Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the Canadian pro-life movement, has looked at the three candidates for the leadership of the new federal Conservative Party and has decided not to endorse any of them.
CLC national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that because none of the candidates – former Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, former Ontario health minister Tony Clement and Magna International CEO Belinda Stronach – will commit themselves or the party to a pro-life position, the political arm of the pro-life movement cannot formally back any of them. He added that it was not the first time CLC has stayed out of the fray of a leadership race. He pointed to the Liberal contest between Paul Martin and Sheila Copps last year as another example.
Over the years, Stephen Harper has sent mixed signals on life issues. In 1993, responding to a CLC candidates’ questionnaire, he said he would follow the wishes of his (then-future) constituents on moral issues and that, after polling them, he found they wanted abortion to be kept legal.
More recently, however, he seems to have positioned himself as more amenable to pro-life issues. In the midst of the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership campaign, he told Global Sunday that he was pro-life. During that same leadership race, he told The Interim that he opposed embryonic stem cell research and went on to vote against Bill C-13 (on reproductive technologies) last year.
But how else has Harper’s self-described “pro-life” view manifested itself? On Garry Breitkreuz’s private member’s motion M-83 last fall – which, if it had passed, would have had Parliament study the medical necessity of abortion – Harper did not vote. An analysis of the political scene in the March issue of the CLC National News notes that in all his time in the House of Commons, and with several pro-life issues brought before the House, C-13 is the “solitary” vote Harper has cast “with parliamentary pro-lifers.”
Still, this must be said for him: under his leadership, pro-life MPs have been able to vote their consciences and speak on behalf of the unborn in Parliament. This, however, is also prudent politics; the Canadian Alliance caucus has a sizeable contingent of socially conservative MPs and it would be politically disastrous for him to put himself in opposition to his caucus.
This should not be read as an indication that Harper supports a pro-life position; the problem is one is never quite sure what one is going to get with him.
Tony Clement, who lost his seat as an Ontario MPP in last October’s provincial election, wants to be seen as being more socially conservative than he really is. He will go only as far right as he thinks he needs to in order to get the votes of social conservatives, but not an inch further. (As one political observer told The Interim, “Harper is willing to go just one inch further.”)
The CLC analysis notes that Clement, too, has a solitary vote for the pro-life position: in 1996, he voted for a bill on parental consent in medical care. (The bill was defeated.)
During the Ontario Tory leadership race in 2002, Clement told TVO’s Steve Paikin that on the issue of abortion, “I’m probably a six or seven on a scale of one to 10 on pro-life, pro-choice,” with 10 signifying fully “pro-life” and one meaning fully “pro-abortion.” However, he failed to explain what “a six or seven” meant and the devising of his own, undecipherable scale on the issue became something of an embarrassment for him. It was also clear that whatever number Clement assigned himself, like Harper, he is unwilling to commit to supporting pro-life legislation when it comes to a vote.
More recently, Clement criticized former Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer as “homophobic” for comments Spencer allegedly made regarding the recriminalization of homosexuality and issues surrounding homosexual propagandizing. Clement’s criticism betrayed his own, very limited social conservative credentials, sending a clear signal to pro-life and pro-family supporters of the Conservative party about where he stands on these issues.
Belinda Stronach launched her campaign on Jan. 20 by announcing that she supports same-sex “marriage.” That same day, her campaign manager John Laschinger told reporters that she supported abortion as well.
The Stronach campaign is justifying her socially liberal positions by claiming an “internal poll” shows that three-quarters of Conservative Party members want a leader who is “middle of the road” on social issues. Or, as a key British Columbia organizer, public relations consultant Tim Crowhurst, says, Stronach will rid the party of the “negative connotations” some Canadians have about the former Alliance and Reform parties, which is often believed to be the perception that they were too socially conservative.
Many political observers believe that a Stronach-led Conservative Party would not present Canada with a real option to the Paul Martin Liberals, because both are seen as fiscally conservative and socially liberal former businesspeople. More than one observer has said that Stronach would provide Canada with the option of “Liberal Lite.”
REAL Women said in a press release that, “If Stronach is elected as leader of the Conservative Party, social conservatives will no longer have a voice in Canada, since the Red Tories who are orchestrating Ms. Stronach’s campaign will have acquired control of the party machinery.” REAL Women predicts the party will be “demolished … in the forthcoming election.”
The situation is not quite as dire as REAL Women forecasts, because, fortunately, politics requires more than party leaders. CLC’s analysis says that it endorses the “dozens and dozens of individual pro-life candidates running for Parliament” regardless of party affiliation. It also reminds pro-life voters that there are “too few pro-life MPs” and that partisan considerations should not trump life issues when one decides whom to vote for on election day.
When it comes to social issues in the political arena, Canadians need a real choice. Sadly, the choice will not be stark enough, regardless of who wins. Fortunately, a good many Canadians, if they look past the leaders of the parties, will find many pro-life candidates running for seats in Parliament, who are deserving of support.