Pre-campaign – Budget and contempt
On March 22, the Conservatives introduced their 2011 federal budget which featured a number of family friendly items: the Family Caregiver Tax Credit (a 15 per cent non-refundable tax credit up to $2,000 for those who care for dependent relatives), $3 million to “support the development of new community-integrated palliative care models,” and a 15 per cent Children’s Arts Tax Credit for sums up to $500 for the enrollment of children in art or music programs. David Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, said he welcomed the introduction of tax credits to benefit families but that the government needed to provide more tax relief to help households meet their financial obligations. “I believe that family income splitting would have been of even greater benefit to more families,” Quist said in a press release. “The IMFC reiterates the need for continued broad-based income tax relief for families, which could be achieved through family income splitting.”
All three opposition parties opposed the budget – the Liberals announcing their intention to do so months in advance and the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party after the budget was made public at 4 pm.
The same week as the budget was released, the opposition parties were maneuvering to hold a vote on a non-confidence motion that would condemn the government’s contempt of Parliament over its lack of forthrightness on the price tag of certain initiatives and Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda’s controversial handling of the defunding of Kairos, a left-wing pro-feminist and pro-abortion NGO. On March 25, the opposition parties united and passed a motion (156-145) saying that the government did not have the confidence of the House because it did not supply enough information on the costs of purchasing new fighter jets, the building of prisons, and the loss of revenue with the lowering of corporate taxes. It was the first time in Canadian history that a government was found in contempt of Parliament and it was obvious that an election campaign would begin within days.
Day 1 – Election called
In response to the vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons the day before on a motion that found the Conservative government in contempt of Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to Governor General David Johnston on March 26 and ask that an election be called for May 2. Emerging from Rideau Hall, Harper framed the ballot question as Canadians having to choose between a Conservative majority and a coalition power grab by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sought to moot the coalition question by releasing a letter which stated he would not attempt to lead a “formal coalition” although he said doing so would be legitimate and he did not rule out an informal coalition or agreement to form the government with the cooperation of other opposition parties if none of them won the most seats. For the first few days, coalition talk monopolized political discussion.
On the day the election was called, Campaign Life Coalition officially launched its campaign to help elect pro-life MPs. In a video on their website, CLC national president Jim Hughes urged supporters to vote pro-life saying “there is nothing more important this election than making sure you vote pro-life.” CLC evaluated candidates and their voting records, quotes, questionnaire responses and ratings (pro-life, proceed with caution, unsupportable) were available on the organization’s website.
Because of the election call, Bill C-389, Bill Siksay’s (NDP, Burnaby-Douglas) private member’s bill which would add transsexual and transgender to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code, and which passed the House of Commons in December, died on the Senate Order Paper because the election was called. Siksay is not running for re-election
Day 3 – Tories announce income splitting
On Monday, March 28, the Conservatives proposed the first policy of the 2011 campaign. Stephen Harper was in British Columbia courting Canadian families with the promise of limited income splitting for couples with children under 18. Income splitting has been advocated by groups such as REAL Women and the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada to remedy the so-called marriage penalty that taxes married couples with one income earner or primary breadwinner more than a two-earner family bringing in the same total income. IMFC estimates that a family in which the spouses earn $60,000 and $20,000 respectively will pay nearly $1,300 more in tax than a household in which both husband and wife earn $40,000 each. Likewise, a family in which one parent earns $70,000 while the other stays home to raise the children, will pay nearly $2,000 more in tax than the family in which both partners earn $35,000. The Conservative Party says The Family Tax Cut “will make the income tax system fairer and reduce the tax burden of Canadian families.” Stephen Harper said, “We understand that family budgets are stretched and by making the tax system fairer for families, we will make it easier for parents to cover the day-to-day cost of raising their kids.” REAL Women vice president Gwen Landolt said the income splitting proposal is “a recognition of the great value of the mother being in the home looking after children.”
