Scheer describes himself as pro-life and says he will allow backbench MPs to bring forward legislation on the issue

The Conservative Party of Canada has elected a self-described pro-life Catholic as its leader to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the next election.

Andrew Scheer narrowly won the leadership with 51 per cent of the vote on the final ballot, defeating Maxime Bernier.

Earlier this month, he sent a message the Canadian March for Life, saying: “As someone who is pro-life, I thank each and every one of you for being here today at the seat of our government to make your views known.

“Where Justin Trudeau believes that in order to stand as a Liberal candidate you must be pro-choice, I am proud to be running for leader of the Conservative Party to become a prime minister under whom all conservatives would be welcome in my caucus.”

Scheer says he will not introduce government-sponsored legislation to change the country’s abortion laws, however he did campaign on a promise to allow backbench MPs to bring forward private member’s bills on the issue.

His campaign was supported by major pro-life groups, including RightNow, which was established last year to promote candidates who support the right to life of the unborn child.

His narrow victory has come as a major upset, with main rival Maxime Bernier long seen as the favourite, perhaps showing the growing power of the Canadian pro-life movement.

RightNow’s co-founder, Scott Hayward, said: “A pro-life leader won’t necessarily shut down nominations or get involved in nominations where we have well-rounded pro-life candidates who are selling thousands of memberships.”

“So having a pro-life leader who will respect the democratic process internally within the party does help us so we can win those nominations in 2019.”

Scheer also strongly protested after a pioneering pro-abortion doctor was appointed to the Order of Canada, saying it had “debased” the Order.

Scheer was born in Ottawa in 1979, son of a nurse and a librarian. His father is a permanent deacon for the Ottawa archdiocese.

He has also vote against allowing assisted suicide, and in 2004 described same-sex marriage as “abhorrent”, however he says he will not try to reverse legislation permitting it.

He has also threatened to withdraw federal funding from universities that “do not foster a culture of free speech and inquiry on campus”.