The Family Coalition Party garnered less than one in 100 votes cast in the Oct. 10 Ontario election, leading some people, including pro-lifers, to ask: is the party still relevant?

Admittedly, the juxtaposition of this fact and this question is unfair, although getting just 0.8 per cent of the vote is a reflection of larger problems. These problems lead to serious questions about the party’s relevancy, in the face of its current leadership and priorities.

Some pro-life activists, including some FCP candidates, question the party’s focus on electoral reform; namely, its support for proportional representation. They see it as, at best, a distraction from the party’s primary purpose and, at worst, an abandonment of the party’s founding mission.

Founded in 1987

After national discussions and consultations at three strategy meetings, the FCP was founded by Campaign Life Coalition in 1987, with the goal of raising the abortion issue during election campaigns and giving pro-life voters an ethical choice on election day in ridings where the mainstream parties do not run pro-life candidates. The goal was to see how it worked in Ontario and then see if it would be applicable to other provinces. B.C. has been the only other province to try the FCP option, but that province’s party merged with other parties in 2000.

In 1990, CLC (and The Interim) threw its support behind the FCP, which ran candidates in 76 ridings and won 4.5 per cent of the vote province-wide. More impressively, it broke 10 per cent in several ridings and reached a high of 13 per cent in one case.

When the party was founded, the understanding was that its purpose was not necessarily to elect candidates to the provincial parliament. Thus, it would not run candidates in ridings where one of the other parties already had a pro-life candidate. With the help and support of CLC, the FCP raised awareness of the abortion issue and the pro-life movement flocked to the party.

That might have been part of the problem. Mary Ellen Douglas, CLC’s Ontario president, tells The Interimthat almost immediately, FCP activists began acting like politicians. Just like candidates in other parties, some began to sacrifice clarity on the abortion issue for the sake of political expediency. She recalls candidates in the Kingston area wanting to downplay their pro-life stance because it would be a barrier to getting votes. “The party was created to raise the abortion issue,” she said. Douglas says she shakes her head when she hears about FCP candidates downplaying their pro-life views because it might hurt their chances to get elected. “They’re not going to get elected, period,” she says in near exasperation.

Focus on proportional representation

That, no doubt, did not sit well with some FCP candidates and activists. They looked at ridings where they got 10 per cent and started to think about getting elected to Queen’s Park. Under new leader Giuseppi Gori, the party began to focus on proportional representation, with the view that under a different electoral system, the FCP might elect MPPs to the provincial legislature in proportion to the vote the party got province-wide. With 5 per cent of the vote, the party would get a half-dozen MPPs.

Beginning in the 1995 campaign, the party began highlighting proportional representation as a main plank, alongside its support for pro-life and pro-family policies. In 2003, the FCP had as much to say about healthcare reform and education policy choice as it did about abortion, all in an effort to appeal to voters beyond the pro-life movement and again, the party stressed proportional representation – or PR for short.

Since then, Gori and some members of the FCP leadership have ramped up their work on behalf of PR. Since Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called a Citizen’s Assembly to look at electoral reform last year – and especially since the assembly called for a referendum to decide on the future of the province’s first-past-the-post system of electing MPPs – the FCP has gone all out in favour of the assembly’s preference for mixed member proportional representation (MMP).

Gori attacks CLC

The efforts of Gori to drum up support for MMP went overboard. On August 31, he dedicated his Straight Thoughts column to attacking Campaign Life Coaliton – the organization that birthed the Family Coalition Party – because the political arm of the pro-life movement in Canada had the temerity to outline the reasons for its opposition to PR. CLC said that proportional representation is undemocratic, because it would further empower the elite of all parties to appoint candidates (the party lists from which proportionately allocated MPPs would be chosen) and limit the ability of grassroots pro-lifers to educate and lobby MPPs.

Gori said CLC was “committing suicide” with its opposition PR: “After 30 years of unsuccessful lobbying of the main political parties, both provincially and federally, Campaign Life Coalition, the lobbying arm of the pro-life movement, now attempts suicide.” He then explained, “They are opposing the best chance in Ontario’s history to have a political party in the legislature, representing pro-life and pro-family values.”

