In a recent opinion piece, National Post columnist John Ivison encouraged Andrew Scheer to directly confront those trying to portray him as an ultra-conservative Catholic harbouring a secret agenda to ban abortion and curb LGBTQ rights.
Ivison suggested Scheer adopt the strategy used by John F. Kennedy during the 1960 election campaign. Trying to reassure voters that his Catholic faith would not dictate his policies, Kennedy addressed the issue head on during a speech to Protestant faith leaders.
What might such a speech by Andrew Scheer sound like?
As a Roman Catholic, ex-politician, who studies faith and politics at a Canadian university, I thought I would try my hand at drafting some ideas for Mr. Scheer.
Despite my Liberal affiliation, I hope he finds it helpful:
“I realize that speaking about my religious beliefs in the heat of a political campaign carries some risks. However, my faith is too important for me to remain silent on a question that is distracting Canadians from the real issues of this election.
I am a devout Roman Catholic and my faith defines me. In fact, it was the Catholic call for social justice that was at the heart of my decision to serve the public as a member of parliament.
I am not alone as a party leader who sees faith as a defining part of their identity. Our Prime Minister proudly shares my Roman Catholic faith while my fellow opposition party leaders, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May, have both spoken openly about the importance of faith in their lives.
As well as a call to service, my Catholic faith has inspired me to work hard for a better Canada. It has taught me that mutual respect and a spirit of compassion are the foundations of a successful community.
My critics have tried to belittle and caricature my faith. They claim that I have a secret agenda on a number of “hot button” issues, namely abortion and LGBTQ rights.
Let me be clear. As a Catholic, I am personally opposed to abortion. But as a Catholic I also recognize that people must ultimately act in accordance with their conscience and personal beliefs. I respect the fact that some women choose to make this difficult decision.
This is a sentiment that is no different from that expressed by Mr. Trudeau in the past.
Canadians have no interest in opening up this issue. As Prime Minister I pledge to focus on other matters and not make any changes to our abortion law.
Where Justin Trudeau and I differ is that I don’t fear discussion and debate on this subject. I will never muzzle Conservative MPs or ask them to leave their faith or conscience at the door of the House of Commons. Unlike our current Prime Minister, I see parliament as a forum where any matter can be discussed and debated.
All I ask is that any Conservative MP raising the issue acknowledges our party’s position and treats those with differing views with respect.
Some have also challenged my commitment to LGBTQ rights. The Catholic church’s teachings on a variety of areas related to human sexuality are both multifaceted and nuanced. They can’t easily fit into a 10 second soundbite and as a Catholic, how I relate those teachings in my own life is a personal matter.
When it comes to their application to public policy, my views are shaped by a strong belief in love, compassion and a respect for the rights of others – all basic tenets of the Roman Catholic faith which condemns prejudice based on sexual orientation.
As Prime Minister, be assured that I will stand up for the rights of all Canadians and fight discrimination on any basis. I will not change our current laws on same-sex marriage.
It is true that my views on this subject have evolved over a number of years. In this I am no different from most Canadians, including Members of Parliament from all parties – including the Liberal party.
Having stated my position on these two questions, it is my intention to turn to other issues during the course of this campaign.
I will not, however, stop speaking about the importance of faith in my life, recognizing the millions of other Canadians who attend services at their local church, mosque or synagogue each week or simply find meaning through a belief in something greater than themselves.
Religious faith helps reinforce our commitment to each other, particularly those who are on the margins. It offers comfort in our daily struggles and helps ground us.
Unlike many of my critics, I believe that welcoming people of faith to contribute to the building of our nation will only make for a stronger Canada.”
John Milloy is a former MPP and Ontario Liberal cabinet minister currently serving as the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics and assistant professor of public ethics at Martin Luther University College, and the inaugural practitioner in residence in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science department. He is also a lecturer in the University of Waterloo’s Master of Public Service Program. John can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @John_Milloy.