After months of party turmoil, Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced in late August that he would be stepping down as prime minister and leader of the Liberal party – in February 2004.
Most political analysts concur that he made this decision only when he realized that he had little chance of turning away a challenge to his leadership by Paul Martin’s camp.
While there are many issues that arise with an 18-month, lameduck prime ministership – such as the fact that Chretien’s search for a legacy and the political battle to replace him will take precedence over providing the kind of governance Canada needs and deserves – pro-lifers are just glad to get rid of a rabidly pro-abortion prime minister. His record on life and family issues is horrid.
During the 2000 election campaign, Chretien told a Barrie, Ont. Catholic high school audience that he supported “a woman’s right to choose.” However, he also found it fitting to tastelessly joke about it: “Personally, I don’t have to, you know, I’m not at the age anymore to have my wife have abortion, but the reality … is that it is the choice of not the husband to decide in my judgment, it is the judgment of the woman according to the values that this person have.”
During that same campaign, he cynically used abortion as a wedge issue, painting the Stockwell Day-led Canadian Alliance as a bunch of pro-life extremists, despite the fact the Alliance does not have a pro-life platform. Chretien said the Alliance’s reliance on referendums to decide moral issues was a code to social conservatives that the party would give them what they wanted. Chretien said there is no reason for a referendum on abortion because, on this issue, Canada has “social peace.”
Earlier that year, addressing a Liberal Party convention, Chretien said, “Canadians do not want a right-wing party in this country. They do not want a party that does not support women’s right to choose.”
He later said, despite the presence of at least two dozen pro-life MPs in the party, “We Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose.”
Chretien’s defence of the abortion status quo led Henry Morgentaler, Canada’s (in)famous abortionist and a lifelong NDP supporter, to endorse the Liberal party, despite the presence of what he called “anti-choice extremists” in the party. In an open letter released during the final week of the election campaign, Morgentaler said Chretien could be trusted to reign in his party’s social conservatives.
Indeed, Chretien has tried, often successfully. Despite an agreement among the parties that private members’ bills would be deemed votable if 100 MPs agreed to it, the Prime Minister’s Office has consistently interfered with efforts to get private members’ legislation to the floor of the House. Privately, pro-life Liberal backbenchers have told The Interim that they have been pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office and the government whip to not support pro-life legislation. For every active pro-life Liberal backbencher such as Tom Wappel, Dan McTeague or Paul Steckle, there are four or five who have been pressured into silence.
In January 2001, in what seemed to be payback for Morgentaler’s endorsement, the federal government resumed its pressure on provinces to fully fund abortion. After previously warning Alberta to not consider defunding abortion and scaling back transfer payments to Nova Scotia for its (fiscally motivated) refusal to fully fund abortions at private abortuaries, Health Minister Allan Rock openly picked a fight with New Brunswick over abortion funding. New Brunswick pays for abortions at public hospitals but not at private abortuaries. Negotiations between the federal and provincial governments to settle the issue are ongoing.
Social conservatives also point to other issues on which the federal government has been weak: dragging its feet on the appeal of an Ontario court decision that said the definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman is unconstitutional; weakening marriage by radically extending same-sex rights, often without debate in Parliament, as when the immigration department redefined “spouse” to include same-sex partners; promoting abortion, gay rights and radical sex education programs at the United Nations; resisting efforts to raise the age of consent to 16; failing to improve Canada’s toothless child pornography laws; limiting democracy by concentrating power within the PMO and attempting to neuter backbenchers who refuse to tow the party line on social issues.