In the wake of Lyn McLeod’s decision to resign as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, seven would be successors have emerged. One of them will be chosen leader at the party’s convention on November 30.

On life and family issues, the candidates are similar; and none stands out as a strong pro-lifer, to sat the least. They do differ, however, in the degree to which they seem aware of, and receptive to, pro-life concerns.

The Interim interviewed all seven.

Readers should note that at least six of the seven – Annamarie Castrilli, Joe Cordiano, Dwight Duncan, John Gerretsen, Gerard Kennedy and Dalton McGuinty – are Roman Catholic. And each of the candidates was given the recent Environics poll which indicates that 57 per cent of Ontarians oppose OHIP funding of abortion.

All candidates appear weak in defence of the unborn. Castrilli said that while she is opposed to abortion on a “personal level,” she must recognize that others have different views on the matter. On OHIP funding of abortion, she said that “we have the kinds of laws in this country that allow for freedom of choice. That’s a reality; and as a lawyer and legislator, I’m sworn to uphold the law of the land.” When reminded that no law in Canada clearly requires that provinces fund abortion, she responded that “the position of the Liberal Party has always been Pro-choice.”

Cordiano said frankly that he believes in “a woman’s right to choose,” and that abortion “will remain an insured service, as far as I’m concerned. Do we want to go back to the days of women going to the back alleys for their abortions?”

Duncan, who described himself as a “practising Roman Catholic,” said he is “personally opposed” to abortion, but that he is “pro-choice.” He expressed support for continued OHIP funding of abortion, giving as his reason his belief that “pro-life movement hasn’t done a good job of winning the souls of people.” When asked whether people had not been won over on the question OHIP funding, he said he had seen surveys which contradict the Environics poll, and that he does not think such things should be determined strictly on the basis of public opinion.

Diversity of opinion

Gerretsen said that when setting public policy on an issue like abortion, one mist acknowledge that, while “one’s own personal background will certainly play a role,” there is a diversity of opinion on the matter. When asked if this respect for conscience might be an argument in favour of ending OHIP funding of abortion (since so many are morally opposed to paying for it), he responded that “if it’s a medical procedure that’s out there, I don’t think we should be getting involved in picking and choosing which should or should not be funded.” Gerretsen indicated he thinks the best way to address the abortion issue is to focus on helping women in crisis pregnancies, noting there are many good pro-life organizations already doing this.

McGuinty said that although he is a “practising Catholic,” He is also “a public representative, and that includes people of all faiths, even atheists, half of whom believe in a woman’s right to choose. Arguing that he is not free to pick and choose which laws to uphold, he said that his response to the problem of abortion is to work to eliminate unwanted pregnancies. “I like Clinton’s approach,” he noted, “safe, legal, and rare.” To the question of OHIP funding, and whether it is an imposition on tax-payers who are opposed to abortion, McGuinty responded that he does not see it as an imposition, “because I see it as funding being available to those who wish to avail of it.”

Greg Kells said although he is not in favour of abortion on demand, he believes abortion is not a matter of “absolute right and wrong,” and that he fears women will be forced into the “back alleys” if abortion is not available. He believes that the legislator must keep his personal views from “tainting” his work in public life.

Gerard Kennedy said he is “opposed to abortion,” and that it is “and intrinsically moral issue,” but he supports OHIP funding of it. When asked if that support is consistent with his stated belief that public policy must not be divisive, and must have the support of the people, he said the abortion issues should be dealt with on other levels. He said that he would like to address what he sees as the “root causes” of abortion—such as poverty, and strains on the family.

All seven candidates agreed in principle that women considering abortion should be fully informed of the nature of abortion, its physical and psychological aftermath for women, and of alternatives such as adoption. Kells seemed most clearly in favour of this. Castrilli said that while she does not rule out governmental action to ensure such information is given, she thinks little can come of counselling once a woman is in crisis.

On the question of whether they would drop the case against the “Pro-Life 18” (the pro-lifers charged by the former NDP government in connection with pro-life witnessing), they agreed that what is necessary is to strike a “balance” between the “rights” of people seeking/performing abortions and the free-speech rights of pro-lifers. In response to this question, Duncan said spoke at length and with some passion of his belief that “extremists” on both sides of the abortion debate must be stopped, although the only specific examples he cited were on the pro-life side. Kells wondered whether, since the charges were laid so long ago, the case should not be dropped.

All the candidates expressed support for extending spousal benefits to homosexuals, although none favour changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.

In response to concerns about the implications for Ontario of Newfoundland’s move to abolish minority rights in education, all seven expressed support for Ontario’s funding of the separate school system.

On the drive to amalgamate boards, Gerretsen and McGuinty said “bigger isn’t necessarily better”; and Cordiano and McGuinty said they see value in celebrating diversity in society.

To the question of whether separate school boards should be forced to hire non-Catholic teachers, Duncan, Gerretsen, and McGuinty said they should not. Cordiano said they should, citing his opposition to discrimination of any kind.

On whether the drive to cut health-care costs might affect the integrity of denominational hospitals, Castrilli and Gerretsen oppose the methods of the government’s “restructuring commission.” Castrilli, Gerretsen, and Kennedy said consultation with local communities is essential. Duncan, Gerretsen and McGuinty notes the important role of religious groups in the history of health care, and said the role ought to be respected; and McGuinty and Kennedy said those groups should retain control of ethical standards of their institutions. Kells, however, did not rule out hospitals providing services contrary to their ethical standards, to preserve “access” to those services.