Long leaves key policy questions unanswered
Analysis by David Curtin
*Note: this on line version contains a few corrections to the original printed version
Campaign Life Coalition’s recent survey of the Canadian Alliance leadership candidates affirms what The Interim reported last month: that Preston Manning and Stockwell Day are acceptable or even promising on life and family issues, but that Tom Long would be unwilling to change the status quo on these all-important matters. But the survey responses also reveal some interesting differences between Day and Manning, indicating that Day might be more assertive in defense of life and family.
At the time The Interim went to press, none of the other leadership candidates had responded to the survey.
Day told CLC that he would like to “see legal protection of all innocent human life in Canada.” Manning agreed that there should be restrictions on access to abortion in Canada, but qualified this by adding that “the specific nature of this protection should be settled through a broad public debate ending in a national referendum.”
Long avoided answering the question on his personal desire for a pro-life law. Instead, he supports “improving the resources that are available to mothers with unwanted pregnancies” and wants to make “the adoption alternative better for such women.”
Long “would not personally introduce legislation on abortion,” while Day and Manning both agreed on the need to initiate public discussion on the abortion issue. Day has, in the past, initiated such discussion and “would continue to initiate broad public discussion of the protection of innocent human life.” Manning promises, as Prime Minister, to “initiate a broad public dialogue followed by a national referendum on establishing legal rights for the unborn so that Canadians can decide for themselves how they want to deal with this issue.”
Long also supports the use of referenda “on matters … of deep moral significance,” commits “to vote my conscience,” and promises that he will never make “a habit of disguising” his views on matters of conscience.
Manning and Day would both pass legislation to permit private citizens to bring forward legislation through “citizens-initiated referenda”, and Day promises to “support any pro-life measures” from this process. In an April interview with The Interim, Manning also committed to campaign for the pro-life side in a possible future referendum.
There is, however, one important difference between Manning and Day on the issue of pro-life legislation. Beyond “citizens-initiated referenda,” Day “would undertake measures that will allow Members of Parliament” to introduce pro-life legislation, and “would support any pro-life measures brought forward” by Members of Parliament.
Manning, meanwhile, “would very much encourage Parliament to address the issue of defining the rights of the unborn,” but does not believe that “elected MPs ought to be able to make such decisions for the whole nation.”
So what would Manning, Long and Day do, as individual MPs, if the issue of restricting abortion was put before the House of Commons? The question raises the issue of whether an MP should vote according to his conscience or according to the wishes of his constituents.
The former Reform Party, which forms the core of the new Canadian Alliance, required MPs to vote according to the “consensus” in their ridings, when it came to issues like abortion and euthanasia. Article 69 of the Canadian Alliance Policy Declaration echoes this approach: “Where an MP finds that a clear consensus has been reached on an issue, his or her responsibility is to represent that consensus over party or personal views.”
All three leadership contenders agree that a candidate for office should clearly state his views to the voters before being elected. They differ, however, on how they view their obligations as legislators to represent the wishes of constituents.
Long promises “to listen very carefully to his constituents,” who “would elect me, and each of my caucus colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, to represent their views.” However, in the event of a vote in the House of Commons on an abortion bill, Long also states that he “would want all MPs, not just Canadian Alliance members, to be able to vote their consciences freely without party discipline.” Presumably, this means that Long would want MPs to vote their conscience, unless a consensus existed to the contrary, in which case an MP would be expected to vote against his conscience and for the consensus opinion of his constituents.
Manning expressed a willingness to help shape that consensus in the “hope that in such a discussion I can convince them of the wisdom of my views.” But, in the final analysis, if “it can be clearly demonstrated that the consensus of my constituents is contrary to my own views, then I feel that I must either vote according to their wishes or resign my seat.” Manning concludes: “I have a right to my conscience, and a responsibility to declare it. But I have no right to demand that others accept it.”
Throughout this leadership campaign, Day has insisted, notwithstanding his personal convictions, that he is ultimately “a democrat.” Accordingly, he agrees with Long and Manning that candidates for Parliament must be clear about their convictions when seeking election. He also agrees with Manning about the need to help shape a consensus by speaking out on issues, and has done so in the past (even during this leadership campaign). Even in the scenario where a “consensus” emerges in his riding differing from his publicly stated position, he follows Long and Manning in agreeing that an MP’s responsibility is to vote “in accordance with his constituents wishes.”
But unlike the others, Day believes that a legislator should have a bottom line where he should be prepared to vote against a consensus in his riding.”I believe that this obligation cannot bind legislators to vote in favour of measures which would abrogate inalienable human rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and property,” he says.
Beyond the issue of a pro-life law restricting abortion itself, there are other important abortion-related issues that need to be addressed by anyone seeking the office of Prime Minister.
For example, many provincial premiers hold up the federal Canada Health Act as their excuse for not de-funding abortion in their province. Federal politicians dodge the issue by claiming the issue is strictly one for the provinces. As long as abortions are paid for by the taxpayer and this confusion remains, this issue of abortion funding will remain on both the federal and provincial agendas.
Day said he supports cutting taxpayer funding of abortion and noted that he pushed for defunding as an Alberta cabinet minister. Manning emphasized that abortion funding is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, but said a Manning-led government would strongly support the right of any province to de-fund.
Long simply stated that “the definition of insured services and the means of administering the health care system is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.” But in the provincial jurisdiction where Long has considerable influence – Ontario – he has made no public effort to encourage an end to taxpayer-funded abortion.
After five years in power, Long’s provincial PC Party in Ontario has made no move to defund abortion in that province.
On the question of protecting the freedom of religion for health care workers who are pressured to take part in abortion in violation of their consciences, Manning cited the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for his support of the principle of freedom of conscience and religion. Day committed to supporting measures to protect the rights of health care workers. As a member of the Alberta legislature, Day already has a record of supporting such measures. Long had nothing to say on this issue.
Day, however, went beyond “principle” and actually committed to supporting measures to protect the rights of health care workers. As a member of the Alberta legislature, Day already has a record of supporting such measures. Long had nothing to say on this issue.
Manning, Long and Day agree that the current law pertaining to euthanasia and assisted-suicide is satisfactory.
Manning believes that “existing laws offer sufficient protection to the elderly, disabled and other vulnerable people” but would ensure that “provinces have the flexibility and resources to innovate in this area and strengthen access for patients to palliative care.”
Day would support legislation that improves the development of, and access to, palliative care across Canada, “provided it respects provincial jurisdiction” and would also “look to see what appropriate measures could properly be put in place within federal jurisdiction.”
Manning and Long would not support any legislative initiatives on palliative care, citing provincial jurisdiction in this area, but both emphasize the need to restore health care funding to the provinces.
Day is prepared to maintain and effectively enforce the current moratorium on research and development of new reproductive and genetic technologies (NRTs). Manning prefers “effective legislation to the current moratorium.”
Manning would permit certain reproductive technologies “which enhance human life” but believes such technologies “should be subject to statutory limits that protect the best interests of the children involved, and preserve the unique dignity, value and identity of human life.”
Long believes it “essential we improve the choices of couples that cannot conceive without medical assistance, provided that we do not commercialize the human body or permit practices to develop that are contrary to human dignity.”
Day thinks “existing NRTs such as in-vitro fertilization and various methods of artificial insemination need to be carefully regulated” and would oppose “any NRTs that involve commercial surrogacy arrangements, the sale of sperm, eggs, or zygotes, cloning, or genetic manipulation of embryos such as animal/human hybridization.”
Manning does not believe “that market mechanisms able to govern technology and procedures for the reproduction of human life” and, like Day, sees a need for legislation and/or regulations governing the area of reproductive and genetic technologies. Manning suggests that “historically the greatest abuses of genetic research have…been perpetrated…by governments for ideological reasons” and that an acceptable alternative to legislation might be “a quasi-judicial regulatory tribunal acting at arm’s length from the government itself.”
All three candidates who answered the CLC survey – Stockwell Day, Preston Manning and Tom Long, say they consider themselves to be “pro-life,” while only Day and Manning say they recognize that human life begins at conception/fertilization. Day is distinguished from the others in that he actually has a record of supporting pro-life initiatives in areas such as defunding and freedom of conscience for health care workers. Day is also willing to personally support pro-life legislative initiatives brought forward in the House of Commons, and recognizes that there is such a thing as “inalienable human rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and property” which must not be abrogated by majority vote.
With files from Paul Tuns