The former Glengarry–Prescott–Russell MP said that “in a democracy such as ours, there should be no debate that is closed.” He said that sex-selective abortion was an issue that should be debated and that “I stand with those Canadians with serious reservations about gender-selective abortion. I want to speak out on behalf of these baby girls and have a respectful discussion on the issue.”
His call for a “thoughtful and respectful debate” was met by complaints that social conservatives were hijacking the party.
Michele Austin, a conservative party activist who works for Summa Strategies in Ottawa, told the Canadian Press that Lemieux was simply trying to get noticed in a crowded Conservative leadership field (at the time there were 14 candidates): “There’s a crowded field and everybody’s trying to get votes. So, from a strategic point of view we shouldn’t be surprised about it, but I think that a lot of Conservatives are going to be disappointed if this hijacks the agenda.”
Austin made it clear she did not appreciate that Lemieux was raising moral issues: “I think that a lot of people will be disappointed that he’s going to go this hard and this fast on the issue of abortions — this early.”
Austin added, “The joy under the Rona Ambrose leadership is that there hasn’t been any great divides in these kinds of social conservative issues and we’ve enjoyed this quiet time of rebuilding, where everybody is free to pursue their interests and their own beliefs.”
Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that Austin seems to be saying that “everybody is free to pursue their interests and their own beliefs except for social conservatives.” Gunnarson pointed out that at the Conservative Party policy convention in Vancouver last May, delegates overwhelmingly supported language reinforcing the party’s opposition to gendercide abortions.
Conservative MP Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University), who is also running for the CPC leadership, supported his erstwhile colleague’s call for a debate on sex-selective abortion: “Pierre and I are endorsing party policy and I think the other candidates in the leadership race need to say, do they or do they not support party policy when it comes to gender-selection abortion?”
Another MP and leadership contestant, Maxime Bernier, said through a spokesman that he would keep his personal moral views to himself but supports the right of MPs to raise whatever issues they wish.
Campaign Life Coalition says in its January CLC National News that while pro-life candidates have run for the leadership of parties at the provincial and federal level, seldom do they run on life issues. Both Lemieux with regard to gendercide abortion and Trost regarding conscience rights, have raised moral issues on the campaign trail as they seek to earn the support of the important social conservative wing of the party.
During the Dec. 6 CPC leadership debate, the candidates were asked about how they would promote unity within the party given that “historically” it “suffered from ideological splits and infighting.” That was presumed to be a reference to the split between social and fiscal conservatives. Trost said that after the Conservative convention that saw delegates remove language supporting traditional marriage, many social conservatives “wanted to leave the Conservative Party because they felt their views were being disrespected.” Trost said, “I encouraged them to stay, and one of the reasons I’m running today is because all branches of Conservatives need to be part of this party.” Trost says he is a conservative across the board on fiscal, social, and security issues. Lemieux said “we want all views in our party.” He said that claiming some issues are closed, “shows no respect to those people who have these values, who have these beliefs, and want to express them within the party and within the country.”
Andrew Scheer, the MP for Regina—Qu’Appelle and a former Speaker of the House, is also seeking the leadership. He has a perfect pro-life and pro-family voting record according to Campaign Life Coalition, but was not endorsed in the leadership contest because of October comments, indicating he thought the abortion and marriage issues were settled. Scheer also said when he launched in early fall, the party needs to “keep every single kind of conservative not only in the tent but excited about working in the next election.” Scheer is counting on his past record to win over social conservatives and he said during the debate, “I can keep every kind of conservative united on the things that bring us together.”
Bernier and MP Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills) both said they would permit free votes.
To vote in the May leadership election in each riding, supporters must join the Conservative Party by March 28. CLC says that with the preferential ballot, in which members can support as many candidates as they want, pro-life and pro-family voters can show their support for numerous candidates if more than one is worthy of support. CLC is urging supporters to purchase a membership in the Conservative Party so they can back the pro-life candidates who are running for leader. Gunnarson says, “even if one of our candidates do not win, it is important that the eventual leader sees the importance of the social conservative movement within the party.”