On Feb. 6, Stephen Harper and his cabinet were sworn in to office. The initial reaction of social conservatives has been one of cautious optimism overall, but there are specific criticisms regarding key portfolios.
According to Campaign Life Coalition, nine of 26 cabinet ministers – more than a third – are pro-life. The March CLC National News, reported that the pro-life personnel include Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl, Justice Minister Vic Toews, Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg, Minister for Democratic Reform Rob Nicholson, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and National Revenue Minister Carol Skelton.
Social conservatives seem pleased with the naming of Toews, a former Manitoba justice minister and vocal critic of judicial activism, to the justice portfolio. Toews sent some early signals that pleased pro-family advocates when he said that one of the new government’s priorities would be raising the age of consent from 14 to 16, with a near-in-age clause. Toews said the new law would protect young teens from adult sexual predators.
Toews will be responsible for implementing the interim process for parliamentarians to query Supreme Court appointments that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Feb. 20. Harper said that an ad hoc committee to review a nominee for the Supreme Court of Canada will publicly interview Marshall Rothstein, the nominee to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Toews will also be responsible for the government’s motion to ask the House of Commons, when it is brought forward, whether it is the will of Parliament to revisit the issue of same-sex “marriage.”
Flaherty announced early on that he had no interest in continuing the $5 billion, five-year set of deals with the provinces to pay for institutional daycare. He said that program will be history by the end of the year. The Conservatives are thought to want to have $100 cheques for families with children under the age of six in the mail by July 1.
While some social conservatives view Stockwell Day’s appointment to public safety as a demotion because he was not appointed the foreign affairs minister, political commentators have noted Day will be responsible for important issues such as national security, smoothing Canada-U.S. border problems and preparing the nation for public health emergencies.
Furthermore, two other prominent pro-lifers were named as parliamentary secretaries. Jason Kenney was named parliamentary secretary to the prime minister for multicultural issues and Diane Ablonczy was named parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Other pro-life and pro-family MPs were also named parliamentary secretaries.
Some social conservatives expressed dismay that the two were left out of cabinet and wondered whether their pro-life and pro-family views cost them a seat at the cabinet table. But National Post columnist Fr. Raymond de Souza explained the slight had more to do with geography than ideology. Kenney and Ablonczy are both from Calgary and, including Harper, there were already two ministers from that city.
Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes noted with particular interest the appointment of Rob Nicholson as House leader and minister of democratic reform. Nicholson is a pro-life and pro-family MP who stood up to Brian Mulroney and then-justice minister Kim Campbell over Bill C-43, the party’s fundamentally flawed abortion bill, in 1991. Hughes noted that when Paul Martin ran for the Liberal leadership in 2002 and 2003, he vowed to address the democratic deficit and promised that MPs would face less pressure to toe the party line. But Martin reneged on that promise. Hughes suggested that Nicholson implement Martin’s proposals as a starting point to democratizing the House of Commons and reducing the power of the prime minister.
While there were notable good, or at least promising, picks for cabinet, there were also several troubling choices. According to pro-family groups, six cabinet members do not endorse the Conservative party’s official policy in support of traditional marriage: Transportation Minister Lawrence Canon, International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner, Treasury Board Minister John Baird, Trade Minister David Emerson, Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Michael Chong. Emerson and Prentice voted for Bill C-38, the same-sex “marriage” law that passed last year. Chong voted against it, but has signalled that he opposes re-opening the issue. Verner, Canon and Baird oppose revisiting the issue.
Verner is especially a concern to pro-lifers. Tasked with helping rejuvenate the party’s fortunes in Quebec, she has been described as akin to Belinda Stronach because of her socially liberal views. As the minister for international co-operation, Verner is unlikely to reconsider Canada’s funding of international de-population agencies such as the UNFPA and abortion-providing organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Likewise, pro-family and pro-life groups had hoped to replace the pro-feminist, pro-gay contingent at the United Nations. While Allan Rock has been replaced by a career diplomat as ambassador to the UN, REAL Women of Canada vice-president Gwen Landolt said it is unlikely Peter MacKay will be moved to clean house at Turtle Bay (UN headquarters). Canada is a global leader in pushing a radical anti-life, anti-family agenda at the UN and pro-family groups will be watching closely to see if this continues.
Most troubling of all the cabinet appointments is that of Tony Clement as health minister. A former Ontario health minister, he co-founded – with his future wife, Lynne Golding – Conservatives for Choice in the 1980s. According to a LifeSiteNews.com story that ran during the 2002 Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race, Golding, a lawyer, has represented abortionists. This is especially troubling, considering that one of Clement’s first decisions as health minister is whether or not the federal government will continue to press the province of New Brunswick to pay for abortions committed at Henry Morgentaler’s Fredericton site. Last year, then-Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh initiated proceedings to arbitrate the issue.
According to the Daily Gleaner newspaper in Chatham, N.B., the abortuary commits more than 600 abortions a year. At a charge of $500 to $750 per abortion, the site brings in more than $350,000 a year.
During his 2002 leadership bid, Clement described his position on abortion rather vaguely: “I’m probably about a six or seven out of 10 on a scale of one to 10 on pro-life, pro-choice … I believe there are some instances where the woman’s right to choose does trump other concerns and there are instances where that is not the case. I think it’s too difficult a moral issue to compartmentalize, at least (for) me, on one extreme or the other.”
It is impossible to ascertain what Clement would do from such cryptic comments.
As the CLC National News concluded, “There is a pro-life, pro-family justice minister, but a pro-abortion health minister, with a potential conflict-of-interest. Jason Kenney gets to work closely with the prime minister, but is outside cabinet. The foreign affairs minister is a lightweight, but Stockwell Day gets an important and high-profile position as the new public safety minister. We will have to wait and see.”
The cabinet is a mixed bag when it comes to social issues and ultimately, the government will take its cues from the prime minister. Harper has thus far demonstrated that with an eye on a potential majority government within the next two years, he is more committed to caution than principle.
This caution will likely lead him to rein in whatever socially conservative agenda pro-life and pro-family cabinet ministers can muster. Having silenced the socially conservative candidates in the recent election, there is little reason to believe that he will allow them to set the agenda now that they are in government.