Pierre Poilievre’s inner circle divided over how to tackle gender issues, sources say | CBC News

Pierre Poilievre’s inner circle divided over how to tackle gender issues, sources say | CBC News


Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s advisers are divided on the position the party should take on issues of gender identity and diversity, multiple Conservative sources told Radio-Canada.

The party’s position on gender identity is being vigorously debated in the Conservative leader’s office

Christian Noel · CBC News


A politician looks to his right as he leaves a news conference in a legislature.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre leaves after speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill on Oct. 3, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s advisers are divided on the position the party should take on issues of gender identity and diversity, multiple Conservative sources told Radio-Canada.

While some Conservatives see questions of gender and identity as matters of principle, or as opportunities to make political gains, others fear that the polarizing issue could turn some voters against them in the next election campaign and distract from the pocketbook issues that have been the focus of Poilievre’s messaging.

Radio-Canada spoke with about ten Conservatives anonymously, to allow them to express themselves freely. 

“We have not yet taken a clear position on the issue,” said one Conservative source. “I expected us to go further and move more quickly.”

Other party advisers say the leader intends to remain vague on the subject for now.

“He’ll be clearer when it’s beneficial for him,” said one Conservative strategist.

Among those who have Poilievre’s ear, “there are those who think they can use this issue to make gains with the base, and those who think the bet is too dangerous because it could lose moderate voters,” said a third source.

Asked to comment on internal discussions within his party on the issue, Poilievre’s office responded by referring to his past comments in the media.

In June, Poilievre said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had no business weighing in on New Brunswick’s policy on LGBTQ students and called on him to “butt out and let provinces run schools and let parents raise kids.”

Conservative members of Parliament steered clear of the issue when asked on Wednesday, following a directive from the party not to speak publicly about the issue.

“I stay out of it,” said Manitoba MP James Bezan.

Alberta MP Glen Motz simply said “thank you” and walked away when asked.

Provincial governments in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have moved to require parental consent before students under 16 can have schools use their preferred pronouns and names — a measure that critics say could put LGBTQ kids at risk.

Poilievre has said that parents’ rights must be respected and that it’s up to the provinces to decide how to manage the issue in the education system.

No position on gender-affirming care for minors

Last month, at a Conservative Party of Canada convention in Quebec City, party delegates voted to ban “surgical or chemical interventions” for gender transition in minors.

Poilievre still has not said whether he supports this idea.

He also has not commented on Saskatchewan’s proposed use of the notwithstanding clause to attempt to shield its pronouns policy from a legal challenge.

Some Conservative advisers argue Poilievre is missing an opportunity by not getting behind the policy approved by Conservatives at the convention.

“These stories really affect people and it’s good for us,” said one party strategist. “Our members’ vote is in sync with the silent majority of Canadians. If Pierre Poilievre openly supported it, he’d get a lot of votes quickly.”

Several sources told Radio-Canada that the issue of protecting children against “transgender ideology” is popular with women and some cultural communities, particularly in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — demographic groups that Poilievre is actively courting ahead of the next election.

But the consensus among Conservatives is that economics must be their main focus going into the next election campaign.

“It’s our bread and butter,” said one source.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is pictured in Vancouver at a housing announcement.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s focus on his economic message seems to be paying off for him in the polls. (Ethan Cairns/Canadian Press)

Still, the issue of gender diversity concerns Conservatives because they see it as a double-edged sword — an opportunity to make political gains that also would open them up to Liberal attacks.

Sources told Radio-Canada some of Poilievre’s advisers are warning the party against trying to make quick political gains with a volatile and polarizing issue.

“We have to be careful to avoid this issue becoming an Achilles heel,” said a source.

Recent demonstrations like the 1 Million March 4 Kids, intended to protest against sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools, attracted some protesters who held signs with homophobic and transphobic messages.

“We remember what happened with (former Conservative leader) Andrew Scheer and abortion, which undermined his campaign. We definitely don’t want to replay that film,” said another Conservative source.

During the 2019 campaign, Scheer said he was not going to reopen the issue of abortion. During the first debate in French, he repeatedly refused to say whether he was pro-choice. Soon after, his polling numbers dropped.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer didn't win the election in 2019, but he sure won in Edmonton, taking all but one seat. According to political strategist Leah Ward, the dramatic swings in Edmonton in the two 2019 elections demonstrate an electorate very much in the middle.

Some Conservative insiders say Pierre Poilievre should remember how the abortion issue undermined his predecessor Andrew Scheer. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“If this subject turns against us, especially in big cities and more progressive regions, it risks distracting from the economic message,” said another Conservative.

The issue of transgender rights in schools “is a political sideshow,” said one party source.

“It’s a tactic of the Liberals who want to trip us up on social issues,” said another. “If we put too much emphasis on this issue, we give them a stick to beat us with.”

Despite the mounting pressure from different factions within the party, the leader has been slow to take a clear position.

“Pierre is very cerebral,” said one adviser. “He wants to take the time to form an idea and take a position without having to change his mind.”


Christian Noel is a reporter with Radio-Canada.


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