Martin’s abortion attacks ‘a miserable failure’

Analysis by Paul Tuns
The Interim
Following a campaign that saw the topic of abortion raised to a prominence not seen in recent elections, pro-lifers can count on nearly a dozen new pro-life MPs taking up the cause in the next Parliament.

While some social conservatives may be disappointed that Paul Martin won a sizeable minority, and others unhappy that there wasn’t the political realignment some had anticipated, pro-life leaders note that there are at least 10 additional pro-life MPs, bringing the political wing of the pro-life movement’s goal of getting a majority of pro-life MPs across party lines that much closer.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that his organization’s initial analysis showed a net pro-life gain of 10 MPs. He added that a number of new MPs may be pro-life, but for one reason or another, did not respond to the CLC questionnaire.

One reason many candidates do not answer the questionnaire is that they are advised not to, lest their political opponents and the media use their position on abortion as a wedge issue. Despite a paucity of evidence on the relationship between one’s views on abortion and electoral success, many strategists and the media continue to claim that being pro-life is a hindrance on election day. To this end, the Liberal Party launched an attack on the Conservative Party’s “hidden agenda” on social issues, including abortion, same-sex “marriage,” Supreme Court appointments and upholding the Charter of Rights.

When polling numbers showed the Conservatives even with the Liberals, the Team Martin attack dogs were unleashed. The very day that the Globe and Mail reported in a front-page headline that Stephen Harper could become prime minister, it also ran a front-page story, “Tory critic wants new abortion rule,” urging “mandatory third-party counselling.” However, the next week, Globe columnist Hugh Winsor criticized the media for being willing accomplices in the Liberal fear-and-loathing strategy, painting the Conservatives as socially conservative extremists. Winsor reported that Rob Merrifield, the Tory health critic who urged counselling, never said it should be mandatory. But the damage was done. Another Globe columnist, Margaret Wente, said that urban women who were considering voting Conservative would not risk supporting a party that would send women to the back alleys. Or so went the storyline.

But as the Liberals hammered away at the issue harder and harder, the Conservatives rose in the polls and Liberals slid. There was even talk of a Conservative majority as the Conservatives pulled six points ahead nationally and, at one point, nearly 10 points in Ontario. One Liberal strategist who talked to The Interim described the Team Martin strategy to focus on social issues as a “miserable failure.” Another source close to the Liberals told The Interim that internal polling found Canadians were “disgusted” by the attacks on the Conservative Party as an alleged threat to abortion and gay “rights.”

Most disconcerting, however, is the media’s role in this. CLC’s Hughes said that the media accepted the Liberal line that Harper was pro-life, despite the Conservative leader’s insistence that he was personally somewhere in the “middle of the two extremes” and CLC consistently rating him over the years as either “pro-abortion” or “not pro-life.” But again, such facts did not fit the storyline.

Harper’s position on abortion was that a Conservative government would not do anything in its first mandate, but that he would not stop a member of the party’s backbenches from introducing private member’s business on abortion or any other issue; he would allow free votes. Hughes noted that Harper was too cute by half and tried to have it both ways. By leaving the issue an open question after the first mandate, he tried to not alienate social conservatives, while trying to not scare away people uncomfortable with anything but the most modest restrictions on abortion.

Hughes suggested this was a failed strategy. By not offering much to pro-lifers, he did not sufficiently court social conservatives. By offering free votes and trying to take a “moderate” position on abortion, he did not convince Canadians that he did not have a secret agenda on abortion. In short, his middle-of-the-road approach did not ingratiate him with anyone.

It became clear, however, that Martin overplayed the abortion card, going so far as to send Immigration Minister Judy Sgro out to heckle Harper on abortion at one of his Toronto campaign appearances. She asked him, “Whose rights are you going to take away next?” But it appears that Canadians were not as fearful of a debate on abortion – which is what Harper would tolerate, but which could not be countenanced by Martin – as the Martin-media assumption postulated. National Post columnist Don Martin said the over-the-top attacks on the Conservatives over abortion were a “perplexing” strategy and demonstrated that the Liberal Party war room was “disconnected” from its party and the country.

REAL Women spokesman Diane Watts told The Interim that although the topic of abortion was repeatedly raised, the issue was barely discussed. She said, “The Liberal fear campaign distorted the discussion of social issues,” and explained that while the word “choice” was mentioned by Martin, NDP leader Jack Layton and the media, there was never any exploration of what that choice entails.

