libertarian country and Stephen Harper knew it. Andrew Scheer embraced his “Harper 2.0” moniker because it worked. Stephen Harper kept conservatives united and he knew what the general population would and wouldn't accept. By electing Andrew Scheer, Conservatives chose to stay the course that was set out by Stephen Harper and that's not terrible. Harper's approach was slow, steady and painfully incremental at times—but it worked. His government blew a lot of opportunities, but that's something Andrew Scheer has hopefully learned from.

After all of it, Harper's Conservatives only lost about 200,000 votes from 2011. Through all of the media bias, fake scandals and Harper derangement, the Conservative Party's base was still strong and stable in 2015. To risk it all by changing course would be foolish.

Conservative Culture

The next step in building conservatism in Canada involves building a conservative culture. I wrote about this last month. Conservatives in Canada have been paddling against the waves and climbing uphill against a liberal culture. To make progress, Andrew Scheer will need to succeed in all the ways Stephen Harper didn't.

Conservatives will have to do better than four-year majorities. To slowly introduce Canadians to fiscal conservatism, smaller government and conservative values, we'll need a friendly face and time. The time can be bought by a leader who fights the media bias, the Liberal attacks and the leftist smears with a smile and a joke. Time will be bought by a leader who presents conservative values positively without apologizing.

Stephen Harper was an economic libertarian and a social conservative, just like Andrew Scheer. His personal views never impeded his leadership, just as Andrew Scheer's won't. Stephen Harper never opened the abortion debate or took a stand against supply management because he knew it would tear the party apart. Like Scheer will, Harper put aside his personal views to slowly and painstakingly inject conservatism into Canada's bloodstream. Harper chose unity and longevity over ideology. Like Harper, Scheer understands that the Conservative Party is Canada's last bastion of conservatism. Without it, conservatism stands no chance.

If we choose to bicker over ideology now, we'll lose later. If we choose to be patient and let conservative values slowly take hold now, a person like Maxime Bernier might win with ease in the future.