On April 12, Campaign Life Coalition interviewed CLC Saskatchewan President Denise Hounjet-Roth by telephone. We talked to her about her political involvement in Saskatchewan, her family life and how to activate pro-lifers in Canada.
How did you get involved and more importantly, WHY did you get involved?
My first big involvement was in 1988 with the Liberals for Life. There was a leadership taking place in the Liberal Party and there was an opportunity to get a pro-life leader and after having attended a CLC National Strategy Meeting and meeting Tom Wappel, I decided that is what we would do in Saskatchewan. We would work at signing up members to the Liberal party, get them elected as delegates to the leadership convention and vote Tom Wappel in as leader and our pro-life work would be done. We would have a pro-life Prime Minister in our country and everything will be taken care of. Well, I found out that it wasn’t that easy and it was a lot of work. But that is why I got involved. I thought that this was a real chance to make a difference.
Tell me about that leadership race in Saskatchewan?
There was a core group of 3 women in Saskatchewan working around a kitchen table and every evening, we would be explaining the process of electing a pro-life leader to a group of people who had gathered in a home or town hall. Then myself and one of the two other women would travel this province to delegate selection meetings and some of them were 5 hours away. But there we were traveling in the middle of the night, coming home in the early hours of the morning and start again the next day. People were encouraged and saw the possibility of this strategy working and the people got on board.
Now, the other factor that helped is that many of our supporters were Liberal to start with and needed a reason to vote Liberal and stay pro-life. That is why we had the success we had in Saskatchewan. Now the Liberal hierarchy was not impressed and we had threats against us and we had hardships, but yeah, it all came together and we took the majority of delegates for Tom Wappel in Saskatchewan.
Back in 1991, the majority of Saskatchewanians voted against abortion funding in an election referendum. Does the province continue to be a strong hold for pro-life values?
Saskatchewan continues to be that kind of province, when you consider that today, out of 14 members of parliament, I would say eleven, we can qualify as pro-life. Saskatchewan continues to be a pro-life province.
Almost every Saskatchewan MP knows you by name and has a relationship with you, how did you manage to do that?
Part of the thing is, you see them at events, whether it is a community event, a pro-life event or some other public political event. The other thing is that you also get involved on the local boards, the local political riding associations and that’s another way to get to know your MP’s pretty well. You see them at functions, they are just ordinary people. Making appointments with them is very important. Having a formal one on one with them and asking them what you can do for them to help them be more pro-life in their political work is important.
In regards to building those relationships, you actually helped many of those pro-life politicians get nominated and elected right from the beginning.
A prime example is Maurice Vellacott. I got to know him early on and then we he decided to run for politics, I was door knocking with Brad Trost for Maurice. I got to know Brad and then, he decided to run for politics. So we had a relationship before he even decided to run and then he ran for MP and it made it easier on myself because I knew Brad already. And another thing that happens and I wish people would realize more often, is that when you work/volunteer for these candidates, if they go on to win, then you have that relationship and they know that you helped them win their nomination or election and it is not like they owe you but there is that feeling of, you know, this woman gets my ear and an appointment.
What about in some cases, when you help them get elected, and then they ‘forget’ about you? Has that ever happened to you?
I can’t say that it has, but maybe I’m a hard person to forget. It does happen though that they do not like my persistence and demands. I once helped an MLA in 4 elections. I door knocked, I dropped off leaflets, etc. But I haven’t helped him in the last two elections, didn’t even put up a lawn sign. He keeps telling me he is pro-life but I tell him he has not done anything to prove that to me. I have done my part, but he has not done his part and I worked for him. So that happens as well. We are at odds right now and it does not always turn out rosy, but you do your best.
Are you concerned that there is a move away from the non-compromise position that you have always fought for?
I would have to say that some people, politicians included, are moving away from a non-compromising position. People want something to happen, they are losing patience. They are perhaps tired of having been in the pro-life movement for so long and not seeing any results. And yet, there have been many successes. Otherwise, we would be in worse shape than we are now. We may not have what we want but we have been able to keep some things at bay.
As for the politicians, they are being led away with those who hold the power over their job or position. For example, here in Saskatchewan at our March for Life, MLA’s are allowed to show up to the March but not allowed to speak because the premier has ordered it. Even our most staunch pro-life MLA’s back down and do not speak.
In 1978, CLC was formed because other groups were proposing gestational legislation. Do you see people panicking because they see no change and are prepared to water-down their demands?
