Pierre Poilievre disagrees with Conservative MP who wants to vote against same-sex marriage

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre listens to media questions during a news conference on safety in hospitals in Vancouver on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre listens to media questions during a news conference on safety in hospitals in Vancouver on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Ethan Cairns/Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he disagrees with a member of his caucus who says he wants to see more restrictions on abortion and would vote against same-sex marriage if there's a future bill on the issue in Parliament.

In an interview with Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who hosts a podcast called Uncommons, Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen also stressed his social conservative credentials on other issues, saying he wants protections for what he calls the "pre-born," supports Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's transgender policies and would vote to criminalize cannabis possession again if given the opportunity.

Asked by Erskine-Smith about a hypothetical future bill to overturn same-sex marriage, Viersen said, "I vote gay marriage down."

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

In a media statement issued Monday, Poilievre said Viersen's statements and positions "do not represent the positions of the Conservative Party, or myself as leader."

"As our party's policy book, adopted by party members, has said for years, 'a Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion.' When I am prime minister, no laws or rules will be passed that restrict women's reproductive choices. Period," Poilievre added.

As for same-sex marriage, Poilievre said "Canadians are free to love and marry who they choose. Same sex marriage is legal and it will remain legal when I am prime minister, full stop.

"I will lead a small government that minds its own business, letting people make their own decisions about their love lives, their families, their bodies, their speech, their beliefs and their money. We will put people back in charge of their lives in the freest country in the world."

Viersen is a well-known social conservative and his stances on these issues are no surprise.

For years, he has presented petitions on strengthening legal protections for fetuses as part of a campaign to recognize the "humanity of the preborn."

"We want our country to be in a position where nobody needs to have an abortion. We have solid families that want to have children — that's a pipe dream for sure, we live in a fallen world, but that is the dream and the hope," Viersen told Erskine-Smith.

Pressed to say whether he favours a total ban on abortion or limits with some exceptions, Viersen said he and other social conservatives "want it to be illegal. We want the humanity of the pre-born to be recognized."

Viersen said Canada's legal vacuum on abortion is untenable.

While there are medical guidelines from physicians' groups and others on the procedure, there's no federal law governing the specifics of getting an abortion.

"We are the only country in the world with no pre-born protective rights," Viersen said.

The Alberta MP said even some European countries have some restrictions.

In the Netherlands, for example, elective abortions are allowed up to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, with an exception for serious medical reasons.

"I'm happy to wear the social conservative banner. I'm 100 per cent pro-life," Viersen said.

But after some Liberals pounced on his comments on these issues, Viersen released a statement on social media Saturday insisting that his views on these issues should not be seen as shared by Poilievre.

"My comments don't represent the positions of the leader, nor the policies passed by Conservative Party members themselves," Viersen said — an apparent reference to a 2016 decision to no longer define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

"On these issues, the status quo will remain under a Conservative government. That is the reality. The leader has been extremely clear on that, both now and previously."

The Liberals pounce

Liberal MP Chris Bittle said Viersen "went on a podcast and committed the crime of telling the truth but saying the quiet part out loud."

Supriya Dwivedi, an adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said something similar on social media: "Conservatives keep getting caught saying the quiet part loud and we keeping being told we have to pretend like we can't hear them."

"Yet again, one of Pierre Poilievre's MPs has stated he would roll back abortion — and marriage equality!!! — then pretends like he doesn't mean it."

Katie Telford, Prime Minister Trudeau's chief of staff, re-posted social media messages that said Viersen's comments show the Conservatives are "soft on equality and loose on fairness."

On the other side of the debate, Alissa Golob, the co-founder of RightNow, an anti-abortion group, said Viersen's Saturday statement was "completely unacceptable" given he is the chair of the parliamentary pro-life caucus.

"Anyone with a half a brain knows that Pierre Poilievre's office forced him to make such a cowardly and weak statement," she said on X.

"When will Conservatives learn to beat the Liberals at their own game? Confront them on these issues face to face. Don't bend over."

Poilievre 'no different than Justin Trudeau,' says activist

In an interview with CBC News, Golob said Poilievre has taken a page out of Trudeau's playbook by taking such a tough stand on abortion.

She said that like Trudeau — who forced his MPs to vote a certain way of abortion — Poilievre and his team are unfairly trying to suppress anti-abortion viewpoints within caucus.

"Pierre Poilievre is always talking about gatekeepers and eliminating gatekeepers, yet he's being the biggest gatekeeper of all in the Conservative caucus by defying party policy of letting MPs speak their conscience and have their own views," Golob said.

"Pierre Poilievre is no different than Justin Trudeau on these issues. He's actually taking his talking points and his actions from the Liberal Party, from Justin Trudeau himself. Trudeau forces caucus to vote a certain way and now Pierre is forcing caucus to say certain things," she said.

Tiffany Pope/CBC News
Tiffany Pope/CBC News

Golob also called the Liberals "extremists" for not allowing legislation to ban late-term and "sex selective" abortions.

The Conservative policy book does "condemn discrimination against girls through gender selection abortions" and demands that abortion be "explicitly excluded from Canada's maternal and child health program in countries where Canadian aid is delivered."

While there is a strong contingent of social conservatives in the Conservative Party's caucus — Viersen told Erskine-Smith it's "not a lonely fight" for abortion limits, for example — Poilievre has tried to distance himself from these issues.

Poilievre has been largely campaigning on economic issues. He has shown a strong libertarian streak, with repeated calls for Canada to be the "freest country on earth."

Poilievre promised during his leadership campaign that a government led by him would not introduce any legislation on abortion.

After catching heat for posing for a photo with a man wearing a "straight pride" T-shirt at the Calgary Stampede last year, Poilievre said he didn't agree with that sort of rhetoric.

Poilievre's adoptive father is gay.

When composing his shadow cabinet in Parliament, Poilievre picked a lesbian, MP Melissa Lantsman, and a gay man, Eric Duncan, for two prominent positions.

Lantsman, the party's deputy leader, was on hand Monday as Trudeau raised a Pride flag on Parliament Hill to mark the start of a month that celebrates the LGBTQ community and its fight for equal rights.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Last year, Poilievre said LGBTQ people should have "the freedom to marry, start a family, raise kids; freedom from bigotry and bashing; freedom to be judged by personal character, not by group identity; freedom to start a life and be judged on your merit."

He also said Canada should continue to resettle LGBTQ refugees from abroad.

When asked about a Ugandan law that allows judges to jail people for up to 10 years for same-sex relations, Poilievre called the legislation "outrageous and appalling."

As an MP, however, Poilievre did vote against same-sex marriage in Parliament in the early 2000s — votes that garnered recognition from socially conservative groups like Campaign Life Coalition.

Thirty-two Liberal backbench MPs also voted against gay marriage, including current Liberal caucus members Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and MPs Francis Scarpaleggia and John McKay.