New Tory premier promptly rebuffs Morgentaler

New Brunswickers say it is too early to discern the bent of their new Conservative government elected on June 7, making 33-year-old Bernard Lord the youngest Canadian premier. Yet among social and moral conservatives there is cautious optimism that new blood will mean positive changes.

The Tory victory was an unexpected landslide. Lord had been leading the Conservatives for only a year, yet out of 55 seats, they took 44. The Liberals won 10, and the NDP secured only one. The Liberals had gone into the election with 45 seats.

After 12 years of Liberal government under Frank McKenna and more recently under Camille Thériault, the Tory caucus is relatively inexperienced. Only eight have been members of the legislature before. Premier-elect Bernard Lord himself had served for only eight months.

Beth Crouchman, president of Saint John and Area Right to Life, said, “This new government is young and energetic and some good people got in. We have some reason for hope.”

Thaddée Renault, vice-president of Fredericton Right to Life, said “They are earnest people trying to do their best. They will need good advisors. They say Lord has two – one on the right, one on the left!”

During the election campaign, Campaign Life Coalition circulated a “life issues” questionnaire to all candidates. They received few replies. In follow-up calls to those who did not respond, they discovered candidates were claiming that signing the questionnaire would violate guidelines contained in the Election Act.

The newly formed Fredericton chapter of Canada Family Action Coalition, of which Renault is a charter member, also polled the candidates. Their questions addressed such issues as child care subsidies, gambling, same-sex “marriages,” abortion funding, charter schools, a conscience clause for health care professionals, and restraining the Human Rights Commission. Though it received a somewhat better response, some respondents said reproachfully, “This is a political arena and you are asking moral questions.”

According to Crouchman, Premier Frank McKenna considered himself to be pro-life.

“He tried to stem the tide of abortions, but he could find no way to avoid paying for in-hospital abortions and the number tripled during his time. But he refused to pay for procedures at the Morgentaler clinic,” she said.

Nine or ten abortions are done one day a week at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton. Reliable figures are not available for Morgentaler’s clinic, which is open twice a month. It is known that he cannot get a New Brunswick doctor to perform abortions for him, and that his office manager has left.

The ballots had hardly been counted when Morgentaler wrote an open letter to the premier-elect, arguing that the government ought to pay for abortions at his clinic.

Lord’s former health critic told the media that this was an agenda item for later consideration by the yet-to-be-appointed health minister. But to the relief of pro-lifers, that same day Lord stated to the media, “He better not wait for me or our government to fund his clinics, period.”

Noted Crouchman, “His response was quick, strong, and definite. That was a good sign.”

Renault hopes it will lead to an openness to find some way to get the truth about abortion into the schools.

What of other pro-life and pro-family concerns?

Lord claims to espouse strong family values, and is expected to resist new demands by homosexual activists.

There is a certain amount of discontent with the system of “parent advocates” introduced by Frank McKenna to replace elected regional school boards. Lord has said he will examine the situation carefully.

He has promised deep tax cuts, and is committed to major changes within the first 200 days. He has also promised healthcare reform.

“Overall, he has a hard row to hoe,” said Avery Keenan of Moncton, a long time member of Alliance for Life and board member of NB Right to Life. “But they say Bernard Lord is fair-minded and hard working. That’s a good start.”

Carol (Gilmore) Tozer of Newcastle notes that this is a very good time to educate and inform the newly elected MLAs, before their policies are etched in stone.

Renault agrees that at this point they are still willing to talk. “It seems to be staying in office that changes their attitudes,” he said.

Beth Crouchman points to the many layers of bureaucracy in government. “Civil servants are often in positions of great power. Major decisions are frequently made by non-elected committees and nameless persons. The Minister’s hands may be virtually tied,” she argued.

She added, “We should keep the pressure on, keep alert and informed. We should all be watchdogs, and if they get on the wrong track, we should be quick to point that out to them.”