A  sure sign that a Liberal victory in the recent Ontario election was never in serious doubt was the fact that the abortion issue was ignored during the campaign. In Canada, whenever a left-of-centre party is in trouble, the social issues that cannot be brought up because they are “settled” suddenly become the only issues. The “social peace” surrounding abortion-on-demand can be broken whenever its advocates are low in the polls.

Using any issue in such a way is unacceptable in a modern democracy and it is especially odious in this case. However, the real dilemma is not that such divisive politics is cynical and desperate, but that it is effective: when flailing parties dabble in the politics of fear, neither professional journalists nor the average Canadian are outraged.

Rather than evidence of a liberal bias in the media and its audience, this acceptance reveals an assumption they share: no one is shocked when abortion is named as the greatest freedom this country enjoys, because too many Canadians connect the idea of social liberty with social liberalism. Too many Canadians think the purpose of the state is to entrench the sexual revolution in law and to prohibit any kind of limitation.

In any Canadian election, fears about “hidden agendas” may be exploited, but it is a mistake to claim they are invented; in fact, they are real. In the popular imagination, Canadian democracy is always in danger of slipping into puritanical tyranny. This is one of the greatest ironies of our “liberated” society: those who claim to promote freedom from all forms of repression are crippled by superstitions about a mythical conservative agenda.

It is clear that such an attitude makes for campaigns where all the essential issues are inadmissible. But, more important, this attitude exerts a dangerous influence over the other issues that remain in the public sphere. Certainly, the recent debate about funding religious schools (or rather, defunding Catholic ones) in Ontario was less informed by principles than by the anti-religious prejudices of the loudest voices in the popular press.

Of the many reasons why the Progressive Conservatives made such a poor showing in the recent provincial election in Ontario, none is more obvious than John Tory’s lack of leadership.  Although leadership was the slogan of his campaign, Tory failed to show the only leadership that matters: moral courage. Tory was unable to distance himself from the socially liberal orthodoxy on any issue.

The disgrace of political defeat is far less humiliating than the compromises that accompany it. Winning without principles may not be pretty, but losing without principles is truly pathetic. Instead of challenging the major parties, Tory capitulated to their terms and accepted their premises.

When chasing the political centre, real issues are ignored. Voters may or may not reward principled politicians who defend human life, but history will hold them up as heroes.