The Conservative Party was reduced from majority government to sizable opposition, falling to 99 seats. Campaign Life Coalition rates 41 of the victorious Conservative MPs pro-life and admits that others were supportable according to their red, yellow, and green-light system. Because the Liberals and NDP have either formal or leader-imposed policies prohibiting pro-life candidates, CLC had no green-lit candidates in those parties.
According to a CLC analysis, another seven MPs have “pro-life leanings.”
Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Coalition said, “not all is lost” because “our position in the Official Opposition has actually been marginally strengthened.” The previous Conservative caucus was 40 per cent pro-life, but that has risen to nearly 44 per cent. Taking those with pro-life leanings, about half the caucus is pro-life. “That assures us,” Fonseca said, “that there will be a strong pro-life voice in the House.”
CLC national president Jim Hughes said that 35 of the pro-life members of Parliament are returning incumbents while six new pro-life MPs will be coming to Ottawa. Hughes said that because pro-lifers like Maurice Vellacott and Rod Bruinooge did not run for re-election and with the defeat of vocal pro-life MPs like Pierre Lemieux, Jeff Watson, and Stephen Woodworth, new pro-life leaders within Parliament must step up. “Not every pro-life MP must bring forward pro-life legislation or speak in Parliament, but we need a few to step up to publicly keep the abortion issue alive in the House of Commons.”
Hughes said he hopes the pro-life contingent will be enlarged by MPs about whom CLC had little or no information. And Hughes reiterated that all pro-life MPs should hold fast to their principles and vote pro-life whenever the chance comes. He also said the parliamentary pro-life caucus needs rejuvenation with a “healthy membership which will work both front-and-center and behind the scenes to promote a life-protecting and life-affirming agenda.”
Hughes said although the Trudeau government will promote abortion and euthanasia as well as a number of anti-family policies, the pro-life members of Parliament must “strongly oppose any and all efforts to expand abortion services – for example putting pressure on Prince Edward Island to do abortions on the Island – or legalize euthanasia.”
Not everyone is pleased with the social conservative bent of the party. Conservative commentator Tasha Kheiriddin wrote in iPolitics that the Tories need to ditch the religious right in order to “rebuild the ‘big tent’ needed to gain and hold power.” Complaining about the Harper government’s refusal to fund abortion in the maternal health initiative and the creation of an office of religious freedom – items that were not topics in the federal election – Kheiriddin said, “the next person to assume the mantle of leadership must be a unifying, inclusive figure with a team to match.” She said religion had no place guiding party policy.
Hughes disagrees. He told The Interim that the party would be foolish to ignore the large base of socially conservative voters that support the Conservatives, many precisely because there are no other options for pro-life and pro-family voters.
CLC’s Jeff Gunnarson is urging pro-lifers to renew their Conservative Party membership in order to vote in the leadership race. The party’s national council has not yet set a timeline for the leadership contest with various camps lobbying for a quick or long campaign, whichever might benefit their campaign. The Hill Times reported that a vote could be put off until 2017.
Former defense minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast) was considered the front-runner, but sources tell The Interim he might not run. He received a green light from CLC due to his perfect pro-life voting record and he has been open about his pro-life views. In 2012 during the debate over M-312, Woodworth’s private member’s motion calling for a scientific inquiry and debate on preborn human life, Kenney repeatedly and publicly reminded the government and the media that party policy was to allow a free vote on moral issues. Nearly 90 Conservative MPs supported M-312, including Kenney. Only two other reported leadership hopefuls voted for M-312, MP Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) and former health minister Rona Ambrose.
Despite his vote for M-312, Chong still received a red light from CLC, as do most other possible contenders: MPs Maxime Bernier (Beauce), Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills), Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka), Lisa Raitt (Milton), and Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill), and former justice minister Peter MacKay, who did not run for re-election. CLC gave MPs Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey) and Ambrose (Sturgeon River Parkland) a yellow light due to their mixed record and statements.
Other candidates being mentioned are Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, former Toronto city councilor Doug Ford, and Mark Mulroney, son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. CLC has insufficient information on these individuals to make any judgement at this time.
Gunnarson said pro-lifers should become involved immediately. “We do not have to jump into this leadership contest based on the candidates that are running,” he said. “That’s not the incentive. The incentive is to find a good candidate to run.” He called a membership “a $15 insurance policy that you’re going to be able to vote for a pro-life candidate if one should materialize.”