Pro-lifers maintain seats in House of Commons

By Tim Bloedow
The Interim

The final seat count for the federal election gives the Liberals 173, the Canadian Alliance 66, the Bloc Quebecois 37, the New Democrats 13 and the Progressive Conservatives 12. The Liberals and the Alliance were the only parties to make seat gains. The Liberal gain of 18 seats from the last election (a gain of 12 seats from the 161 they had when Parliament dissolved for the election as a result of the various changes in party allegiance which took place since the last election) was at the expense of the other left-of-centre parties. The Alliance made its eight gains (from the 58 seats it had at Parliament’s dissolution) at the expense of the Liberals and the New Democrats. Pundits were surprised at the low election turnout of only 62 per cent of eligible voters, down from 67 per cent in the last election.

Any conclusions drawn from these results are still premature as The Interim goes to press. In terms of life and family issues, perhaps the best – and worst – that can be said in terms of the overall outcome is that these issues made little if any difference at all. Despite the fact that the abortion issue received more coverage in this election campaign than in others of recent memory, it did not seem to effect individual races or the overall result. Ontario’s Liberal MPs, including all the pro-life incumbents, were returned to the House of Commons with only a few exceptions. Tom Wappel, co-chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, decimated his opponents, receiving 60 per cent support.

The three Ontario Liberals who lost to two CA candidates and one New Democrat were all abortion supporters. The CA candidates won in ridings west of Ottawa and were identified as pro-life by Campaign Life Coalition – solid pro-lifers who said they would not violate their consciences in a vote on the issue. The CLC Ottawa office, in fact, targeted Lanark-Carleton, where Scott Reid defeated Ian Murray, with a strong telephone campaign to get out the vote, CLC national affairs director Karen Murawsky told The Interim. They contacted an estimated 800 supporters in the riding, she said. Grassroots pro-lifers in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke were also active in support of CA candidate Cheryl Gallant, both in her nomination victory over other prospective CA candidates, and during the election campaign. She defeated the Liberal’s Hec Clouthier.

Ontario’s pro-life MPs were re-elected, but so were most of the abortion advocates, some who were running against pro-abortion Alliance candidates and others who were battling pro-lifers. In the wake of the results, CLC president Jim Hughes said, “This election showed that the referendum approach to crucial issues like abortion just won’t fly in Ontario. Ontarians and all Canadians want to know where the parties and the candidates stand, pure and simple, and they want leaders who have the courage of their convictions.” Pro-life incumbent, Independent Toronto-area candidate John Nunziata, went down to defeat to the popular former municipal politician Allan Tonks. Mr. Tonks refused to answer CLC’s questionnaire.

In British Columbia, the CA increased its strength at the expense of several incumbents, including NDP bigwig Nelson Riis and Liberals Lou Sekora, who is pro-abortion, and Raymond Chan. Mr. Chan submitted the Liberal party’s pro-abortion position to CLC when asked for his views on the issue. Homosexual MP Svend Robinson and children’s rights radical Libby Davies are the only two NDP legislators left in the province. Leading Liberal pro-abortion and pro-homosexual radical Hedy Fry was easily re-elected in her Vancouver riding with 42 per cent of votes cast. An open attack by her on Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s faith in the final days of the campaign led to outrage across the country, but not to a loss of her seat.

CA candidate James Moore, who CLC records as a pro-referendum candidate, defeated Lou Sekora. CLC British Columbia president John Hof told The Interim that he is very excited about CA candidate Joe Peschisolido’s victory over Mr. Chan. Mr. Peschisolido was one of the leadership candidates for the new Alliance party earlier this year. Mr. Peschisolido’s win was “a great victory for life in Richmond B.C.,” said Mr. Hof.

Perhaps the biggest upset for pro-family forces in the election was the loss of CA incumbent Eric Lowther, head of the party’s family caucus and a very active pro-life MP. In a surprise result, and due largely to coalition building among the Tories, Liberals and New Democrats, PC party leader Joe Clark achieved a victory over Mr. Lowther in Calgary Centre. Mr. Clark has received much publicity recently for his strident anti-life and anti-family views.

Also in Alberta, Justice Minister Anne McLellan won her third squeaker in a row, this time against pro-lifer Betty Unger. The now passive pro-life Liberal, David Kilgour, was also re-elected; he was running against a pro-referendum Alliance candidate. Two of the three new Alliance MPs in the province are pro-life. CLC has no information at this time on the third, James Rajotte. Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus co-chair, and CA campaign manager, Jason Kenney kept his seat with 64 per cent of the popular vote.

