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Andrew Scheer's 'explain, apologize and move on' policy for candidates' past indiscretions is a good one. But the 'explain' part seems to be a problem
One hopes Andrew Scheer has some evidence to support his allegation on Monday that Justin Trudeau has at some point had drinks with Faith Goldy, the hapless Sun News/Rebel Media newsbot who went off the rails and down a white nationalist sewer — evidence beyond Goldy’s say-so, that is. She has implied it in a tweet, and in April she told the National Post’s Joseph Brean such an encounter occurred in 2010 at Zoe’s Lounge in the Château Laurier. But that alone won’t convince anyone. Trudeau has flatly denied it. and without proof it would just be a further distraction in this wretched not-even-week-old campaign.
And that would be a shame, because Scheer had just recently planted a flag on sensible territory: “I accept the fact that people make mistakes in the past and can own up to that and accept that,” he told reporters on his campaign plane. “As long as someone takes responsibility for what they’ve said,” and apologizes “if anything they’ve ever said in the past caused any type of hurt or disrespect to one community or another … I accept that.”
That came four long, revolting days into a campaign that has essentially been stage-directed by the Liberal opposition research team. Scheer visits Riding X, whose Conservative candidate is pro-life; Liberals tweet out unsurprising evidence that she is pro-life; reporters demand Scheer explain his perfectly clear position on abortion for the 2,183rd time. Repeat as necessary.
On Saturday it was Justina McCaffrey, the Conservatives’ candidate in Kanata-Carleton, in the crosshairs; and it was Peterborough MP Maryam Monsef’s turn to tweet out the dirt — namely a 2013 video featuring McCaffrey and Goldy pitching a wedding-dress-related reality show. (McCaffrey is a fashion designer.)
The Liberals also unearthed complaints from McCaffrey about Justin Trudeau’s alleged “preoccupation with the French, for example, the Quebec people,” for which she duly apologized. But when it came to her friendship with Goldy, she issued a statement saying she hadn’t seen her in “several years” and fled from reporters inquiring after more details.
In the hyperactive fairyland that is Twitter, which is not much distinguishable from the campaign itself, debate commenced: There is a photo of the two together in 2017. That’s fewer than several! Subterfuge! And what stage exactly in Goldy’s grisly metamorphosis was too late not to have disavowed her? The video dated from long before she bottomed out during the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., but close followers of her online activities could see the bat guano accumulating even back then.
It was this guilt-by-association routine that seemed to inform Scheer’s “explain, apologize and move on” policy most, and understandably so. As Christie Blatchford argued on Sunday, it cannot be desirable that political candidates be forced to renounce friendships with or any sympathy toward troubled or wayward people in their lives. And that’s not even what McCaffrey was doing. She has essentially thrown Goldy under the bus — haven’t seen her in ages! — and now everyone is demanding she hire a bigger bus to finish the job.
All that said, the “explain” part of the “explain, apologize and move on” policy is letting the Conservative side down. One might argue it was silly for reporters to pursue McCaffrey, but it was certainly silly for McCaffrey to flee. Whatever case she has to make that said relationship doesn’t matter, surely it can’t be too complicated for her to stand in front of a camera and make it.
Nor is Scheer’s refusal to explain the evolution of his thinking on same-sex marriage in keeping with this policy. In 2005 he stood up in the House of Commons and made an explicitly religious defence of civil marriage. Yadda yadda yadda, now he totally supports same-sex couples’ right to get married.
It’s not clear what changed. But a good explanation would do double duty. First, a passionate defence of conservatives whose minds have changed over the years would be very apropos in a political and media environment that is skeptical it can even happen. (Liberals never even get asked about it, naturally.) And second, such a defence coming from a proud and committed Catholic could strike a blow for religious freedom, which is one of Scheer’s professed preoccupations.
As out of place and ill-advised as Scheer’s speech was in hindsight, the opprobrium directed at it by his opponents has been quite remarkable: “hateful and homophobic,” “disgusting prejudice,” etc. You can’t describe his speech in such terms without implicating every religion in this country that doesn’t marry same-sex couples on more or less precisely the same religious principles Scheer enumerated — the “complementarity of the sexes,” etc. That’s most religions.
Of course, not all churchgoers believe those things. But they do choose to associate with organizations, and with fellow parishioners, who do believe those things. On the trajectory we’re on, it’s not hard to imagine that religious affiliation itself could disqualify people from political life — not just Conservatives, but self-professed devout Catholics like Justin Trudeau. Scheer clearly isn’t much for grand gestures, but a bold, unapologetic defence of his big blue tent and the Canadians inside would be a welcome palate-cleanser.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019