With the federal election five months away, the Justin Trudeau Liberals stepped up their attacks on Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives by stoking the abortion issue.
The week after the National March for Life in Ottawa, Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef sent a letter to the 12 Conservative MPs expressing concern that they would attend an “anti-choice rally” and calling on the leader to “reaffirm women’s reproductive rights.” She wrote in her May 15 letter, “Canadians – and Canadian women in particular – deserve to know whether or not the Conservative Party of Canada would take us backwards by restricting or undermining a woman’s right to choose.” Monsef highlighted the Liberal record of promoting abortion: “(We) have taken action to ensure that safe and legal abortion services are available to all Canadian women, including by repealing the outdated section criminalizing abortion in the Criminal Code, investing in groups like Planned Parenthood, and increasing access to Plan B and Mifegymiso across the country.”
On May 16, Monsef tweeted the letter to highlight the difference between the aggressively pro-abortion Liberal government and a Conservative Party that the governing Grits claim is harbouring a hidden agenda on abortion. She tweeted: “Yesterday I sent the following letter to Conservative MPs who attended the March for Life anti-choice rally last week. I’m calling on Andrew Scheer to reaffirm women’s reproductive rights. Our government will always #StandForChoice.”
During a press conference in France while he was attending a meeting on fake news and so-called hate speech online, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chimed in on abortion.
Addressing the ban on abortion in Alabama, Trudeau said, “We very much regret what is happening, particularly in the United States, where they are moving backwards in terms of defending a woman’s right to choose. As a government, as Canadians, we will always be unequivocal about defending a woman’s right to choose, defending women’s rights in general.”
The Prime Minister then pivoted to his home country, claiming Canadian Conservatives might find inspiration in the American example of “backsliding on women’s rights.” He elaborated: “It’s a shame that we increasingly see conservative governments and conservative politicians taking away rights that have been hard-fought over many, many years by generations of women and male allies.”
The Liberals also emailed a fundraising letter to supporters on May 16, calling the presence of a dozen Conservative MPs at the National March for Life “alarming.” The pitch for followers to donate money was predicated on the idea that the Conservatives would re-open the abortion debate: “While some Conservative MPs are trying to reopen that debate by speaking at anti-choice events, screening anti-choice films, or empowering conservative politicians who ‘pledge to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime,’ Liberals know that women in Canada have the right to make their own health decisions.”
The reference to the politician pledging “to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime” was Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff (Niagara Glanbrook), an Ontario politician.
The Liberal fundraising e-mail continued: “While these Conservative MPs have been busy working to roll back women’s rights, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal team are focused on making real progress for women and all Canadians. Chip in now to support Justin Trudeau and our Liberal team to help earn another mandate this fall.”
The Liberals also encouraged supporters to share a “Proudly pro-choice” slogan on social media.
Andrew Scheer’s press secretary, Brock Harrison, described the Liberal’s campaign against Scheer on the issue a show of “desperation as the election gets closer.” He reiterated Scheer’s vow not to reopen the issue if he is elected Prime Minister, choosing instead to “focus on issues that unite Canadians.” Scheer’s social media team then tweeted that it was “hypocrisy” for Trudeau to attend a conference in France on the problem of fake news online while spreading “misinformation” about the Conservatives’ intention to reopen the abortion issue if they form the government. Then Scheer uttered the slogan he has doggedly repeated since he began his run for the Conservative leadership in 2016: “I have been clear. A Conservative government will not re-open this debate.”
Monsef responded online to Scheer’s tweet: “Facts matter, and the fact is your caucus members don’t agree with you. So answer this – if a member in your party brings forward a bill to restrict women’s right to choose, how will you direct your party to vote?”
Scheer’s talking points haven’t changed: he will not reopen the issue if elected prime minister.
Monsef also took aim at Campaign Life Coalition, the National March for Life organizer, which last month launched its 2019 federal election website, voteprolife.ca. Monsef tweeted: “Anti-choice group @CampaignLife Coalition is actively working to take away women’s rights here in (Canada), and they are doing so with help from @AndrewScheer’s Conservative MPs who attended their rally on Parliament Hill last week. Let’s see how the CLC rates them.” She noted that the 12 MPs in attendance – David Anderson, Harold Albrecht, Ted Falk, Rachel Harder, Dane Lloyd, Glen Motz, Phil McColeman, Bev Shipley, Kevin Sorenson, Brad Trost, Arnold Viersen, and Dave Van Kesteren – were “endorsed by Campaign Life Coalition and therefore ‘anti-choice’ and ‘anti-women’.”
Former Liberal strategist and founder of the public relations firm Pomp & Circumstance Amanda Alvaro tweeted of the MPs – taking special note of Harder – that “No woman OR man should hold the position of shadow minister of WOMEN and gender equality if they do not believe in a woman’s right to choose. Period. Full stop.” The tweet garnered backlash for the message that women must adhere to the pro-abortion philosophy.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jeff Gunnarson said that Monsef’s letter should be a call to action for Canadian pro-lifers. “I would like to thank MP Maryam Monsef for reminding voters what the Liberal Party has done to push abortion overseas and within Canada, and exactly how much they detest pro-lifers,” said Gunnarson. He added, “Let her comments be a motivation for all Canadian pro-lifers to volunteer for nearby pro-life candidates this upcoming general election, and a reminder that it is never permissible to vote for a candidate who supports a human rights injustice like abortion.”
Gunnarson said that paradoxically Monsef’s letter, Trudeau’s comments, and the Liberal fundraising email prove that “the abortion debate is already open” despite Scheer’s vow not to reopen it. He urged the Conservative leader to not be “bullied by the Liberals and liberal media” into avoiding life issues.
Meanwhile, abortion advocates’ reactions to the Liberal campaign were mixed. Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, applauded Trudeau: “I think it’s fantastic. I don’t think it’s ever happened before – I’ve never seen that kind of strategy before and I’m just so glad to see it, because it’s so inappropriate for these anti-choice MPs to be going to these marches, and often many of them are speaking at them as well.” But Ottawa-based abortion activist Julie S. Lalonde said that the government’s record on abortion is not all that great because Ottawa has not held “New Brunswick or PEI to account over their lack of (abortion) access” and has not filled the gaps in “equitable access” to abortion services.