Paul Tuns and John-Henry Westen
When you read the papers or watched the television broadcasts heralding the Conservative Party of Canada’s shift to the centre following their policy convention in Montreal in mid-March, you would be convinced that the social liberals routed the social conservatives in the policy and constitutional votes. But groups such as Campaign Life Coalition see it quite differently. Other than a vote which commits a future Conservative government from supporting regulation of abortion, CLC says they won most votes they fought for and helped elect several social conservatives to the national council.
There were hundreds of pro-life and pro-family Canadians taking part in the Conservative National Convention March 17-19. They were successful in having the Conservatives support traditional marriage and numerous other pro-family policies.
A resolution to maintain the traditional definition of marriage passed with nearly 75 per cent support. Official Conservative policy on the issue now reads: “A Conservative Government will support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” The only delegation to oppose the measure was, surprisingly, Prince Edward Island’s. Even Quebec’s delegation supported traditional marriage with a 54 per cent majority. This result is due in large part to the lobbying efforts of Luc Gagnon and Campagne Quebec Vie.
Other positive developments at the Convention included the adoption of a policy in favour of eliminating artistic defenses used to justify child pornography and raise the age of consent from 14 to 16, the adoption of a policy to eliminate tax disadvantages for families who have one parent stay at home to raise children by introducing measures such as income splitting and support for stay-at-home parents with preschool children. The delegates also opposed the legalization of euthanasia.
Pro-life supporters will have several reliable allies on the National Council that governs the party: Ontario members Kara Johnson and Lois Brown and Nova Scotia’s Mike MacDonald all won hotly contested races. Sam Magnus, a former Canadian Alliance national councillor, was acclaimed as the CPC National Councillor from Saskatchewan. All four are pro-life and pro-family. No doubt they were instrumental in the Council’s first important act, on March 20 – the election of the chairman of the National Council. In what was reportedly a very close vote, former CA chair Don Plett, a “small-town Mennonite plumber” defeated Brian Mitchell, a former PC vice-president and an openly homosexual lawyer from Montreal.
Alas, it wasn’t all good news. The most distressing part of the convention was the passage of a policy resolution which killed debate on the proposed resolution on partial birth abortion. The resolution reading “A Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion” passed narrowly with 54.6 per cent in favour and 45.4 per cent opposed. Several delegates who spoke with The Interim expressed the concern that Harper’s impassioned speech the previous day may have affected the final vote on the measure.
The day before the vote on the abortion resolution, Harper said during his speech, “as prime minister, I will not bring forth legislation on the issue of abortion.” Notably, there was little response to this, whereas Harper received a standing ovation when he spoke in defense of traditional marriage. Harper said during his convention speech: “As your leader, if you disagree with me on these matters, I will not call you stupid or label you a threat to Canadian values. As leader, I care less about your views on these matters than whether you are prepared to respect the views of those who disagree with you.”
Campaign Life Coalition B.C. President John Hof said that “Even after such an impassioned plea from Harper, 45 per cent of the delegates still defied his direction and stated that they were mature enough to have an open debate on abortion.”
CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas added: “The numbers suggest we need to do a little more work to open the party to discussing abortion. Besides, those decisions are made in parliament and, at least in this party, even cabinet ministers are free to vote their consciences on moral issues.”
As a result of the delegates’ endorsement of Harper’s pro-abortion position, a resolution that would commit a Conservative government to ban partial-birth abortion was deemed non-votable. Connie Wilkins, the original presenter of the partial-birth abortion ban and co-owner of FreeDominion.ca, told The Interim that she was disappointed “that I didn’t get to make the case that banning partial birth is both good morally and good politically.” She said that while most debates were “passionate yet respectful,” many members of the party were afraid that a discussion specifically on abortion would become too heated.
Both Douglas and Wilkins noted they were asked by members of the media if they were quitting the party because they lost on the abortion vote. Both vowed to continue battling to have the party adopt pro-life policies and to work to nominate and elect pro-life MP’s. Said Douglas: “The only way we are going to get protection for the unborn,” she said, “is by having pro-life members of Parliament.”
Douglas added that now is the time for all pro-lifers, regardless of partisan affiliation, to get involved with their local constituency association. “We have people in the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP,” she noted. “All of them have to work within their parties to get pro-life candidates selected as candidates and elected as MPs.”
Those who attended the convention know how important and successful grassroots involvement can be.