“We’re signing up as many people as we can,” said Liberals for Life spokesman Dan McCash in early February. “I think people will be quite shocked by how effective we are.”
The powers-that-be kept grinning until the startling news that Liberals for Life in Peterborough, Ontario, had flooded the Liberal riding association with 350 new members.
The grinning faded and yes, when eventually the vote came on March 10, Peterborough’s twelve delegates to the June leadership in Calgary joined the pro-life camp.
Die-hard secularists and progressives were horrified. “One issue threat, abortion group targets Grits,” pontificated an Ottawa Citizen editorial on February 6. “Liberals for Life are playing no dirty tricks,” the editorial writer observed. They are not breaking any rules. Instead they are using the democratic process skillfully and to their advantage; they are organized and they are committed.” “But,” added the writer, “whatever side of the issue you are on, the danger of one-issue groups like Liberals for Life is the potential they have for forcing all candidates to deal with their issue. They have the power to distort the entire contest by making abortion the main issue at the expense of other issues such as the economy or the Meech Lake Accord.”
If Liberals for Life could make no other claim than having scared the pro-abortion editors of the Ottawa Citizen their efforts would have been justified. Once again pro-life proves how short-lived is the tolerance of secular liberalism.
Clearly, the men and women of the pro-life movement are not about to give up. So who and what is Liberals for Life?
The group was formed in the spring of 1989. Although it directly places itself inside a political party, it is first and foremost a pro-life strategy, created for the sole intention of furthering the cause of the pre-born child and sound family life.
Already the pro-life movement has given birth to two new parties. In Ontario, to the Family Coalition Party (FCP), and nationally, but starting in B.C., to the Christian Heritage Party (CHP).
When Liberals for Life took six delegates in Cambridge, Ontario, at the end of February, the local Cambridge Reporter, like the Ottawa Citizen, felt called upon to denounce their efforts. The editorial “Single causes endanger race” (February 27) warned Liberals against the pro-life movement because “politically (it) is inclined to such right wing and religiously affiliated parties as CHP and FCP.”
“What makes these parties right wing?” one may ask. Well, the paper pointed out, they oppose homosexual activity and the legalized killing of the unborn!
The Cambridge Reporter (Jon C. Butler, publisher and general manager) thinks the whole enterprise folly. “Delegates who choose a candidate solely on the basis of that person’s stand on abortion,” stated the editorial, “are behaving as foolishly as someone who makes such choices on the basis of hair color and suit style.” Is it folly?
Have you watched news commentaries or read the newspapers lately? The abortion issue is mentioned time and time again.
It is thanks to Liberals for Life that Jean Chrétien, the candidate for Montreal moneyed powers who ore spending close to two million dollars on his behalf, clarified his pro-life stand. He favors the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission that women have access to abortion up to the 22nd week of pregnancy.
Paul Martin and Sheila Copps also have been forced to reveal their pro-abortion views, something they were not over-anxious to do. After all, many Liberals are Catholic. On March 5, Martin told Vancouver newspapers that he agrees with Kim Campbell, the new Minister of Justice, about equal access to abortion. He said he is personally opposed to the procedure, but, he explained,
“I don’t believe I can stop a woman from getting an abortion. If she’s going to get one she’s going to get one. The only decision I have to make as a member of parliament are the circumstances under which she is going to get one – whether she gets one in a hospital in clean and safe circumstances or whether she is going to get it in an alley.”
As a practicing Roman Catholic, Martin said he doesn’t have a problem reconciling his “pro-choice” stand, a position that must come as a surprise to practicing Catholics.
In Manitoba, Copps told the audience that a law should allow access to abortion in the early stages. Thus she joined Chrétien in a clear-cut “Abortion is a woman’s right” stand. She called this position “balancing the rights of the woman to choose, with the rights of the fetus.”
Liberals for Life are especially grateful to the earliest declared leadership candidate, Scarborough West MP Tom Wappel, because from day one of his campaign, he has categorically made the right to life of the unborn child a leading theme in his campaign. It was the one single reason, which led the leadership of Liberals for Life to endorse his candidacy on March 8.
Leadership Candidate, John Nunziata, a Toronto MP since 1984, also enjoys the support of pro-life men and women across the country. Following the committee’s initial endorsement of Wappel, he, too, has begun to speak more clearly and decisively about the pro-life issues and will, no doubt, gather a number of the pro-life votes.
Is the group effective?
How effective have the Liberals for Life been so far? First, they have inserted the pro-life issue into a national party debate and thereby into the political consciousness of Canadians.
Second, they have rallied disenchanted and indifferent former Liberals to take a renewed interest in politics, but this time setting the pro-life issue as a first priority. In other words, they are teaching rank and file members to consider the issue of life in its true light, that is, as the over-riding issue in our society.
Whether the raising of this political consciousness will tally with the work of the Ontario FCP and the federal CHP remains to be seen. Much depends on the discipline of Liberals for Life. Within the FCP and the CHP, pro-lifers are among like-minded friends. Within the Liberal Party they meet opposition and face the temptation to compromise their principles. In the past, the great shortcoming of the three main political parties has been their ability to convert pro-lifers into party people first and pro-lifers last.
At the time of writing (April 10), Liberals for Life had not done too badly in the race for delegates. Obviously, for political reasons, the group doesn’t want to indicate the exact number of delegates they can claim, nor the number that could eventually be dispatched to Calgary.
Nunziata and Wappel each have a full complement of 12 delegates in his own riding. Liberals for Life, meanwhile, is known to have gained full slates of 12 in the Ontario ridings of Peterborough, Waterloo, Bruce-Grey, Lloydminster, Perth-Wellington and Toronto’s Beaches-Woodbine (11) and in Saskatoon Humboldt, Saskatchewan. Other slates of delegates include six from Cambridge and Algoma, four in Guelph, three in Etobicoke and two in High Park-Parkdale – all in Ontario; three delegates were elected in Souris-Moose Mountain, Saskatchewan.
Liberals for Life do not appear to be organized in Quebec, a province that has lagged behind English Canada in pro-life activism since the battle started over twenty years ago.