It is amusing, in a way, that the media claims abortion is not a political issue, that no one but pro-lifers care about it anymore, and yet candidates in the centre-right parties must always answer reporters questions about it. If it is not an issue on the minds of voters, why do some candidates try to use abortion as a wedge issue.

These paradoxes are on display in the current leadership races taking place in the Canadian Alliance on the federal level and the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario.

After weeks of reaching out to conservatives, Stephen Harper unexpectedly began attacking Stockwell Day over his pro-life position. The Harper campaign also criticized Campaign Life Coalition over the organization’s efforts to recruit members for the CA.

Harper told CTV’s Question Period Day is trying to appeal to evangelical churches and pro-lifers on a socially conservative platform that he does not highlight in his standard stump speeches.

A participant at one such “church basement meeting” told The Interim that abortion was never mentioned. “I was kind of disappointed,” he said. “I would have liked to hear about Stockwell’s record (as a provincial politician) on life issues. I understand it was impressive, but he never mentioned abortion. Not once.”

Nonetheless, Harper claimed it would be “disastrous” for the CA to make abortion a “litmus test” for membership or voter support. In the days preceding the television interview, Harper’s campaign manager, University of Calgary political science professor Tom Flanagan, said Day “is trying to string together a coalition of single-interest groups to win,” and charging that “It is very dangerous for the party if it gets taken over by special interest groups.”

Of course, no such thing is happening.

Jim Hughes told The Interim it was ridiculous to claim Day had a hidden agenda on abortion saying that Day’s views on the issue are well-known because the media – not Day – constantly brings it up. Hughes also said that “no one wants to make this a single-party issue,” but hope rather that the party would be open to pro-lifers, allowing them a seat at the table. “We want the opportunity to raise the issue,” Hughes said.

On Feb. 7, Flanagan complained to Terry Horkoff, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Canadian Alliance, that CLC was allegedly violating campaign rules governing the leadership race. On Feb. 8, Horkoff agreed that CLC was violating the rules and asked the organization to cease soliciting new members.

While the party did not answer Interim calls to clarify the rules, sources in both the Harper and Day camps told The Interim third parties are not allowed to purchase new memberships, which is a change from the previous leadership race. CLC, however, was not purchasing memberships for their members, but served as a conduit for its supporters who wanted to take part in the CA leadership race. Since Feb. 8, CLC has abided by Horkoff’s ruling and ceased soliciting new memberships.

Some media outlets gave the misleading impression that CLC was soliciting donations in order to purchase mass memberships. In fact, the CLC National News encouraged people to contact the CA directly through either the national office or a constituency association. Through the pro-life website LifeSite, CLC requested potential members send cheques payable to CLC that would be transferred to the CA. The website was changed on Feb. 8.

Some media reports have also said CLC endorsed Day. In fact, the organization has merely noted in its literature that both Day is pro-life and that Hill is pro-life with exceptions, and that support for abortion is a disqualifying issue. While it is clear CLC would prefer Day or Hill win the leadership race, such statements are hardly endorsements.

Harper has labelled himself pro-life, holds some moderate pro-life views and would democratize the political process in a way which would be beneficial to pro-lifers (and others), but many pro-life leaders are wondering what the future holds following the attacks on CLC. Diane Ablonczy says she is pro-life but adds that Canadians want decisions about abortion left “up to individual conscience.”

While Harper attacked Day, the Ontario media went after Tory leadership hopeful Jim Flaherty. The Toronto Star referred to Flaherty as a “staunch pro-lifer” despite the fact the candidate has said he will not seek major changes to the status quo. The National Post wrongly reported (in a headline), “Anti-abortion supporters told to join Tories, back Flaherty.”

Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist Ian Urquhart was more subtle: “But once they have joined the party, whom should they support? Here the social conservative groups are less direct.” In what Urquhart calls “helpful hints” he quotes CLC National News: “We remind supporters that Jim Flaherty has declared himself pro-life … Tony Clement has declared himself pro-life with exceptions,” and that CLC “dismisses” (Urquhart’s words) Ernie Eves, Chris Stockwell and Liz Witmer as pro-abortion.

While the media hammers Flaherty for being pro-life, CLC reports getting angry calls from some supporters for supporting the provincial Tories or endorsing Flaherty when he has not publicly committed to do much to protect the unborn.

Hughes told The Interim that, at the very least, it is better to have someone who is willing to publicly say he is “unequivocally pro-life” than someone who is not. Flaherty has also said there will be no expansion of abortion services in Ontario – which is more than can be said of his leadership opponents or the provincial Liberals under Dalton McGuinty.

Hughes pointed to other promising signals from Flaherty: he is committed to reviewing what health services could be de-listed, holding the line on abortion, and openness to democratization of the political process to allow more free votes and private members’ legislation.

“I can’t imagine that a review of what is and isn’t covered by our health system would allow the continued the taxpayer funding of a lifestyle decision,” said Hughes about the possibility of defunding abortion.

Hughes also said, “Democratizing Queen’s Park would allow MPPs to deal with a variety of issues that can be handled on the provincial level like informed consent for women and conscience protection for health care workers.”

Hughes admitted he has not been pleased with the way Flaherty has answered some questions about his pro-life stance, but added that he is still the “most pro-life of the leadership candidates.”

That said, CLC has not endorsed Flaherty. “We are telling our supporters who are inclined to vote for the Tories to get involved. Our job is to help our supporters get involved and make informed decisions at election times.”

Hughes said that Flaherty is the best choice for pro-lifers, with Clement “a few steps back” and the others “are way down the road, behind.”