Gori maintained that if 20 per cent of Ontario is pro-life, the FCP would get one-fifth of the MPPs, never mind that pro-lifers have never voted as a block and have demonstrated that partisan allegiances remain strong despite having policies and leaders inimical to the cause of life.

Gori criticized the CLC for choosing to “part ways” with the only pro-life party in Ontario, saying “their lack of vision is a disaster for the pro-life cause and for Canada.”

In a subsequent e-mail, Gori apologized for some unnecessarily harsh language, but then insisted that CLC remain silent on the issue of electoral reform for the remainder of the Ontario election.

CLC has never parted ways with the FCP. They disagreed over the issue of electoral reform and in its newsletter, CLC continued to urge grassroots pro-lifers to support the FCP. CLC also assisted candidates by calling supporters in many FCP-contested ridings, uriging them to vote for the FCP candidate.

It was not CLC, but rather elements within the FCP, that divided the movement over the issue of electoral reform. As one of the party’s founders, Catholic Insighteditor Fr. Alphonse de Valk says the issue of proportional representation cannot be considered a litmus test for who is sufficiently pro-life. In his magazine, he urged a six-plank platform the party should highlight – pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom of speech, pro-freedom of religion, anti-legalized prostitution – to raise awareness about important moral issues. Proportional representation was not among them.

Gori attacks REAL Women

In September, REAL Women of Canada released a statement it had already prepared in opposition to PR. Its national vice-president, Gwen Landolt, warned that feminist and other radical activists would put pressure on the mainstream parties to increase their representation in elected politics by top-loading the party lists from which a special set of MPPs would be chosen, so that the legislature would better reflect each party’s percentage of the vote.

Gori replied to REAL Women’s careful warning with a personal and over-the-top attack on Landolt, saying she should never be listened to again because of serious errors in fact, calling her statement “shallow, scare-mongering and full of inaccuracies.” He went so far as to accuse Landolt of “fabricat(ing) evidence” against PR. But Gori cherry-picked his own facts to critique Landolt’s statement.

Landolt says one purpose of PR is to appoint more women to political positions. Gori takes issue with the word “appointment” because the Citizen’s Assembly did not spell out how lists will be compiled and chosen. Most advocates of PR concede that one of the “benefits” of electoral reform will be that party leaders will be able to appoint women to the legislature.

Equal Voice, a feminist outfit led by former Toronto Starcolumnist Rosemary Spiers and dedicated to getting more women in politics, gave credence to Landolt’s warning when they endorsed mixed member proportional and urged party leaders that opposed electoral reform to remain silent. (Interesting how Gori and Spiers, in the name of democracy, both demanded that those who disagreed with them on PR should shut up.)

Yet, Gori says Landolt “invented” this criticism because his computer search found no mentions of “male” or “female” in the original Citizen’s Assembly recommendations. That’s true, but the words “women” and “gender” do appear, so Gori was evidently overly selective and literal in his criticism, by design or accident. But as he said about Landolt, “creating such a story … disqualifies this piece and disqualifies the author from ever writing again on any serious matter, unless she openly retracts.” Then he ridiculously adds, “She actually risks being sued.”

In a final, desperate plea for MMP, Gori sent out a Straight Thoughts column on Oct. 9, the day before the election, suggesting that if Italy, Germany and Japan, three countries that now use different forms of PR, had proportional representation in the 1930s, they might have protected themselves against dictatorship and World War II might have been averted. This is nonsense on stilts.

Abortion downplayed

Frustrated pro-lifers wonder why Gori’s day-before-the-election e-mail blast didn’t mention abortion or, like most parties, urge supporters to go out, and get out, the vote. (Likewise, the party’s fall newsletter had one small box with abortion-related news on the back page, but two pages on electoral reform.) CLC president Jim Hughes said the focus on issues other than abortion is unlikely to get pro-lifers excited about the party. The proof is in the numbers.

