Pro-life cause makes gains, marriage situation uncertain

Despite a desperate and cynical 11th-hour attempt by Prime Minister Paul Martin to use abortion as a wedge issue, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party won a plurality of seats on Jan. 23 and, more significantly, the number of pro-life MPs increased.

What this means in terms of introducing and passing pro-life and pro-family legislation remains to be seen.

After several times unsuccessfully attacking Harper and the Tories as a party of extremists over same-sex “marriage” – and their promise to revisit the issue – the Martin Liberals ended the final few days of the campaign with a sustained attack on the Conservatives on abortion.

Two days before election day, the Liberal Party website had four main stories and press releases, each one dealing with the Conservative Party’s alleged “extremism.” It dredged up an old speech by Conservative MP Jason Kenney to an Alberta pro-life group, in which he said abortion violated the rights of the unborn. The Liberals claimed Stephen Harper shared Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant’s “extreme views” by secretly visiting her riding in the final week of the campaign. The visit included a photo shoot of the MP and leader, but there was no mention of social issues. The stop was covered in the local paper, so the claim that it was a secret campaign stop is laughable. But it demonstrated that the Liberal Party campaign team was so desperate in the final days, after a week of polling that saw the party consistently nine to 14 points behind in the polls. it seemed the campaign team would stoop to any low, no matter how dishonest it was.

The gambit didn’t work. Although the final election result saw the Conservatives garner about 36 per cent of the popular vote, compared to 30 per cent for the Liberals, the polls were beginning to narrow as the attacks over abortion began. Furthermore, pollsters indicated that immigrants, who vote overwhelmingly for the Liberals, were less likely to talk to them and therefore, the party’s support was under-represented in many polls.

That didn’t stop the media from blaming social conservatives for the Conservatives’ falling short of the 130-150 seats they might have attained if their double-digit lead in the polls had been sustained. The Tories ended up with 124 seats, a gain of 25 over their 2004 total.

But party fortunes should matter less to pro-lifers than the makeup of the next Parliament when it is viewed according to individual MPs.

More pro-life MPs

A preliminary analysis by Campaign Life Coalition of the election results demonstrated once again that being pro-life was not the electoral albatross many in the media and some strategists believed it was. Two facts were especially pertinent: the number of pro-life MPs has increased for at least the second election in a row and only three pro-life incumbents have lost in the past two elections – and in those cases they lost to pro-life Tories.

According to CLC’s national organizer, Mary Ellen Douglas, there was a net gain of at least six pro-life MPs. This is about the same increase as in 2004 and marks a slow but consistent growth in the pro-life contingent in Ottawa and with it, the likelihood of eventually passing pro-life legislation.

Contrary to the popular media storyline that Ontario is “socially progressive,” most pro-life gains came in that province, with new pro-life MPs in southwestern, central and eastern Ontario, including former Canadian Promise Keepers head David Sweet.

Looking back at the 2004 election, just one sitting pro-life MP was defeated: Janko Peric, a Cambridge, Ont. Liberal. He lost narrowly to pro-life Conservative Gary Goodyear.
This year, another pro-life Liberal lost, again to a pro-life Conservative – Judy Longfield of Whitby-Ajax, Ont. bowed to former Ontario cabinet minister Jim Flaherty. Both have been upfront about their pro-life views.

That is important. As a analysis noted, “Being upfront about pro-life views does not harm candidates’ election campaigns.”

Several candidates widely suspected of holding socially conservative views – Lois Brown in Newmarket-Aurora, Ont. and a pair of former Focus on the Family Canada heavyweights, Darrell Reid and Cindy Silver, in B.C. – all lost. Notably, all three refused to sign a CLC questionnaire. Without it, Campaign Life Coalition was not able to put its campaign machinery to work for them, costing each of them hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of votes.

CLC questionnaire is important

CLC national president Jim Hughes explained the importance of completing the questionnaire: “A lot of pro-life candidates say, ‘I’m pro-life, the voters know I’m pro-life and so I don’t need to complete the questionnaire.’ If a candidate, even an incumbent, can’t take the time to sign our questionnaire, then that tells many of our supporters, and especially many new people who also look up our results, that the life and family issues are likely not important to that candidate. Then, especially for new candidates without a solid voting record, we are left helpless, because we have nothing to give the folks to prove the candidate is worth considering.”

For Brown, this was not the first time she made that mistake. In 2004, she sought CLC help to defeat Belinda Stronach in the Conservative Party nomination. She refused to answer the questionnaire and so CLC, unable to apply a double standard simply because she was facing the pro-abortion, pro-gay “marriage” Stronach, did not provide her with the support she sought. As Hughes told The Interim, once the organization makes an exception, there is no end to candidates seeking special favours.

