On March 20, literally hours before going to press, Stephen Harper, the former MP and president of the National Citizens Coalition, won a decisive first-round victory in the Canadian Alliance leadership race.
In the first days of the campaign, Harper began to reach out to social conservatives on a number of fronts: he supported parental rights in discipline, wanted democratic reforms to open up political debate and supported educational choice. Even on abortion (in 1993, he said he would not deviate from how his constituents polled on the issue, and his polling found that they supported keeping abortion legal but were opposed to funding it) there seemed to be movement. He said he agreed with his pro-life leadership rivals Stockwell Day and Grant Hill that the abortion issue should be settled by a citizen-initiated referendum, and that he would allow private members’ bills dealing with life issues to reach the floor of the House of Commons.
In an interview with The Interim in January, Harper said he was “generally pro-life,” that he was uncomfortable with euthanasia because there was no practical way to protect the vulnerable and that he was inclined to oppose embryonic stem cell research because it seemed callous to some human life.
He has certainly said many of the right things and there is some evidence to indicate that many social conservatives have supported Harper’s leadership bid.
But some pro-lifers are worried that his dispute with Campaign Life Coalition over new memberships in early February may not bode well for his taking up the cause of life.
We remind Harper, and everyone on the political right, that conservatism is more than tax cuts and balanced budgets. Conservative parties must reach out to all conservatives. As former National Review editor John O’Sullivan has noted, conservative parties are successful when they win the support of three constituencies: economic and small-government conservatives, moral traditionalists and patriotic nationalists.
While social liberals within conservative parties and the media like to blame the expression of any pro-life view, no matter how moderate, as the undoing of parties on the right (most notably, the Canadian Alliance under Day), it seems more likely that such parties have failed to make breakthroughs because they have taken for granted moral and social conservatives on election day.