The caveat: The Family Tax Cut would not be implemented until the federal budget was balanced. The Family Tax Cut is expected to benefit 1.8 million families an average of $1,300 annually at a estimated cost of $2.5 billion to the federal budget. Michael Ignatieff criticized the plan as too far into the future to matter while feminists and homosexual activists complained the proposal privileged the traditional family.
Day 6 – Liberals announce daycare plan
On March 31, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced a $500 million Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund to launch a national daycare initiative, with funding to increase to a billion dollars annually within five years. Ignatieff said by subsidizing the creation of new daycare spots, the Liberals would “give our kids the head start they need.” The Liberals have defended the plan as both an early learning initiative and a way of creating a daycare system for parents who need caregivers so they can work.
Ignatieff said the Liberals had no plan to scrap the Universal Child Care Benefit that gives families $100 per month for every child under six. In 2006, the Conservatives implemented the UCCB in lieu of the national daycare scheme being set up by then prime minister Paul Martin. National Post columnist Jon Ivison noted that the current proposal is significantly scaled down from the $5 billion annual plan the Liberals proposed in 2005.
Helen Ward, a single mother of two and president of Kids First Canada, an advocacy group that seeks child care neutrality through direct support to parents, said the Liberal plan “discriminates in favour of one form of child care, which is centre-based care.” She told LifeSiteNews.com that government should provide financial assistance directly to families, not institutions: “Parental child care is a form of child care amongst all the others, and we need to be allowed to make these decisions without a coercive action by the state favouring one form.”
Day 7 – AI criticizes Harper government
On April 1, Amnesty International released a report, “Getting Back on the ‘Rights’ Track: A Human Rights Agenda for Canada,” harshly condemning the Conservative government on a wide-range of issues. AI, which in recent years has promoted abortion as a human right, took the Conservatives to task for defunding feminist non-government organizations and excluding abortion in its Muskoka Initiative to address maternal and infant health in the developing world. AI offered tepid applause for raising the neglected issue of maternal health, but argued that without being “firmly grounded in a sexual and reproductive rights framework,” it risks failure. AI claimed that abortion and contraception is “central to making real and sustainable progress in addressing maternal mortality.” AI said they released the report during the federal election campaign so “As Canadians go to the polls they have a crucial opportunity to reflect on these fundamental issues.”
Day 8 – Conrad Black highlights abortion issue
On April 2, Conrad Black wrote in his National Post column that on most issues there was little difference amongst the parties and said the only major difference between the left and the right is abortion: “The right-left distinction is down to Liberal demands for more daycare and the conditionalizing of foreign aid on aggressive abortion programs, and the Bloc Québécois. leader’s impeachment of the Roman Catholic Church’s defence of the unborn as the most defenceless of all people, as a conspiracy to restrict the freedom of Quebec’s women.”
Day 10 – Harper vows not to re-open abortion, SSM issues
In Welland on April 4, answering a question from a reporter about what he would do about social issues such as abortion and same-sex “marriage” if the Conservatives won a majority, Stephen Harper said “I have no intention of opening up those issues.” Harper added: “We will govern on the platform we are elected on.” Harper made similar statements about abortion in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that while he was disappointed, he was not surprised. “He’s been consistent,” Hughes said of Harper. “He has never been pro-life and he does not pretend to be.” Hughes said that Harper’s statement did not change CLC policy of supporting pro-life candidates regardless of party.
Yet, while distancing himself from the abortion issue, Harper was less adamant than in 2006 and 2008. In 2008, he told reporters, “This government will not open, will not permit anyone to open the abortion debate. Our position is clear.” In 2006, he said, “The Conservative government won’t be initiating or supporting abortion legislation, and I’ll use whatever influence I have in Parliament to be sure that such a matter doesn’t come to a vote. I will use whatever influence I have to keep that off the agenda, and I don’t see any likelihood of that in the next Parliament.” Earlier this year, when asked about abortion by the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, the Prime Minister stated: “No, no, I’ve spent my political career trying to stay out of that issue.”
