Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he won’t bar his MPs from raising the issue of abortion but will oppose any attempt to reopen the debate.
Mr. Scheer spoke to reporters for the first time Thursday since questions were raised about his stance on same-sex marriage and abortion.
Last week, the Liberals circulated an edited video of Mr. Scheer arguing against the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the House of Commons in 2005. In the speech, Mr. Scheer maintains that even if same-sex marriage becomes legal, it can never truly be marriage because the couple can’t naturally procreate.
Then this week, it was reported that Mr. Scheer’s Quebec lieutenant, Conservative MP Alain Rayes, told Quebec media and candidates that the Conservatives won’t open the abortion debate if they form government, and won’t permit individual MPs to do so either – which prompted the party to correct the record.
“We operate under the same policies as the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper, which is that individual MPs have the right to express themselves on matters of conscience but that a Conservative government will not reopen these divisive social issues,” Mr. Scheer told reporters in Mississauga Thursday.
He accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “dredging up divisive social issues" in an attempt to distract from his Liberal government’s record.
“As prime minister of Canada I will govern for all Canadians," Mr. Scheer said when asked for his personal view on abortion. “Every individual Canadian has a right to their own personal convictions on any number of issues.”
“I will not reopen this debate,” he said, adding he will also “oppose” attempts by others to do so.
He called questions about whether backbench MPs would be allowed to reopen the abortion debate “hypothetical” and insisted they know his views on the matter.
Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, cabinet ministers were allowed to vote based on their personal beliefs. In 2012, for example, 10 members of cabinet voted in favour of a Conservative-led motion to study the rights of a fetus. The motion was defeated.
Mr. Scheer did not clarify whether he would force cabinet ministers to vote with him or whether they would be allowed to vote based on their personal beliefs. His office said Mr. Scheer would "expect cabinet to support the government” but declined to clarify if that means they would be forced to.
At a press conference in Surrey, B.C. shortly after, Mr. Trudeau sought to contrast his party’s stance to the Conservatives. Canadians, Mr. Trudeau said, “know and can rely on” the fact that all members of his party will "unequivocally support women’s rights.”
Asked Thursday whether he regrets his 2005 speech rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, Mr. Scheer didn’t answer, and instead said “the issue is settled.”
“My personal views are that all Canadians have inherent dignity, all human beings have inherent dignity and worth, and I will always support equality rights for all Canadians, including LGBT Canadians,” Mr. Scheer said.
“Today it is the law of the land and I will always uphold that law.”
Mr. Scheer said he can be “very, very clear” that “there would not be attempts to revisit that issue.”
Mr. Trudeau accused the Conservative Leader of “reluctantly” supporting same-sex marriage “because it’s the law.”
The NDP supports same-sex marriage and abortion and said it would whip all votes on the issues.
The Green Party says its policy is to not whip votes, but Leader Elizabeth May has said she supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.