In only five ridings, of the 83 in which they ran candidates, did the FCP break 2 per cent of the vote. Only of one of those broke 2.6 per cent: Teresa Ceolin in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, who won 4.6 per cent of the vote, for a total of 1,260. In many ridings, the candidate provided little more than a name on a ballot and did not bother to distribute campaign literature or show up at all-candidates meetings. That is, he or she did not take the opportunity to raise awareness about the abortion issue.

There were many notable exceptions. Several local, long-time pro-life activists did very well, including Paul Vandervet (Cambridge, 650 votes), Jim Enos (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, 501 votes), Lynne Scime (Hamilton Centre, 623 votes), Dave Joslin (Huron-Bruce, 1,044 votes), Lou Reitzel (Kitchener-Waterloo, 587 votes), Suzanne Fortin (Nepean-Carleton, 546 votes) and Paul Morgan (Peterborough, 665 votes). Other candidates did well because they went out of their way to highlight the abortion issue, making it clear to socially conservative and religious voters who the pro-life choice was on election day. A pair of FCP candidates in the Ottawa area demonstrated the point.

David MacDonald

David MacDonald ran against the premier in Ottawa South. He went to all-candidates meetings and even confronted Dalton McGuinty about his support for abortion. The exchange was videotaped and put up on the web, including on MacDonald’s website.

Furthermore, in Ottawa, all candidates were given space in the Ottawa Sunto make a pitch to voters. MacDonald used his to highlight the consequences of McGuinty’s vaunted prenatal screening program at local hospitals, specifically the targeting and killing of disabled children in the womb. (Conversely, in Toronto, many of the parachuted paper candidates did not avail themselves of the opportunity to appear on the local program that is provided to all candidates in the city by the local cable provider.)

MacDonald won 927 votes or 1.9 per cent. Hughes attributes MacDonald’s higher-than-FCP average support to his willingness to doggedly pursue the premier over his support for abortion and raise the issue in effective and innovative ways.

Another Ottawa-area individual highlighted what FCP candidates are supposed to do and the problems with the party’s leadership.

John Pacheco

John Pacheco ran in Ottawa West-Nepean and sought to “blanket” the riding with pro-life signs. As he told, “I’m not going to win this election, that’s for sure … I am under no illusions. We have to take the means available to us to get out the pro-life message.”

However, the party’s leadership was uncomfortable with the signs and made changes to them (requiring the FCP name on at least one side).

On election day, Pacheco won 591 votes or 1.3 per cent – more than 50 per cent better than the FCP average. Hughes said Pacheco’s success and media coverage was a result of his willingness to wear pro-life on his sleeve.

Remaining relevant

It is clear that candidates who are faithful to the party’s original mission do much better. The way you get pro-life voters out to support a pro-life party is to talk abortion, not electoral reform. The focus on electoral reform over the past decade has not helped the party one bit and has divided the pro-life movement amongst itself.

If the FCP continues to work on behalf of PR, it will become irrelevant – it is already on this road. But it is not too late to turn around. With new leadership that is more adept at using the internet and viral campaigns that will focus on the injustice of abortion, the FCP can once again become an important teaching tool in the public square. It can educate the public and put pressure on politicians in regards to abortion.

But it must do this intelligently. In the current political environment, the pro-life movement’s hand is not a strong one, but played correctly, it can win its share of games. That means never running candidates against pro-lifers in the other parties. Instead, the model for the FCP should not be European-style PR, but rather New York state’s pro-life and conservative parties. There, when the Republican party does not run a pro-life candidate, the Right to Life Party and the Conservative Party threaten to run a pro-lifer, siphoning off votes that might otherwise go to the GOP. This will make a difference in close elections. Likewise, in Ontario, the FCP can threaten to run pro-life candidates where the mainstream parties do not, in essence saying there will be a political price to pay by ignoring pro-life voters. This means identifying close races where such a threat will have maximum impact and then running credible, outspoken candidates where necessary.

To remain relevant, the FCP must return to its roots. It must be discriminating where it runs candidates. And it must be first and foremost pro-life. Then, and only then, will it make an impact on the political sphere. But by focusing on electoral reform and making support for PR a litmus test for pro-life, it risks not only dividing and harming the pro-life movement, but also consigning itself to oblivion.