“When all your worst enemies are delighted, and thousands of your best friends are appalled, maybe you’ve made a mistake.” — Alberta Liberal leader Grant Mitchell on Premier Ralph Klein’s handling of the abortion de-funding.
If there ever were a convenient political movement for Alberta’s deficit-fighting premier to back, deinsuring abortion was it
The climate was ideal. Polls showed that over two-thirds of Albertans favoured ending government-funded abortion on demand. Callers to talk radio, both pro-life and pro-abortion, agreed that now was the time to end funding a lifestyle choice.
The premier was riding a huge wave of popularity due to his tenacity in making very controversial public, health and welfare cuts. He’d had a rough time in the beginning from unions and private interest groups but that was all behind him. Smooth sailing lay ahead for a man who could do no wrong. Why did he balk?
From the very beginning of the debate, Klein made it clear he was an unwilling participant. “Abortion is a private matter between a woman, her doctor and God,” Klein proclaimed in an absolutely irrelevant statement, seeing as the taxpayer foots the bill for this private matter.
What the “People’s Premier” meant to say was that, “abortion funding is too hot for me to handle. Let someone else tackle it.” Or, if he wanted to be even more accurate, he might have said, “I agree with you only as long as your wishes don’t conflict with my ideals.
In the final embarrassing days of the debate, Klein grudgingly acquiesced to growing caucus pressure and said the government was prepared to de-fund abortions, except those which were medically necessary. He then passed it to the Alberta Medical Association to define medically necessary abortion —–knowing full well that there is no such thing.
When the doctors lobbed this grenade back to the government, dutiful Health Minister Shirley McLellan smothered it –saying the because doctors could not define medically necessary abortions, nor could politicians. She thus declared the issue dead aned a movement endorsed by the greater part of the population was crushed— by a premier who fancies himself a populist.
The greatest lesson to be learned from this fiasco is patience. Preston Manning, Ralph Klein and Mike Harris appeared to be the first truly conservative politicians in decades. Their tough talk on the economy won over many pro-lifers who may have felt that fiscal and moral conservatism go hand-in-hand.
Appealing as this may be, it is also untrue. Manning’s avoidance of the abortion issue has been well documented. Now Klein has fudged on the issue and there is absolutely no indication that Harris will do otherwise in Ontario.
All three conservative politicians have dropped the ball on the moral litmus test of our time—attempting to separate morality from conservatism. Without moral underpinning, their “conservatism” has no ideological integrity. Their movement can last only as long as there is overwhelming government debt to scare people into voting for them.
But patience is necessary. The decades of damage done by “Red Tories” cannot be undone in one generation. This is the first generation of post-liberal politicians in Canada. Manning, Klein and Harris are charting unseen territory without a compass and are continually going off course. We cannot rely on this pack of cost-cutters to do anything regarding the moral issues of the day. They’re driven by pragmatism —not ethics.
Perhaps the next generation will weave morality into the conservative message. Until then, the standard bearer of true (Christian) conservatism is the Christian Heritage Party which, unfortunately, operates under the huge disadvantages common to all small parties.
Klein, Manning and Harris have the political and economic infrastructure to support a movement. They’ve unfortunately missed the essential element of moral integrity which any movement requires for long-term survival. Their revolution won’t live past the ‘90s.
Ideology, which drives a movement, is glaringly missing. They are a ship without sails, adrift at sea. Expect little more than welfare cuts and balanced budgets from this crew.