It’s now been a week that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has found himself with a big problem on his positions around some social issues. First there was the re-release of his speech against gay marriage from his days as a back bench MP, followed by the news that the Conservatives were saying one thing about their position on abortion in Quebec and another elsewhere, and then we saw the release of this video below today:
Needless to say, these events have left Mr. Scheer with a lot to answer for, one way or another. The silence coming from his corner has been deafening and remarkable. That radio silence has raised many questions of its own, leaving many waiting for him to speak to finally tell everyone where he stands on these issues. Well today that finally happened, with Mr. Scheer calling a press conference in Toronto and how did he fair? Well not very good:
Folks, lets be clear on a few things here off the hop. For starters, while I disagree with Mr. Scheer on many, many, many of these issues, I am not going to comment on those differences and I’m going to stick to this press conference. I’m going to stick to that because that’s just how poor this performance was. Whenever doing a press conference in a situation like this, there is only one way for it to be a success; that’s to be totally open, honest, transparent and contrite. To do anything less than that simply re-enforces everything that you’re being attacked for and further proves how right those criticisms are.
Today what Mr. Scheer did was amazing in its tone deafness and its lack of an apology for anything he had said. Regardless of the position he may hold today on these issues (which he didn’t directly address by the way), there were things that he said in the past that deserved apologies and contrition. And he offered none of that. He didn’t apologize for comparing gay marriage to the tail of a dog. He didn’t apologize for allegedly misleading potential candidates in Quebec regarding their position on abortion. He didn’t apologize for anything, which is striking for someone who has been (rightfully) demanding apologies from the Prime Minister for his shortfalls. In refusing to do so, he showed himself to be no better in that way and he blew a chance to put this all behind him with firm, clear, declarative statements on these matters.
What makes this whole display today even worse is that fact that he doubled down on the double-talk he’s been pushing for a long time, that “a Conservative government won’t re-open these issues” while still at the same time refusing to stop their backbenchers from doing just that. Furthermore, when directly asked if he would punish a backbencher who brought one of these issues back to life, he didn’t even answer the question. Instead he cried that the Liberals were trying to distract from their record with mud. See, that would have some truth to it if it wasn’t for one big matter; the fact that those videos are out there, the like one making it clear that Mr. Scheer had made promises to groups like RightNow.ca to allow free votes for all of his caucus members on these issues. Sorry but you have no credibility on any of these issues if on one hand you’re saying that you’re tolerant and won’t reopen these matters, but on the other hand you’re offering your caucus member carte blanche to do just that. It’s double talk and it’s something that people easily say.
Finally I have to admit this whole “I respect the law as it is” line really leaves a lot wanting and is the weakest kind of hairsplitting I’ve seen in a while. In using that line, it’s clear that he doesn’t feel that way but he’s trying to say something that won’t give his true feelings while trying to be as true to his feelings as possible. It’s the kind of communication pretzel that makes no sense and comes off so far from being genuine. All the while, it undercuts any claim to being honest and direct with people, something that is a problem for him.
In the end, if this was the plan for Mr. Scheer to try to “address” this, he would have been best to have not had the press conference at all. It was clear today that he wasn’t ready or willing to say what was necessary to put this behind him or to deal with this issue head on, one that is of his own creation. And let’s be clear, this issue is of his own creation. The Conservatives can whinge all day long about the Liberals trying to distract from this or that, but these attacks wouldn’t matter to anyone if they didn’t matter to people or if there wasn’t any truth to it. And as this episode has shown us, not only do people care about this, these answers have shown the concerns to be well founded. That’s not the Liberals fault, that’s Mr. Scheer’s. Only one person can fix that, and that’s him. By refusing to do that today or offer any apologies for his past comments, he’s just proved that the Liberals were right to raise this. Furthermore, by refusing to go at this head on and forthrightly, Mr. Scheer has proven himself to share a similar flaw with the Prime Minister; an inability to say sorry when they’ve done something that requires apology. That’s the kind of similarity that will do nothing to help him in the fall, and it’s one that he could have put to bed today if he had simply humbled himself and done the right thing.