Brown lost the Conservative nomination to Stronach by exactly 100 votes out of 1,000 cast in the hotly contested nomination battle. The CLC database, Hughes noted, “far exceeds the 100-vote margin she lost by.”

As Steve Jalsevac and this writer noted in a report for, “Imagine, now, how the events of the last 18 months might have been different if Brown had defeated Stronach for the Conservative nomination in Newmarket-Aurora.” There would have been no Stronach with whom the Martin Liberals could have made a deal to save their government in last May’s budget confidence vote. The government might have fallen before it had the chance to pass the same-sex “marriage” bill a month later. This is not to say that Brown is responsible for same-sex “marriage,” but to note that history could have been very different if she had completed the questionnaire.

CLC has long counselled candidates who are pro-life to state their positions unapologetically. It is the right and principled thing to do, but it is also politically expedient. With the pro-life position out in the open, it takes away more damaging charges of harbouring a “hidden agenda.”

Unapologetic pro-lifers win

Hughes is pointing to successful politicians in each party who have never hidden their pro-life principles: sitting Liberals Tom Wappel and Paul Szabo and Conservatives James Lunney and Jason Kenney, as well as former Liberal MPs Rose Marie Ur and Roseanne Skoke and former Tory MP Elsie Wayne. A notable example is Paul Steckle, who held onto his rural Ontario riding of Huron-Perth, Ont. by more than 2,000 votes. Unlike many other (pro-abortion) Liberal MPs representing predominantly rural ridings who were defeated by the Conservatives, Steckle is going back to Ottawa for a fifth term.

Other unabashed pro-lifers were returned also, notably the “controversial” Cheryl Gallant. The Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Ont. MP was returned to Ottawa with 58 per cent of the vote – the highest percentage of the vote of any Conservative in Ontario. Another Ontario MP who broke the 50 per cent threshold was pro-life Scott Reid, while pro-lifers such as Goodyear and Jeff Watson won with much larger margins than they did in 2004.

What it means for legislation

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the majority of MPs are not pro-life. Hughes said with the minority situation, he expects most politicians will play it safe and avoid moral issues. He also noted that Harper has prioritized his issues (accountability in government, a reduction in the GST) and has an ambitious agenda that will take up the time of his caucus, while the Liberals will be busy with a leadership race to replace Martin.

Furthermore, the Conservative platform commits a government formed by the party to not restrict abortion. During a campaign stop in Quebec, Harper went beyond that, as he vowed that he would do everything in his power as prime minister to prevent a private member’s bill on abortion from even being debated. The next day he was slightly less adamant in his opposition to abortion legislation, telling Global TV that his own views on abortion lie between the “extemes” of pro-life and pro-abortion and that they are “complicated.” Pressed to explain them, he simply said that abortion is not on the agenda.

One thing Harper had promised to do is revisit the issue of same-sex “marriage,” but it is questionable whether there are enough MPs to overturn it. With most pro-marriage Liberals returning, and several pro-marriage Liberals no longer in cabinet and whipped into supporting same-sex “marriage” (Raymond Chan and Albina Guarneiri, to name just two), it would seem that pro-marriage forces are closer to repealing C-38. However, the Tories failed to hold six seats held by pro-marriage Conservatives in the past Parliament (some, such as Paul Forseth, were defeated while others, such as John Reynolds, did not run) and the same-sex “marriage”-supporting NDP picked up 12 seats. Furthermore, their single pro-marriage MP, Bev Desjarlais, who was kicked out of caucus last fall, lost her bid to represent Churchill, Man. as an independent.

Rev. Tristan Emmanuel, director of Equipping Christians for the Public Square Centre, told The Interim that it might be better to wait on the marriage issue until social conservatives are in a better position in the House of Commons than they are now. “We want to approach this from a position of strength,” he said.

“We need to get organized to be in a position to revisit the issue when we can win it.”
There are conflicting reports about whether Harper will allow a debate and vote early in his mandate, wait until later or forget about his commitment to re-open the issue.

Emmanuel said that regardless of what happens, pro-family Canadians must understand that a setback is not a defeat and just as gay activists never gave up their fight, pro-marriage forces shouldn’t either. “Same-sex ‘marriage’ is not an immutable reality,” he said.

Hughes shares the same sentiment on life issues and is urging pro-life Canadians to continue working for the protection of the unborn. He says supporters should contact their MPs and urge them to stand up for life and family. He is also reminding pro-life MPs to put aside partisan differences “for the sake of life and family and the good of the nation” to work together to enact life-affirming and life-protecting legislation.