In what could prove to be one of the most important developments for the pro-life movement in recent years, pro-life members of Parliament from several parties have formed a parliamentary caucus.
“If we don’t have one, there would be no co-ordinated way of trying to ensure that the life issues remain before the public eye,” well-known pro-life MP Tom Wappel told The Interim recently.
The lack of a pro-life caucus has been one of the leading frustrations among pro-lifers for the past decade. Long-time pro-lifers will remember the existence of a such a caucus about a decade ago, which collapsed in the face of intense conflict over the Mulroney government’s failed abortion law, C-43, in 1991. Putting that behind them, however, Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and Reform MPs and senators met in April of this year in what turned out to be the first meeting of a new, non-partisan Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus (PPLC).
Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of Canada’s pro-life movement, has always considered the existence of a non-partisan group of committed pro-life parliamentarians to be extremely important. However, while CLC played a key role in bringing the MPs together for their first meeting, it will work more behind the scenes from now on.
On the other hand, CLC national president Jim Hughes said he still expects his group to play a strong advisory role by informing the MPs of national and international developments on the pro-life front. He added CLC will also be available to provide research and to help draft private members’ legislation for the caucus. CLC plans to continue to work with pro-life parliamentarians who are not yet regularly attending PPLC meetings, and encourage them to get involved with the new group.
The first co-chairs of the PPLC are Jason Kenney (Reform), Tom Wappel (Liberal), and Elsie Wayne (PC). One of the biggest challenges the caucus faces is to remain non-partisan, so members decided the group should be led jointly by leaders from each party represented in the caucus membership.
Wappel, a member of the last parliamentary pro-life caucus, admitted to The Interim that “it is very difficult to keep an organization that crosses party lines together when it’s dealing with political things.” To succeed, he said, the PPLC is focusing “on one issue, at least at this stage, that everybody has overall the (same) general philosophy about – i.e., abortion – rather than branching off into all kinds of other tangents.”
Initial signs have been very positive. Wayne told The Interim that “there have been no politics involved whatsoever, there really hasn’t been. Everybody’s been very open, and I feel very good about that, I really do.”
A confident Hughes said, “The chairs are extremely important … and the three people they’ve picked are team players. They’re very solid pro-lifers for starters, and they see the necessity of working together for the common good. I don’t think they could have picked any three better co-chairs to lead this Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus. All of them are knowledgeable and dedicated, not just to their own parties, but to the protection of the unborn. And it’s been a pleasure working with them.”
Almost 50 MPs and senators have attended one or more of the three meetings held thus far by the PPLC, with most of them expressing an interest in ongoing participation. The group has already begun to work on a plan of action.
The first public event in which they participated was the first annual Day of Infamy rally on Parliament Hill May 14. All three of the PPLC chairs spoke briefly, as did several other pro-life parliamentarians. Twenty-eight MPs and senators showed up to identify themselves publicly as being pro-life.
The group is careful not to reveal its whole strategy, but apparently, no other public events are being planned at this time. Wayne did say, however, that the group is working on legislation it plans to introduce in the House. “I think the major concern is that we have to make sure there is protection for the unborn, and that is what the whole Caucus is all about.” The substance of the legislation being developed has yet to be disclosed.
Hughes said a top priority for the PPLC should be to “talk with the prime minister and change the way private members’ business is dealt with so that some of these issues can come before the House of Commons for a vote.”
A parliamentary committee currently rules on whether or not private members’ bills are votable and, therefore, whether they will get a full hearing. Pro-life and pro-family Canadians have been less then satisfied in recent years with the decisions made by this group of MPs. Introducing legislation is very important, said Hughes, “but if (MPs) are only allowed to bring it forward to the House for one hour of debate and no vote is taken, then grassroots Canadians are being stifled, and the issues they want discussed are not coming before the elected officials for a vote.”
Wayne expressed concern for the predicament of teenagers in Canada’s current political and moral climate. “I don’t think that we are being fair to our young people today,” she said. “I think that we have to explain to them the effect of early sex … because it’s a lot of those young teenagers who become pregnant, and people advise them that they should get an abortion.”
They are told that people have the right to do whatever they want, she added. “But you don’t have the right just to do whatever you want, and then to go out and murder a child. You just don’t have that. We must direct our young people (with) family values – good, moral Christian values.”
With the formation of the PPLC, other pro-life Canadians are being encouraged to increase their pro-life activity. Hughes said pro-lifers “should work with their individual members of Parliament in their own ridings, and encourage them to get involved (and) join the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus.” Wappel and Wayne both said there is room for growth in the PPLC.
Wappel has not made a secret of his disappointment with the extent of political involvement demonstrated by social conservatives. He reiterated his concerns and issued a challenge to ordinary Canadians to participate fully in the political process.
“It’s very important that there be communication between the citizenry and the representatives. It’s very important that if somebody is doing something right, that it be communicated, just as it is important that if somebody is doing something wrong, that that should be communicated … So, it’s very important that when your MP is saying something you believe in – particularly on the life issues – you make yourself known to your member of Parliament, and you do everything you can to help him or her.”
Wayne is confident that pro-lifers will become even more active than they already are. “Our people have been very moderate (in the past),” she said, adding that it has not come naturally to pro-lifers to be as vocal and brazen as pro-abortion people have been.
“But I think that you will see that there is going to be a larger movement with pro-life people in the very near future,” Wayne predicted. “It’s going to be more vocal and more high-profile. You’re going to see it because it is time now – it’s gone too far – and it is time.”