When the editor of this paper asked me to address this question, I knew it would be presumptuous to expect all pro-lifers to agree with me.  Over the last 20 years, the purists and the pragmatists among us have had our differences, and I know that there will be as many sincere, dedicated warriors who disagree with me as there are those who agree.

I can only tell you what makes sense to me.  Whether it will help elect candidates who effuse to waffle on the life issues, precious responsibility to cast our vote wisely.  I don’t consider voting for the least bad among the candidates to be responsible voting.

And yet, many of us have been guilty of doing just that because it is less trouble than taking an active part in the process before the candidates are nominated.  The strategy of identifying pro-life candidates by obtaining their signatures on a declaration has been Campaign Life Coalition’s way of involving people at the local level.

However, once a signature has been obtained and the endorsement made, many pro-life voters feel there is nothing left for them to do except cast their vote.  They seem to think that they need not discuss life issues with the endorsed candidate because a commitment has been obtained in writing that he will defend and uphold the right to life.

As a result at all candidates’ meetings and media interviews, the pro-life candidate is inundated with questions from voters who do not agree with his pro-life position.  The candidate begins to wonder where all his supporters are.  He might be misled into believing that most of the voters in his riding are pro-life.  He begins to re-think his solemn promise because he desperately wants to get elected.

I would like to remind pro-life voters of the importance of speaking to each candidate who is asking for support, letting them know how crucial the life issues are.  It is especially important that the pro-life candidate know that this issue is the one that separates him and her from the other candidates.

Open-line programs and all-candidates’ meetings are ideal opportunities to speak up, letting candidates know that pro-life voters can be just as articulate and persistent as those who support abortion.  And so, instead of thinking that the job has been done because Campaign Life Coalition has obtained a signature from the candidate, understand that it is up to each one of us to convince pro-life candidates that we will do everything we can to support them publicly when the media and the ‘alternate lifestyle advocates’ attempt to ridicule and humiliate them.

Sometimes, even when we have had a hand in finding and successfully nominating a pro-life candidate, we discover that not everyone keeps his promise.  Jim Edwards is a classic example.

Edwards may recall, if he reads The Interim, that when he announced his intention to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination in Edmonton South, he met twice with the CLC delegation in my living room.  Initially, he was uncomfortable with our insistence that before we could help him win the nomination, we had to have a firm commitment in writing that he would, if elected, initiate or support a law to protect the right to life of everyone.

We scheduled a second meeting later in the week after suggesting that Edwards discuss with Don Mazankowski how he was able to deal with being openly pro-life within the Conservative caucus.  (Mr. Mazankowski was still on our list of ‘standard bearers’ at that time.)  During the second meeting, Edwards said he had resolved all his apprehensions and was able to sign our candidates’ statement without hesitation.  We kept our promise to help him win the nomination.  Although I haven’t been in contact with our Edmonton ‘army’ lately, I can imagine the chagrin of one particular friend whose 45 new P.C. memberships were responsible for Jim Edwards’ victory.

You might be wondering what will has to do with casting a responsible vote.  Well, the pro-life community in Edmonton South trusted CLC’s endorsement of Edwards and so he received their support.  Now, we have a different scenario which very likely will change the political landscape in Edmonton South.  For those who hold the pragmatic philosophy of voting for the least bad among the candidates if no pro-life candidate is running, they will have no difficulty in voting again for Jim Edwards.  Ironically, his support for Kim Campbell is enough to convince the pro-aborts that they need not worry about him any more.  Could it be that he feels he will have the best of both worlds this time?

I have used this example because it illustrates the concept of supporting candidates who are only fair-weather friends where the life issues are concerned.  I believe that once we discover that a pro-life candidate is not brave enough to keep his solemn word, we have no obligation to vote for him.  For those who must face the choice of voting for a pro-life coward or a pro-abortion supporter, I have to ask them, “What difference will it make?”  Can we ever again count on someone who has gone back on his word?

There are those who will say that being on the inside of Kim Campbell’s tent, as Jim Edwards is now, is a definite advantage for the pro-life cause because he will be in a privileged position to influence legislation which may be coming down the tube.  There is no doubt that this is what his re-election team will be using to convince Edmonton pro-life voters to re-elect him.

I can definitely say, if I were a resident of Edmonton South, that I would not count on Jim Edwards again, particularly if it were some politically incorrect issue like abortion, euthanasia, fetal transplants, reproductive technologies or RU-486.  There may be other issues where he would be a marvelous champion, but those were not the issues on which he gave us his solemn word.

The question is always asked: “What do we do if none of the candidates is pro-life?”  I have seriously considered the options of voting against the incumbent, or voting for the candidate with the weakest reasons for supporting abortion, but none justifies my voting for someone who supports killing babies.  Because our voting franchise is individual, like our name, no one may do it for us.  The responsibility lies heavier on some than on others, but I would intentionally spoil my ballot before I would vote for someone who does not object to abortion.

(Kathleen Toth was the first president of Campaign Life Canada)