Scheer's same-sex marriage comments return to the fore amid Trudeau scandal

SAINT-HYACINTHE, Que. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's own past comments returned to the fore Thursday as his main rival for the country's top political office admitted to repeatedly donning racist costumes and makeup.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked the country to forgive him Wednesday after two images of him wearing brownface or blackface, one from high school and one when he was a teacher at a posh Vancouver private school, came out through various media outlets. A third video from the early 1990s then emerged Thursday morning.

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At a campaign stop in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., just east of Montreal Thursday morning, Scheer's attempt to proceed with the campaign as normal and announce a tax credit for seniors was knocked off the rails by the emerging Liberal crisis.

Scheer said the video was given to Global News by the Conservative campaign team, but said he himself had only seen it for the first time Thursday morning.

A handful of local supporters outside a bakery watched as reporters asked Scheer whether he had ever dressed in a way that stereotyped or mocked anyone's race or culture.

"No," he said firmly.

But he also said he is not perfect.

"I've never claimed to have handled every situation properly and obviously I continue to reflect on that and try to improve myself as a human being," he said. "In conducting myself do I regret anything in my life? Not a specific instance. I'm not pretending to be a perfect human being in every way, but nothing like this at all. No, no, nothing like that at all, nothing that would rise to this level."

Scheer continued to face questions about why he has not expressed any regret that during the debate on same-sex marriage in Parliament in 2005, he compared the idea of two people of the same sex getting married to considering a dog's tail to be one of its legs.

When the Liberals drew attention to that speech via a tweet from cabinet minister Ralph Goodale in August, Scheer did not apologize, rather he said only that the question of same-sex marriage was legally closed in Canada and a Conservative government would not bring it back up.

As a practising Catholic, Scheer has not said whether his own views on same-sex marriage have changed or whether he still considers allowing people of the same sex to marry to be wrong.

When asked if his comments on same-sex marriage are among the things he regrets, he did not directly answer the question.

"I have addressed the speech I gave in 2005," he said. "What we're talking about today is Justin Trudeau's behaviours and his inability to be truthful and honest about it, and we saw that last night when he was asked directly if there were other examples out there of this and he failed to be honest."

The first picture to emerge Wednesday depicted Trudeau in 2001, when he was a Vancouver private-school teacher, at an "Arabian Nights"-themed event, clad in an elaborate turban and robe, his face, hands and neck covered in dark makeup.

When asked whether it was the only instance of its kind, Trudeau said that during a high-school talent show, he wore makeup while performing a version of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)." A photo of Trudeau in that outfit, apparently from a yearbook, came out within a few hours.

Scheer said people running for prime minister must be held to a higher standard.

Over the first several days of the campaign, the Liberals continually issued tweets with evidence of Conservative candidates saying or posting racist, homophobic or other offensive things. Scheer said last weekend that as long as a Conservative candidate apologizes and expresses a commitment to treat all people with respect, he would accept such an apology.

The only candidate the Conservatives dropped was one who had, they said, lied about the existence of social-media accounts on which he made offensive statements.

Scheer said he can't accept Trudeau's apology because he lied about how many times he had put on dark makeup. Trudeau said Thursday he wasn't going to put a number on how often he had done so because he hadn't remembered the incident in the video — so it was possible there were other instances, as well.

In and around the market where Scheer campaigned Thursday, most people shrugged off Trudeau's previous behaviour. One woman said in French she was tired of the mudslinging and wanted the election to be about where the parties intend to take the country.

Resident Brian Denes did say he thought Trudeau's behaviour was "deplorable" and that his vote was leaning towards the Conservatives.

Scheer was campaigning in three Quebec ridings southeast of Montreal — two held by the NDP and one by the Liberals — where his party finished a distant fourth in 2015. In at least two of them, the local prominence of the Conservative candidates is giving the party some hope it can win this time.

In a 2018 byelection, the Conservatives nabbed a seat in Quebec's Saguenay region north of Quebec City, which they hadn't won since 1997, when they ran a prominent local candidate.

Scheer's day began with an unexpected delay when the floor of the bakery hosting Scheer's announcement began to buckle, forcing the event outside. He ended the day beside the Magog River in Sherbrooke for a small campaign event. Scheer is to end the first full week of the campaign Friday with campaign stops in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2019.

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