Day 11 – Socons sidelined?
The day after Harper’s statement that he would not re-open the abortion issue even if he won a majority, the National Post reported that social conservatives had been sidelined in this election. Hughes said that was news to him, noting that CLC had a team of staff and local volunteers working to track down candidates and get questionnaires returned. “It’s always tough, but it is important to know where the individual candidates stand on the life issues,” said Hughes. “We elect our MPs, not a party and not the prime minister. Canadians mark their ballot for MP, so that is what matters most in this election.”
Yet Hughes said that comments in the Post story by Queen’s Political Science professor James Farney to the effect that many social conservatives have put partisan support of the Conservatives ahead of particular moral issues, might be a problem, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. “We’ve been trying to convince supporters to look beyond partisan labels and at the quality of the local candidate for more than 30 years,” said Hughes. “Party loyalty should not trump standing up for the right to life.”
Day 12 – NDP clarifies euthanasia position
MP Tony Martin (NDP, Sault Ste. Marie) responded to a CLC questionnaire on April 1 with an official NDP statement that supported both abortion and euthanasia. On April 6, Martin sent CLC a revised stock NDP response clarifying its position on euthanasia. While the NDP is “guided” by two principles on abortion – “A commitment to women’s right to self-determination in every sense with respect to reproductive choices” and “standing up for universal access to abortion services for women” – the revised statement included a correction in regards to euthanasia. The NDP, it said, “does not, as a party, support euthanasia,” clarifying “that this is a matter of individual conscience.” In an email to CLC, the Tony Martin campaign explained the erroneous initial response: “The junior staffer in the central campaign drafted the original response without consulting MPs or the Policy Director … is no longer working on questionnaire support.”
Last year, the NDP caucus was split on C-384, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity), Francine Lalonde’s private members bill that would have legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide: five NDP MPs supported C-384, but 30 voted against it, although many did so over concerns with the wording and not out of principled opposition to euthanasia.
Day 18 – Federal leaders’ debate
During the English language leaders’ debate on April 12, the issue of abortion was raised just once. During a question on crime, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe sought to paint the Conservatives as extreme and included as an example that while Harper himself denies any intent to address abortion and other social issues in Parliament, that does not prevent an individual MP from introducing a private member’s bill. No other leader took the bait as they returned to addressing the question on crime directly. CLC’s Jim Hughes told The Interim he was disappointed that abortion was not addressed: “The killing of 100,000 babies in the womb every year is the most important issue facing Canada, and three leaders did not have a word to say about it and another brought up the word abortion in a desperate effort to make the Conservatives sound scary and resurrect the notion they have a ‘hidden agenda.”
Day 20 – Liz May ‘clarifies’ abortion position
In mid-April, the Vancouver area newspaper the Georgia Straight interviewed Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was challenging pro-life, pro-family Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and on April 14 they ran a story on May’s position on abortion. She said the party has a “pro-life, pro-choice” position on abortion which was causing confusion. Describing the party’s position as “mixed and nuanced” May explained that if women want to keep their unborn child, “we also want to be there to support that choice.” Yet, she and the party has “always” supported “access to legal, safe abortions.” Asked by the Straight’s Stephen Hui if abortion was morally wrong, May was emphatic: “No” and that there is “no room for going backwards” on the issue.
During a 2006 by-election in London, Ont., May told an audience that she has talked women out of abortions, did not “think a woman has a frivolous right to choose,” and declared “I’m against abortion.” She immediately recanted, saying she was “pro-choice” and that she was merely explaining to a group of nuns, “why their belief in (the) right to life means that they should support abortion.” Campaign Life Coalition national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said May is not fooling anyone, saying the Green Party “puts the Earth before human beings … it is anti-people – always has been, always will be.”
The Interim went to press April 19. For more information about the campaign, see TheInterim.com. For candidate evaluations go to campaignlifecoalition.com and click the election button.