According to Campaign Life Coalition New Brunswick president Peter Ryan, the June 9 elections in his Atlantic Canadian province offered tremendous hope for pro-lifers across the country.
The elections saw Progressive Conservative Premier Bernard Lord’s huge majority shrunk from 46 seats to 28, in the 55-seat provincial legislature.
Ryan told The Interim that the bare majority should make for a more intriguing couple of years, but ones in which politicians of all stripes will pay close attention to their constituents, including pro-life voters.
Most of the local and national media expected a cakewalk for the incumbent party and Lord, who was touted until his chastening June 9 as a possible future federal Tory leader. Lord was privately predicting gains, however, Shawn Graham’s Liberals took advantage of insurance and unemployment rate increases to make the election close. Recounts may still change the final result, but at the time The Interim went to press, the Tories held 28 seats, the Liberals 26 and the NDP one.
Ryan said that the “pro-life political landscape in New Brunswick is probably better than anywhere else in Canada.” He added that “it is quite possible that we have a majority of MLAs that are pro-life or pro-life leaning.”
CLC New Brunswick had considerable success getting questionnaires returned. Ryan says that of the 55 MLAs elected, 23 are known to be pro-life or have pro-life leanings. Eleven of those are Tories and 12 are Liberals. Only three MLAs were qualified by CLC New Brunswick as pro-abortion/pro-choice, including NDP leader Elizabeth Weir.
Eleven others gave several pro-life answers to the coalition’s questionnaire, but were not qualified as pro-life or pro-life with exceptions, and nine of those 11 are Tories. Included among those 11 are both the premier and the leader of the opposition. Premier Lord provided pro-life answers to four of 10 questions – he supported conscience protection for healthcare workers, pro-life palliative care, respecting the rights and values of parents when it comes to sex education and he opposed funding private abortion facilities. Lord gave permission to Tory candidates to use his personal response as a party response. Several candidates took him up on that offer.
Furthermore, of the 18 others that did not respond, Ryan says that several may be pro-life. He said that the short election campaign made it difficult for all the candidates to respond. He said that CLC New Brunswick will try to reach those MLAs to determine which ones are pro-life.
However, CLC New Brunswick did have a high rate of return for the questionnaires. Of 166 candidates contacted, 88 (more than 50 per cent) responded. “That is more than most interest groups get,” Ryan explained. Of that 88, 48 were considered pro-life or pro-life with exceptions. That number included 24 Liberals, 21 Conservatives and 3 NDP candidates. “There was good representation in both parties,” he said.
The fact that all the parties had candidates respond who were pro-life demonstrated that abortion is not a partisan issue. Ryan is hopeful that a bipartisan coalition of legislators would work to get life issues discussed and acted upon in the provincial legislature.
In recent years, abortionist Henry Morgentaler has gotten into spats with the New Brunswick government over funding of his private abortuary. Ryan is confident that despite the narrower majority, the government’s non-funding of private abortion facilities will not change. “One thing for sure,” Ryan said. “Henry Morgentaler doesn’t have many friends in the Legislature.” Of the 37 MLAs responding to the questionnaire, 35 opposed the funding of private abortuaries. “Only three identified themselves as ‘pro-choice’ and one of those opposes clinic funding.” Furthermore, both the premier and the leader of the opposition oppose public funding of Morgentaler’s Fredericton abortuary.
On the other hand, Ryan said he is disappointed that both major party leaders are opposed to defunding abortion completely. “We still have the government funding abortions in the hospitals,” Ryan noted. “I don’t expect that to change in the near future.”
However, Ryan said that the chastened Progressive Conservative government will be more accessible to the pro-life movement than in the past. He said he has promised a promise from Premier Lord to be able to meet with cabinet members.
Ryan said there are several issues on the agenda for pro-life, pro-family groups in the province. These include getting abortion funding on the table for discussion, getting the government to pass women’s right-to-know legislation concerning abortion and ensuring that the rights of parents are respected in the teaching of sex education in public schools.