Liberals win huge majority.
Opportunities for pro-lifers.
Life and family issues in the next Parliament
On Oct. 19, the solidly pro-abortion Liberal Party won a majority, taking 184 seats in the enlarged 338-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives were reduced to 99 seats and the NDP lost more than half their caucus, falling to 44. The Bloc Quebecois elected 10 MPs and voters in Saanich–Gulf Islands returned Green Party leader Elizabeth May to Parliament.
The media offered various analyses about why the Liberals won/Conservatives loss, and despite moral issues hardly finding traction in the national election campaign, several pundits were quick to suggest that the Tories needed to be more progressive. Throwing social conservatives under the bus has become a part of every election post-mortem.
The Campaign Life Coalition analysis focused on how pro-lifers did. CLC rated more than 120 candidates pro-life, and 41 of them were elected. Another seven have pro-life leanings and there are several candidates about whom they had no or insufficient information. The pro-life wing of the party is not dominating but it is significant.
CLC’s analysis noted 58 pro-life incumbents ran for re-election and that 23 lost their bid to return for another term. The 35 returning pro-life MPs will be joined by at least six new pro-life Conservatives: Alex Nuttall (Barrie–Springwater-Oro-Medonte), Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Ft Saskatchewan), Len Webber (Calgary Confederation), Michael Cooper (St. Albert – Edmonton), Bob Saroya (Markham – Unionville), and Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton – Melville). As a percentage of the Conservative caucus, the pro-life contingent is slightly larger now than it was when the Tories had the majority.
The CLC analysis found that pro-life Conservative candidates had a higher rate of electoral success than their pro-abortion colleagues: “Only 31 per cent of Conservative candidates who had been rated ‘pro-abortion’ by CLC got elected,” while “47 per cent of Conservatives rated ‘pro-life’ by CLC are heading to the House of Commons.” It would seem that being pro-life was not the electoral albatross that many in the media present it as.
The problem for pro-lifers is that these pro-life MPs are, for the first time since Campaign Life began rating candidates in 1978, all in one caucus. The NDP has long had as a matter of policy the requirement that all its candidates be pro-abortion. In 2014, Justin Trudeau, without consulting his party, issued a diktat that all candidates for the party would have to vote for pro-abortion legislation as a matter of upholding the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (despite abortion not being part of the document). In the 1980s and 1990s, under Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, two supporters of legal abortion, as much as a quarter of the Liberal caucus was pro-life. Today, there is not one pro-life MP among the 184 Liberals in Ottawa.
CLC national president Jim Hughes says that is not good for the pro-life movement or sitting pro-life MPs. “It’s never good to have all your eggs in one basket,” Hughes explained in an interview with The Interim. “It allows pro-abortion advocates, political opponents, and journalists to paint abortion as a partisan issue rather than a moral issue.” He also said that when two mainstream parties are “rabidly pro-abortion, it allows the party that tolerates pro-lifers to win their votes without offering us anything of substance.” Hughes said it is better for pro-life MPs to cooperate across the aisle to minimize the partisanship around most issues, but says that will be impossible in the immediate future.
Abortion was hardly an issue in the campaign. Trudeau and Tom Mulcair tried to score political points against Stephen Harper on abortion during the debates, but the prime minister mostly deflected the issue. Asked about funding abortions overseas as part of his maternal health initiative, Harper said the government was focused on policy that united, not divided people.
During his decade in power, Harper assiduously avoided the abortion issue. His Prime Minister’s Office reportedly scuttled pro-life legislation and motions in committee and put pressure on his cabinet and caucus to vote against pro-life initiatives.
As Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau not only dictated that all his candidates be pro-abortion, he threatened to expand abortion services in Prince Edward Island, where surgical abortions have not been carried out since the 1980s, if he became prime minister. When the Liberal platform was released, he vowed to “cover the full range of reproductive health services” including abortion, as part of Canada’s foreign aid for maternal and newborn health.
Hughes told The Interim he hopes, but does not expect, Trudeau to break some promises. “A prime minister can’t keep every promise and considering how little play these issues got during the campaign, it isn’t clear he has a mandate to impose his radical, pro-abortion agenda,” Hughes said. Although both these policy shifts — making PEI fund and provide abortions and expanding overseas abortion funding through foreign aid — can be done as regulatory changes, Hughes called on the new government to bring these proposals to Parliament for a full debate if they insist on going through with them.
CLC urged supporters to “adopt their MP” to educate them and hold accountable. Hughes stressed that even pro-life MPs need to be adopted, so they can see they have support when there is pressure to abandon their pro-life principles. He said the most important things pro-life voters can do is pray for their MPs that they be protected from attacks and maintain their principles in the face of political pressure.
The most urgent pro-life issue is euthanasia. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition would still like to see the notwithstanding clause invoked to set aside the February 2015 Supreme Court decision imposing euthanasia and assisted-suicide on Canada for five years. EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg warns that there are no safeguards to sufficiently protect the vulnerable from legal euthanasia. Considering his personal and party’s support for euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide Trudeau could introduce legislation legalizing euthanasia, which he called upon the Conservative government to do last spring, or he can let the court-imposed deadline of February 2016 pass without enacting a law and leave it to provinces to regulate or tolerate euthanasia occurring in a legal vacuum.
Issues affecting families include Liberal promises to legalize marijuana, expand safe-injection sites for heroin users, and reversing income-splitting that mitigates the marriage penalty for single-earner households. CLC’s Jack Fonseca said he expects the government to revive the so-called “bathroom bill” granting transsexual and transgender individuals special rights under Canada’s human rights laws.
On election night, Harper stepped down as Conservative Party leader. Hughes called that an opportunity for pro-lifers to elect a Tory leader that might do more to highlight social issues and permit more leeway for his pro-life caucus members. Ideally, he said, it would be a leader unafraid to tackle abortion directly. The only pro-life MP being mentioned thus far as a possible leadership contender is Jason Kenney. It’s too early to speculate on leadership, but CLC is urging supporters to renew their Conservative Party membership in order to take part in not only the leadership vote but also the policy convention scheduled for October 2016 and to get involved in their constituency association