I think many are so ready for a law that they would settle for any law even if it meant a bad law. I have never believed or supported gestational legislation. And I am glad that Campaign Life Coalition has stood their ground on this issue. I believe in incremental legislation such as defunding, women’s right to know, etc. When you set about thinking that getting a law protecting unborn children after 20 weeks, will settle things in this country, you are dreaming. First of all, most of the abortions are done around 12 weeks or less, especially in our province. If nothing else, we should have learned from past experience that there will always be a way around the coveted “weeks” number. One needs only look and study what has happened across the ocean with gestational legislation and that should push us to work harder to protect the unborn from conception or at the very least, work on incremental legislation.
In your experience what is the greatest challenge to the pro-life movement at the moment?
Lack of people resource and resolve. Lack of financial resources and people not willing to get involved. I find that people are very comfortable on their couches and they are not willing to get involved in doing more that reading the newsletter and maybe showing up at pro-life banquets, March for Life and that is the extent of their involvement in the pro-life movement. The other is a lack of fortitude. Many will tell me that they are committed pro-life supporters but then turn around and vote for a pro-abortion candidate. Go figure.
Lots of people quit when they don’t see success. What has been your secret to staying involved? You’re one of those people who just doesn’t quit.
Because I am too stubborn. I do have Dutch blood in me. The issue is just too important.
I’m sure The Interim’s Dutch readership will love that
Well, you know, I’ve thought about that, why not quit. The thing is we will all have to answer for our actions or lack of action someday. I am going to have to face the Lord one day and He is going to ask what did you do, what did you do for my little ones? I better have an answer.
Your whole family has been involved in the movement. How did you nurture that in your family?
They had no choice. I had parents who instilled the value of life and family and I am eternally grateful. My immediate family has always been supportive of my pro-life work and I thank God for that. I have a sister Céline who also works tirelessly for Campaign Life Coalition. I am surrounded by good people. My husband is also very supportive. He is also part of Campaign Life Coalition and works within the Knights of Columbus with their In Support Of Life Committee. Our children grew up knowing nothing else that pro-life. It was not uncommon to have them and their friends around the kitchen table stuffing pro-life envelopes.
I remember during Tom Wappel’s leadership race, Gregory (now Fr. Gregory) was six months old. You could say he was born knowing nothing else. That was the time I got very involved and my boys grew up with that and that is just the way it was. I have been very blessed with my family and I’ve always felt their support and patience. We now have a grand-daughter, who also happens to be the grand-daughter of the late Heather Stilwell. I have warned her that “both your grand-mothers are/were radical die-hard pro-lifers, so little girl, you have some strong pro-life genes and you have not got a chance of getting away from this.”
Speaking of young people, what would you tell a young person who is looking to find their place in the pro-life movement?
First, they have to decide where their talents/passions lie. Are they politically inclined? Are you more educational? Trust me, it’s really no use having them join a group where that is not where their interests lie. Attend a conference, such as the one after the National March For Life. Hear what is available and find out what is going on in the world. If you are an activist, get involved in the Marches, the Life Chains, the 40 Days For Life etc. Are you more political, educational, spiritual, or service minded? Where do your talents lie and then join a group and take a role.
What are your comments on the current political situation with Justin Trudeau as MP, Brad Wall as Premier of Saskatchewan?
Provincially, I don’t feel a lot of change happening, since the Sask. Party had such an overwhelming victory and they will keep doing what they have always done which is to keep quiet. Do not stir the pot. Things provincially should not get worse but they will not get better for the babies. There are a few areas where we may make some inroads. Let us hope and time will tell. Federally, I cringe at all that has already taken place and all that could happen in the next four years. It is so scary. Having had the abortion debauchery for so many years, we should not be surprised that we are at the other end now with euthanasia. One leads to the other. That is what happens when you start devaluing life at the beginning. What is to stop you from devaluing life at the end? Now having said that, there is some hope in the midst of this doom and gloom and I do not know what is happening elsewhere, but speaking from a Catholic perspective, I have been so impressed with the efforts made by our local bishop in the assisted-suicide and euthanasia issue. Never in all my years have I seen the church take such an active role in trying to educate the people and fight this. So I have been totally surprised and pleased that they are at least taking some steps. They are all on the ball which they should have been on abortion but they missed it. They missed it, but they are making good efforts on assisted-suicide and euthanasia and it is good to see.
What would you say to the thousands of people gathered on the Hill at the National March for Life?
Step up to the plate. Get involved. Vote pro-life! Do your part. There is no work more important that standing up for the unborn, the elderly and handicapped.