Campaign Life Coalition interviewed former Liberal MP Garnet Bloomfield (London-Middlesex)by telephone on October 31. Bloomfield was one of two Liberals to vote against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.
CLC: You were one of two Liberal MPs who opposed the charter in 1982. By voting against it, you voted against your party and against Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Why did vote against it?
Garnet Bloomfield: I was against abortion so that never crossed my mind. I wrestled with the bill going forward in the Spring (1981), and I talked to many people, what should I do? I was surprised, people were telling me don’t worry about it Garnet. I was sitting in Sunday School Class one day, and I glanced at the portion of the 24th chapter of proverbs and it said if you sit quietly, and you know it’s wrong, God will hold you accountable, and so I thought, there I am, that was my answer. I was just determined, do what God had me to do, come what may. I guess, when that broke, when it became public that one MP wasn’t going to vote for it, my office went just crazy with telephone calls. They figured that there wasn’t anybody there that would put their hand up and vote against it.
I wrote Pierre Trudeau a letter and I told him that I have no other choice but to vote against the bill, because I can’t support the bill if it doesn’t support the right to life for the unborn.
I couldn’t support it, that’s all
CLC: How was your relationship with Pierre Trudeau before and after the vote?
GB: When I found out that they were not going to give the right to life in the new bill. I asked Jean Chrétien if I could meet with him. He said, “my name is Jean “Christian” and I’m a good Catholic,” and I said “yes?” but he didn’t want to meet with me so I waited and gave him three weeks, so I went on and the next person I talked to was (senator) Keith Davey. So he said what’s the problem Garnet? Well I said “I can’t vote for a bill that doesn’t give the right to life,” he said “I didn’t know you believed that’ and I said, ‘well I do and I won’t change.” He said, “would you mind meeting with Jim Coutts?” (Coutts was Trudeau’s principal secretary.) I said, “I have nothing to hide I’ll meet with anybody.” So he set up a meeting with Jim Coutts. One morning Jim Coutts called my office and said “I understand that you would like to meet with me?” – “well yes I would.” “Well I’ll come to your office,” [he replied]. Jim Coutts didn’t go to anybody’s office, he was Pierre Trudeau’s right hand man and so when I got off the phone and told my staff that Jim Coutts was coming to my office, they all fell on the floor, they said “he doesn’t go to anybody’s office” well I said “he’s coming.” So he showed up and we went into a private room and we talked about it. He said “you know Garnet, you’re going to be surprised, my background is mostly Methodist preachers,” and I almost fell on the floor too. He appreciated my stand and asked if I would meet with the prime minister, and I said “I’ll meet with anybody I have absolutely nothing to hide.”So he set up a meeting with Pierre.
So I walked into his office, and he came from around behind this desk that’s as big as a small room and set up two chairs, and I have to say that when we talked there, he talked to me like an older brother, people thought he was a snooty, he certainly wasn’t with me. He talked for at least 20-30 minutes on why the government was proceeding the way they were, trying to justify what they were doing. So when my turn came to talk, I said “Well Mr. Prime Minister, if we don’t stick to what we’re known for back home, we lose all credibility.” He said “I know what you’re talking about Garnet, the problems with Quebec, when I took a federal stand, I lost at least a third of the French vote.” Well I said “Mr. Prime Minister, you did what you believed was right, and I guess I’m just asking for the same right.” I tell ya, the room got awful quiet, and I wondered whether it would be a blow up or a blow down or whatever, and so we sat there in silence for a little while, and you know in a situation like that, a few minutes seems like a…(chuckles) quite a long time waiting for him to respond. He said “you know Garnet, I understand where you’re coming from, I just want you to know that I’m doing the best that I can for the situation that is before us. I appreciate your view and we will think on that.” So I left the room, and after the deal (charter) was done, he twice appointed me parliamentary secretary, and that’s entirely up to the prime minister’s whim, and you know, for a new MP to disagree with a very important bill and he didn’t hold anything against me. I had a lot more respect for him after that. He didn’t agree with me but he said he was trying to do the best deal he could. And I understand that, these Christian things I didn’t know if they were a priority for him or not, it did with me, and he knew that but he still respected my views. That was something for him to do. Not many men would’ve done that, to take a stand against him for a major bill, the charter. And I understand that when others tried to get a foothold with him, mocking my stand, he would defend me.
CLC: Was the Liberal caucus open to debate on various issues and were you able to speak out publicly in Caucus? How did other members react to your voting based on principle and values?
GB: Oh I did. You know you didn’t do it every caucus, or you would wear yourself out, but I did take the opportunity every once in a while to remind them. (At the time of the Charter) some of them told me, “Bloomfield, you vote against that bill and you might as well go home”, I said, “well that’s ok with me, I’ll go back home, crawl onto my tractor and get on with my work with a good clear conscience.” When Gwen Landolt came to speak to the caucus, there were about 40 MPs who were sympathetic to what we were doing, but you know, when Cardinal Carter spoke out, he thought the bill didn’t take either side, and so he Ok’d it. And when he made that announcement, MP Ursula Appolloni (York South -Weston) from a downtown riding, she came in waving her hands “we’re free we’re free, if it’s good enough for the cardinal, it’s good enough for me!” And the caucus went wild. Because they were under a lot of pressure, not supporting the government bill, and now they were free to do it. He made a terrible mistake, and they tell me that he himself confessed after he had a stroke, that he believes that the Good Lord struck him down for doing that.
CLC: Tell us how it was that God got into the constitution?
GB: I got up in caucus and I said, “you know, it’s mentioned by John Diefenbaker, why would you cloud that when John Diefenbaker isn’t here, and the good Lord is still around, why would you not want to put something in there that recognized God as the supreme being, because he came ahead over all, and you know, the Liberal Party at that time wanted to not mention that section, and I argued with them, you know. We all recognize that God is there, the majority of the parliamentarians believe in God, maybe in different ways, but they recognize God as the supreme being, and a majority of people would agree with that.” And I said, “why wouldn’t you want to put that into the constitution,” the Liberals made it so that there could only be one amendment to that bill, and this one French Canadian MP said to me, “I don’t know how a backbencher like you has so much power in the government.” I guess getting God into the Charter and not protection for the unborn was easier for them to swallow. I fought that night and day.
CLC: What advice would you give to a current member of parliament or someone who is considering a run for office, on standing by your values and not compromising on your principles?
GB: I don’t know what I would do today, Stephen Harper hasn’t given any support in allowing a vote on that (pro-life issues). I guess if I was there, I would do what I did (with Trudeau). I would talk to him and I would vote the right way. The prime minister isn’t God, I don’t swear allegiance to the prime minister. It comes to the point of who do you serve, and I let them know that as a Christian I had beliefs, and I had no intention to change them.