“A debate on the issue was, once again, prevented,” she said. Watts added that without a debate on abortion, the majority of Canadians who do not read The Interim or other pro-life publications would have no idea what “that choice” really is.

Hughes also criticized the Liberal leader. Martin condemned Harper for not disciplining his MPs after the media reported on a month-old comment by Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant. During the March for Life in Ottawa, Gallant compared abortion to the beheading of an American in Iraq. Martin and his media allies thought this extreme and went on the attack, again. Martin said abortion was a Charter right (although abortion is not mentioned in the Charter) and called the Conservatives a threat to the Charter.

Proof that abortion is not the electoral liability many believe it is lies in the numbers. There are 10 new pro-life MPs, bringing to at least 62 the number of pro-lifers in the next Parliament.

The Liberal Party elected two new pro-lifers: in Saint John (N.B.), Paul Zed beat pro-gay “marriage” Conservative Bob McVicar for the seat that Elsie Wayne had held from 1993 until her retirement this year. In the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Centre, Borys Wrzeanewskyj beat the socially liberal Conservative candidate, Lida Preyma. Former cabinet minister Allan Rock, a supporter of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” formerly held this seat.

The Conservatives elected new pro-life MPs across the country. In New Brunswick Rob Moore, who reportedly has pro-life leanings, beat Tory turncoat John Herron in Fundy. In Ontaro, pro-life candidates won in Essex (Jeff Watson), Niagara Falls (Rob Nicholson), Niagara West-Glanbrook (Dean Allison), Oshawa (Colin Carrie), Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry (Guy Lauzon) and Leeds-Greenville (Gord Brown).

In the open Manitoba riding of Kildonan-St. Paul, former MLA Joy Smith edged out her Liberal opponent. In Saskatchewan, Brad Trost took Saskatoon-Humboldt from Conservative-turned-independent Jim Pankiw. In Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Tom Lukiwski edged out NDPer Maurice Kovatch as former Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer siphoned nearly seven per cent of the vote as an independent. Also in Saskatchewan, Andrew Scheer unseated NDP veteran Lorne Nystrom in Regina Qu’Appelle and Ed Komarnicki held off another pro-life independent, former premier Grant Devine. In British Columbia, Russ Hiebert, who unseated incumbent Val Meredith for the party’s nomination, held South Surry-White Rock-Cloverdale.

Incumbent pro-life MPs generally held their own. The only pro-life Conservative to lose was B.C.’s Andy Burton (Skeena-Bulkley Valley). Two pro-life Liberal incumbents lost: John O’Reilly (Haliburton-Victoria-Brock), who first won in 1993 and was twice re-elected because of conservative vote-splitting in the riding, and Janko Peric (Cambridge) who lost to pro-life Conservative Gary Goodyear.

The high-profile races produced mixed results. In Kings-Hant, Scott Brison, an openly gay MP who crossed the floor to the Liberals when his Tories merged with the Canadian Alliance last December, won re-election. In an example of extraordinary hubris, his victory speech equated the election with the acceptance by voters of Canadian values. In Charleswood-St. James, the gay former mayor of Winnipeg, Glen Murray, was defeated by disabilities activist Steven Fletcher. Murray was thought to be a shoe-in for cabinet, where he would have no doubt been a powerful voice for the gay agenda. In Edmonton Centre, the deputy prime minister, Anne McLellan, who as health minister ushered the government’s reproductive and experimental technologies bill through Parliament, won a squeaker. She beat her opponent by less than 700 votes. In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Jean Augustine, a rabid feminist, beat back a challenge by pro-life Conservative John Capobianco. In Simcoe North, Liberal Paul DeVillers surprised many by turning a

way a strong challenge from pro-life Conservative Peter Stock; Stock, who has worked for both the Canadian Family Action Coalition and Report magazine, is a frequent contributor to The Interim.

Hughes said he expects social conservatives to be blamed for the failure of the Conservatives to live up to the high expectations their peak polling numbers fed. He noted that it was precisely when social issues, especially abortion, where being mentioned in the media that the Conservatives did well in the polls.

He said the Conservatives did poorly because Harper failed “to articulate a strong, principled position on the issues.” He identified same-sex “marriage” as one in which the majority of Canadians would agree with most in the Conservative Party, but which was an opportunity squandered by Harper.

Still, Hughes accentuated the positive. He praised voters who looked beyond leader and party labels to elect pro-life MPs, a strategy he notes, which will eventually yield a pro-life majority in Canada’s Parliament.