By Paul Tuns
Just because you don’t hear much from the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus (PPLC), that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing anything. Indeed, like much caucus work, this unofficial caucus (it doesn’t receive funding from Parliament) works behind the scenes.
While they won’t release the names of PPLC members, the number of MPs in the caucus, or even the party breakdown, the PPLC co-chairs – Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenney, Liberal MP Tom Wappel, and Progressive Conservative MP Elsie Wayne – all confirmed with The Interim that they have members representing constituencies from coast to coast and from four parties, although they wouldn’t say what the fourth party was. Kenney told The Interimit is a tactical decision not to release the information, although caucus members are free to share their involvement with their constituents.
Because Parliament isn’t sitting, the next meeting will not be until late September and even then, Wappel said, many members, expecting an imminent election call, will be spending more time in their constituencies. But Kenney said he expects the PPLC to be busy monitoring the testing of RU-486 and preparing for the much anticipated new reproductive technologies regulations. All three co-chairs pointed to Maurice Vellacott’s private member’s bill protecting the conscience rights of health care workers and Gary Breitkreuz’s private member’s bill defining life as beginning from conception, as other important upcoming business.
The caucus, which meets informally every month while Parliament is in session, is a place to “exchange ideas” about life issues. Wappel said the PPLC works by consensus, thus “our concern is very focused on abortion.”
That’s why they didn’t co-ordinate their efforts on the International Criminal Court (ICC), despite the fact many pro-lifers were concerned with the proposed court. Wappel said while everyone in the PPLC agrees that abortion is the taking of an innocent life, interpretations of the ICC’s ramifications are too diverse to create a consensus on the issue and a strategy to fight it.
The PPLC has played an important role in defending life. Although he said he was not free to point to specific legislation, Kenney said, “The PPLC has delayed or stopped [some anti-life efforts] through our co-ordinated efforts.” And Wappel said, “We understand a letter we wrote and signed and sent to the Canadian delegate quite helpful” for Canadian pro-lifers at the Beijing+5 preparatory meetings in New York this spring.
But Kenney said the pro-life contingent in Parliament must be strengthened. “People of conscience must work to put another 150 of us in the House to work on this issue,” he said.
The three co-chairs agree there are too few PPLC members and urged all pro-life MPs to join it and for all pro-life Canadians to work for pro-life candidates. Wayne said abortion is not a partisan issue and that she looks forward to working with MPs from any party on the issue. Wappel said voters should call their pro-life MPs to see if they are member of the PPLC: “If they’re not, ask them why they aren’t. If they are, ask them if they go to the meetings.”
Wappel said his greatest concern is turnout to meetings and other functions. This year’s March for Life in May attracted about half the number of pro-life MPs as 1999, but Kenney said that is no reflection of PPLC members’ commitment to the cause.
Wayne wants pro-lifers to know there is a dedicated group of parliamentarians “who see this as an important issue, that life begins at conception, and that we will continue to work to protect unborn children.”