OTTAWA — The most high-profile Conservative leadership candidates jockeying to replace Andrew Scheer have made it clear they want to move forward from an issue that dogged the party by walking in Pride parades.
Peter MacKay released a statement Tuesday calling Pride parades “important.” The former Conservative cabinet minister, who launched his leadership bid Saturday, said he intends to march in Toronto’s parade this summer, whether he wins the contest or not.
“We live in a world where sexual orientation and gender identity are still used by tyrants and bigots to belittle and oppress,” MacKay said.
“In Canada, we are lucky to have a society that has grown more tolerant, more accepting, and more understanding, but there is still more work to be done.”
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MacKay’s statement also worked in a nod to former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who became the first party leader to march in a Pride parade in 2016. MacKay said the next leader of the party should follow in her footsteps.
Ambrose, a former Alberta MP and federal cabinet minister, recently ended weeks of speculation and ruled herself out of the current leadership race.
Pride parades are important. pic.twitter.com/5D43zwOrDY— Peter MacKay (@PeterMacKay) January 28, 2020
MacKay’s declaration comes a day after leadership rival Erin O’Toole confirmed he would march in future Pride parades, should he become leader.
After delivering a speech in Calgary for the official launch of his leadership campaign Monday, O’Toole said he would march in a Pride parade. The Durham MP was responding to an audience member’s question at the time, according to the National Post.
“There are no albatrosses in my Conservative party,” O’Toole said, an apparent reference to MacKay’s post-election musing that social issues hung around Scheer’s neck like a “stinking albatross” during the fall campaign. The reference to the large oceanic bird was a dig at an earlier comment made by MacKay about Scheer’s election performance.
O’Toole has since clarified his declaration, saying that he will march in Pride parades — but not at one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world.
“I will not participate in the Toronto Pride Parade while its policy is to exclude Canadians, especially uniformed police officers,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
The former Royal Canadian Air Force officer called the policy a “regrettable position” that is “incompatible with the principles of inclusivity and the equality of all Canadian.”
Inclusive Pride parades are important. pic.twitter.com/0tpGjpglYQ— Erin O'Toole (@ErinOTooleMP) January 28, 2020
Toronto Pride members voted last year to bar uniformed officers from marching in the parade.
Marilyn Gladu also has said she would also march in Pride parades. The Sarnia–Lambton told HuffPost the leadership convention will be in Toronto in June during Pride weekend and that she will participate regardless if she is elected leader or not.
During the election, Scheer repeatedly defended his decision not to walk in Pride parades. He told “Tout le monde en parle” in September that he would stand up for people who are persecuted for their sexual orientation.
The outgoing Conservative leader has not marched in a Pride parade since he started leading the party in 2017. Prior to the election, Liberals continuously pressed Scheer on his “lifelong boycott” of Pride-related events.
Rachel Giese, editorial director of Xtra, previously called the Liberals’ attack against Scheer “strange,” telling CBC Radio’s “The House” that the government was “exploiting the community to take a hit at the Conservative party.”
Scheer’s unclear responses on social issues during the election, including on abortion and same-sex marriage, was one issue that challenged the party’s ability to expand its base.
Despite Scheer’s failure to defeat Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, blighted by the SNC-Lavalin affair, and domestic and international controversies, Conservatives increased their seat count to 121 from 95 — reducing the incumbent Liberal majority government to a minority.
Décarie, a former Conservative staffer, is one of two social conservatives who have jumped into the federal leadership race, including rookie Hastings–Lennox and Addington MP Derek Sloan.
Heading into the first day of the party’s winter caucus retreat in Ottawa last week, Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner shared her frustration with reporters over the focus on differing views on social issues under the Conservative tent.
Rempel Garner said other issues, such as national unity and Alberta’s place in Confederation, are tensions that she wishes people would pay more attention to.
“I am very, very tired, beyond tired of my party being hijacked by this type of bigotry,” she said.
Conservative party members will pick their next leader at a leadership convention on June 27 in Toronto.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.