Paul Tuns:

People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier announced on May 17 that he was seeking a return to Parliament by running in the Portage-Lisgar by-election to be held June 19 and in his announcement speech appealed directly to socially conservative voters in the rural Manitoba riding by vowing to table at the first available opportunity his the Protection of Preborn Children Act to ban late-term abortions.

Bernier was the Conservative MP for Beauce, a southern Quebec riding, from 2006 to 2019, but was defeated after bolting from the Tories after he lost the leadership race in 2017 on the fourteenth ballot to Andrew Scheer. As MP, a leadership contender, and People’s Party leader, Bernier has a mixed record on life and family issues. He once supported the government’s bathroom bill giving special rights to people who identify as transgender but changed his mind after talking with then-University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. He supports same-sex marriage and early term abortions, but as a Conservative Party leadership contender and People’s Party leader, has said that politicians should not be afraid to discuss abortion and vowed to allow MPs a free vote on moral issues. As leader of the People’s Party, Bernier has spoken out against late-term abortions in both the French- and English-language press. Last year, he called late-term abortions in Quebec “abhorrent.”

In his kickoff for the Portage-Lisgar by-election, the libertarian-leaning populist said, “Our governments regulate almost everything in our lives, including such ridiculous things like (banning) plastic straws, but there is a complete legal void when it comes to killing unborn human beings.”

Bernier continued: “You cannot argue that it’s ‘my body, my choice’ in such cases. There is another body, another sentient human being involved, almost fully developed. Freedom is one of my core values. But it doesn’t include supporting the freedom of a mother to kill her fully developed baby, before or after it is born.”

He said the Protection of Preborn Children Act would ban abortions after 24-weeks unless a mother’s life or health are at risk, or in cases of rape or abuse, or “if the baby has a lethal abnormality or brain function.”

Bernier acknowledged that his bill will not go far enough for many pro-lifers and was open to further restrictions to get Canada in line with European countries, many of which outlaw abortion much earlier in the pregnancy. “But we need to start somewhere,” he said, “and from a position that is so strong that our opponents won’t be able to reject it or attack it without looking like depraved individuals with no moral conscience.”

Bernier also announced he will fight for traditional family values because society has been “overtaken by evil” and that he would oppose the “transgender madness” in Canada.

Bernier was joined by prominent pro-life former People’s Party candidates Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, who along with another pro-life candidate, Paul Mitchell, wrote the bill. Thompson said at the press conference that the bill was necessary because the Conservative Party has done nothing of substance for pro-life voters. She said, “We have been distraught at our nation’s refusal to protect the unborn … there has not been one bill protecting children,” asking, “Why do we disregard life so easily?”

Bernier also took aim at the Conservatives and their leader. “I dare you to answer this question, Mr. Poilievre,” Bernier said, “Do you believe that killing a healthy unborn child at seven months is morally acceptable and should remain legal?” He continued, “why do you refuse to reopen this debate?” and “why do you support infanticide?”

Bernier said that more important than any person’s view on abortion is “the moral obligation to reopen this debate.”

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jeff Gunnarson told The Interim that “Bernier has surprised us on numerous occasions,” including changing his mind on C-16 (the transgender law) and encouraging a political debate on abortion. Gunnarson said, “this recent announcement is a sign he meant it” — talking about reopening the abortion issue” — and called it “encouraging.”

Gunnarson said that Bernier’s willingness to discuss topics that Conservatives may be opportunistic creates a wedge issue which can be used to win over discontented Conservative voters, and the strategy could bear fruit for the pro-life and pro-family movements.

He said CLC “welcomes any discussion on the wide-open assault on preborn children that is permitted in Canada and in fact, supported by our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.” He explained that “there is benefit to the pro-life cause to have the abortion issue challenged and discussed in the public arena” even if the proposal is insufficient to meet the grave moral matter of abortion. A debate “informs people, it can change people’s hearts and minds toward a stronger pro-life position, and in some cases can cause a complete conversion to pro-life.”

Gunnarson also said the debate “serves to pull the other candidates toward a pro-life position because of the significant impact it has on political discourse regarding the issue and the voters.” Most importantly, by talking about abortion, it signals to the public that the issue is not settled and provides “a better picture of which candidate will stand up for the unborn,” so that pro-life voters clearly will understand where candidates stand.

In the 2021 federal election campaign, the People’s Party had their best performance in Portage-Lisgar, finishing second with 22 per cent of the vote against former Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen, who has since resigned to force the by-election. The People’s Party of Canada has no official party stance on abortion other than to allow MPs to vote according to their consciences.

Portage-Lisgar is one of four by-elections called for June 19, along with Winnipeg South Centre, Oxford, and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount.