With the announcement by Stephen Harper on national television that he is “moderately pro-life,” it seems that each of the four contenders for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance supports a pro-life position, at least to some degree.
As LifeSite has reported: “While former leader Stockwell Day and Dr. Grant Hill were clear on their pro-life stands from the beginning of the race, both Stephen Harper and Diane Ablonczy claimed for the first time in interviews with Global television … that they are ‘pro-life’.”
Day and Hill have made no secret of the fact they are pro-life. Both have been rated as “pro-life” by Campaign Life Coalition according to questionnaires they have answered during previous general election campaigns and in public statements. Furthermore, in his various portfolios in the Alberta cabinet, Day fought on behalf of life and family. Ablonczy was rated pro-life with exceptions, in part because of her support of the idea that referenda can – or should – settle moral issues.
The case of Harper is a little more complex.
CLC has been classifying Harper as “pro-abortion” because of an answer he gave on the questionnaire when he was a candidate for the Reform Party in Calgary West in 1993. Harper said that while his “personal moral views on the abortion issue tend to the pro-life side,” he would not vote against public opinion within the constituency. Harper released polling data from Calgary West that indicated a slight majority in favour of legal abortion, but a two-thirds majority against taxpayer funding of abortion. Harper said his votes on these issues, if such issues were before Parliament, would “not be inconsistent with public opinion.”
However, in subsequent years, Harper slowly has begun reaching out to social conservatives. In a 1998 interview with The Interim, he said any conservative coalition must include social conservatives and urged social and fiscal conservatives to find common ground. He noted, as an example where the two sides could agree, changes in tax policy to bring about the equal treatment of all families and end discrimination against stay-at-home parents (a policy favoured by each of the leadership candidates).
While running for the leadership of the Alliance, Harper has often been asked for his views on abortion. For months, he used the same line as Day and Hill. (Ablonczy has not been asked this issue, or at least it hasn’t been reported in the press.) Harper said that the party has no official position on the issue, that the abortion issue can be settled by a citizen-initiated referendum and that he would not stand in the way of MPs putting forward pro-life private members’ bills.
Harper added that he doesn’t believe the Canadian Alliance should put forward legislation on moral issues such as abortion. In December, he told an Ottawa audience, “I do not believe this party, as a party, can be focused on the abortion issue. As leader, I am not going to focus this party on the abortion issue or on the leader’s personal moral and religious views.”
Expanding on that idea, Harper told Report Newsmagazine that “very sensitive and clearly religious denominational moral issues should not be issues of party policy, and the leader should be careful not to make his views the central issue.” On his website, Harper adds that he would “certainly welcome free votes for MPs, private members’ bills on the issue and citizen’s initiatives.” Harper told Report, “I think they (moral issues) should come up at the initiation of private members, and I think we can look at the citizenry raising them in a democratic process.”
Hill temporarily got himself into some trouble when the National Post misreported that he would not permit a referendum on abortion. Hill clarified later that he would not promote any such referendum – a position shared by all four candidates – but that he would indeed permit one if it was initiated by grassroots Canadians – a position also shared with the other candidates.
Throughout December and early January, when he was asked about his own views on abortion, Harper was adamant in not answering. He told Report that, “Because I’m running for the leadership, I tend to not spend a lot of time discussing these issues, because of the danger that the leader’s views become the party’s views. My own views on abortion – I’m not on either pole of that and neither of the interest groups on either end of this issue would probably be comfortable with my views. I just leave it there.”
Then, on Jan. 20, there was a new development – he told Global Sunday’s Charles Adler that he was “moderately pro-life,” but left it at that. CLC said in its February CLC National News that it must wait and see how his newly declared pro-life position translates into actual policy.
During this leadership race, Harper has not been asked which way he would vote if a private member’s bill were to come up for a vote. Day and Hill have both said they would vote pro-life. In no uncertain terms, Day told The Interim, “I will vote for any law that protects the sanctity of human life.”
Ablonczy and Hill did not respond to The Interim’s requests for an interview, but an interview with Harper is scheduled to take place shortly after this issue goes to press.
As Harper makes gestures to social conservatives, the only leadership hopeful to highlight a strong pro-life position in his campaign literature is Day. On his website, under the heading, “Respect for life,” he says: “I strongly support the dignity and value of all human life,” and adds as an example that he supports the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision that affirmed that “young Tracy Latimer’s life was as valuable as any other Canadian’s.”
Without detailing specifics, he also notes his concerns with the Parliamentary health committee’s report on reproductive technologies, which would allow embryonic stem cell research. He says such research would allow “human embryos, which are human life, to be destroyed in the name of science.”
Last September, Day came out strongly against research on embryos after Ablonczy, the Alliance health critic, and Preston Manning, the party’s science and technology critic, publicly supported the idea. Hill opposes research on embryos and Harper has not made any public comments on the issue.
During the Adler interview on Global, Ablonczy said she was pro-life, but made it clear that abortion was a backburner issue for her, and that Canadians are currently preoccupied with “higher priorities,” such as the economy and national security.
Pro-life advocates are noting the irony in the fact that the media are saying abortion is of no concern to most Canadians, while at the same time repeatedly asking the candidates how they would handle the issue.