In August, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall announced he would retire from politics, and the Saskatchewan Party is electing a new leader – and thus premier – on Jan. 27. In the weeks before the eligibility deadline for membership to vote, the Saskatchewan press noticed that the pro-life group Right Now had rated the candidates running for leader, igniting a controversy that dissipated as quickly as it arose.
There were six candidates running for leader, former Conservative MP Rob Clarke and five cabinet ministers: Ken Cheveldayoff, Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Alanna Koch, Scott Moe, and Gordon Wyant.
In ratings posted on their website, Right Now ranked Cheveldayoff first. Right Now’s ratings are unlike Campaign Life Coalition’s in that the latter supports only candidates who are pro-life without exceptions while Right Now assigns a percentage based on record, an interview, and “winnability.” The system could list a candidate with some pro-life sympathies but an estimated better chance of winning higher than a solid pro-life candidate.
The former minister of parks, culture, and sport, said he opposed abortion in cases of rape and supported the idea of parental consent before anyone under the age of 18 could have an abortion. In an interview with the group, he said he would support any provincial legislation that protects “the unborn child, anything that emphasizes that life begins at conception.” He opposed abortion in all but “exceptional circumstances” which he defined solely as in the case to protect the life of the mother. He later told the Canadian Press, “I’d welcome those discussions (on abortion) within the caucus” and noted that abortion is a top-five issue when he talks to voters.
When the local newspapers and broadcasters reported his pro-life position, Cheveldayoff backtracked, saying, “I understand there are circumstances where abortion is necessary,” including for non-health factors. He also said, “let me be very clear – I believe that any victim of sexual assault has the right to make the choice to have an abortion or not.”
Clarke told Right Now that he opposes abortion, as do most indigenous people: “Here’s an interesting aspect that I think most people don’t realize, especially amongst non-Aboriginals, and that is that First Nations don’t believe in abortion. I’m First Nations and I don’t believe in abortion.”
Clarke’s spokesman said the candidate stood behind his comments.
Former environment minister Scott Moe said he would support a discussion of parental notification for abortions. Moe explained, “it would be the will of those caucus members that would ultimately become the will of the government,” when it comes to certain abortion issues. Moe later told the CBC that he is “pro-life” but believes life begins at birth.
Former justice minister Gord Wyant did not disclose his position on abortion, simply saying the courts require it be made available. He later told the CBC he supported abortion.
Beaudry-Mellor, a former social services minister, and Alanna Koch, the premier’s former deputy minister, did not respond to the group, but Beaudry-Mellor said on Twitter that she supports abortion: “We have had the conversation on reproductive rights. We are not going back.” Koch also affirmed her support for abortion.
NDP MLA Carla Beck chimed in, telling the CBC: “I’m surprised we’re having this debate.” Pressed by the NDP during question period in the legislature, Brad Wall said his government was not going to restrict abortion, claiming it was mostly a federal issue.
When he announced he was running, Campaign Life Coalition Saskatchewan endorsed Clarke based on his perfect pro-life and pro-family voting record during his time as a federal MP.
However, on Dec. 13, Clarke withdrew from the campaign and endorsed Cheveldayoff.
CLC Sask president Louis Roth said in the organization’s January newsletter that Cheveldayoff and Moe are “willing to discuss social conservative issues” and although “they are not where we want them to be on these issues, we are willing to work with them to avoid any further erosion of family and social values.”