In Saskatchewan the Alliance won ten of 14 seats, increasing their number there by two and leaving the Liberals and the NDP each with two. In Manitoba, the Alliance gained two seats, one at the expense of former Reform MP Jake Hoeppner, the other from Liberal MP and quiet pro-lifer, David Iftody. He was defeated by pro-life Alliance candidate, Vic Toews.

Quebec’s pro-life leaders are still analyzing the results of the election in their province in terms of its potential impact on life issues. The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois are both pro-abortion parties, led by people who don’t want to reopen debate on the issue, so pro-lifers in the province knew that the fight for life would remain an uphill battle regardless of the outcome of the election.

In the Maritimes, pro-lifers didn’t have much to cheer about, even in terms of the slate of candidates from which they had to choose. “I don’t know what more a person can say about a bad situation,” CLC Nova Scotia president Herm Wills told The Interim after the election. Certainly Maritimers rejoice in the return of Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus co-chair Elsie Wayne in New Brunswick. The popular Progressive Conservative won handily in Saint John with 51 per cent of the popular vote. Quiet pro-life Tory Greg Thompson also won his N.B. seat. But their pro-life colleague in the province, Gilles Bernier, lost to Andy Savoy, a Liberal who refused to respond to CLC’s questionnaire.

In Nova Scotia, NDP leader Alexa McDonough won her Halifax seat. Mr. Wills called the defeat of three of her colleagues “a small victory.” Did the election produce any pro-life candidates? Mr. Wills notes that Bill Casey, re-elected for the Tories, is pro-life, but a supporter of same-sex benefits. The only other hope lies in Liberal Robert Thibault who is “reportedly pro-life.” He was hoping that Alliance candidate Mike Donaldson would win. “Mike is absolutely pro-life, pro-family and we need people like him not to give up the fight,” said Mr .Wills. The Liberals held onto their four seats in Prince Edward Island. In Newfoundland, Brian Tobin handily won his seat in the highest profile campaign of that province. The only high point for Newfoundland pro-lifers was the re-election of dedicated pro-life Tory, Norman Doyle, representing St. John’s East.

The Liberals, the Alliance and the Bloc were the only parties to increase their popular vote, with the Alliance showing the greatest gain at 6.2 per cent. As CA leader Stockwell Day noted in his election night speech, the Alliance was the only party to increase its popular vote in every region of the country (and nine of ten provinces). The greatest loss in popular vote was experienced by the Tories, from 19 to 12 per cent.

Mr. Hughes noted that “the distribution of seats for the parties and for pro-lifers within each party is roughly the same as last time.” But, he said the election campaign made it clear that “pro-lifers want Stockwell Day and Prime Minister Chretien to debate the abortion issue and to have the debate where the Supreme Court has repeatedly said it belongs: in Parliament.”

Terry Ruddell, an Ontario leader in the Canada Family Action Coalition, was backing the Alliance candidate in Oshawa. He told The Interim that “the big challenge ahead is Ontario. How do we stop splitting the vote? In Oshawa the combined Alliance and PC vote would have beat the Liberals. This was true for the last two elections as well.”

Darrell Reid, head of Focus on the Family Canada, told The Interim: “I believe the 2000 election will go down in history as one of the low points of Canadian democratic discourse. Particularly distressing was the apparent glee with which politicians and the media attacked and ridiculed people of faith. Although this invective was aimed particularly at evangelical Christians, I believe it has shamed and debased us as a people.”

Gwen Landolt, vice-president of REAL Women, is looking to the future. She told The Interimthat her organization will continue to be at the forefront of the culture wars in this country. “It’s more important than ever,” she said. She believes that Mr. Chretien’s days as leader of his party are numbered, with the end coming no later than the next Liberal convention in March 2002.

Christian Heritage Party leader Ron Gray acknowledged that his party has a lot of work to do to rebuild after losing official party status for this election. “The suspension of our party’s registered status hurt our candidates,” he said, adding “I’m happy to be able to tell you that – although the election results may not seem to show it – the CHP’s membership is growing, and support from our members is solid. I’m convinced that we have what it takes to come through this temporary set-back.”