New party to keep Reform’s pro-family plank,
but ‘consensus’ policy on life issues remains
Analysis by Paul Tuns
For years the only federal party which could claim the full allegiance of pro-life and pro-family voters has been the Christian Heritage Party. But now a new federal party is being given a serious look by Canadian pro-life and pro-family leaders as it attempts to unite small-“c” conservatives in hopes of defeating the federal Liberals.
From January 29 to February 1, the United Alternative convention in Ottawa adopted policies and an official name, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance (CRCA). Generally speaking, social conservatives are happy with the new party, but stress that getting ordinary pro-life Canadians involved is the key to radically changing federal politics.
Campaign Life Coalition Nova Scotia president Herm Wills told The Interim that the Canadian Alliance is “one of our best hopes politically.” He noted that attempts to influence the Conservatives and the Liberals have had success only at the local level. He admitted that the Canadian Alliance isn’t perfect and is an opportunity that could easily slip away. “The new party will only work if [we] see the opportunity that it presents us with and take advantage of it. If we don’t, economic conservatives will take it over and our concerns will be ignored yet again by a national party.”
Peter Stock, national affairs director of the Canada Family Action Coalition, told The Interimthat the Canadian Alliance is a “good thing” because it is a “mainstream party with significant support that is trying to appeal to people with traditional morals on life and family.”
The new party’s constitution recognizes “that all human beings possess the fundamental human rights to life, freedom and the right to own and enjoy property.” The Canadian Alliance also committed itself to the belief that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, and it affirmed the supremacy of parliament over “unaccountable judges and human rights officials” and that national sovereignty takes precedence over the dictates of the United Nations.
But it is not unambiguously good. The cause for worry among some social conservatives was summed up by a January 28 LifeSite News Special Report: “Of greatest concern” to people of traditional values is “the delegates’ approval of Reform’s MP voting policy in the UA,” that states, “Where an MP finds that a clear consensus has been reached on an issue, his or her responsibility is to represent that consensus over party or personal views.”
Steve Jalsevac, a director of Campaign Life Coalition Toronto, told The Interim that, at least on conscience matters, he had hoped this relic of the Reform Party wouldn’t find its way into the CRCA.
But Peter Stock said that is more a theoretical problem than a practical one. He said that it is unlikely people would elect an MP strongly at odds with their own view, nor would an MP want to serve a riding that is consistently at odds with his own conscience on moral issues.
Jalsevac strongly disagrees. He cites the example of the supposed consensus in favour of euthanasia in Preston Manning’s own riding a few years ago. Manning was forced to say he would honour the wishes of his constituents on the matter, even though he is opposed to euthanasia.
Jalsevac states that “voters will often vote for someone on economic issues even though they may completely disagree with the candidate on moral issues. But the greatest flaw with the Reform policy is that it requires the Reform and now Canadian Alliance MP to ask the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP voters to direct their actions.
“Why on earth would any party force their MPs to trash their personal beliefs and conscience in response to organized opposition from people who didn’t even vote for them?” Jalsevac wonders.
Ontario executive a concern
Another cause for concern among some social conservatives was the prominence of numerous members of the government and campaign machine of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, which has suppressed debate on moral issues.
CLC B.C. president John Hof told The Interim he is cautiously optimistic about the Canadian Alliance, noting that it adopted socially conservative positions, but that he is worried that the “new Ontario blue machine will steamroll our victories in an effort to elect more MPs in Ontario,” which conventional wisdom says is less interested in moral issues than western Canada.
Still, Stock sees opportunity here. “It is good for people to work together,” he said. The Ontario Tories have had great political success “and we can use them” as long as social conservatives stay involved. Stock believes that social conservatives make up a majority of the party, and if they remain involved and are willing to work with others, there isn’t any cause for concern.
But events at the Ontario executive council pre-election meeting have some worried. Jalsevac reported that a reasonable question about the social conservative beliefs of executive council candidates was ruled out of order, indicating an intolerance of any discussion of moral issues. “This is viewed by CLC as a tragic mistake for the new party,” Jalsevac said.
CLC Saskatchewan president Denise Hounjet-Roth, originally a United Alternative skeptic, told The Interim that the Canadian Alliance “deserves our support” because of its strong family policies. She says that the Reform Party seems to have stalled, and that “there is no use having pro-life and pro-family policies and principles if you never form the government.” She tells western Reformers who are concerned about the influence of the Ontario Tories to get involved, especially in the upcoming leadership race.
Stock said that the new party’s leadership race is the time for those who are not involved to get active, because in Canadian politics, a party leader exerts a strong influence over the party.
A leadership convention is expected in June. Reform leader Preston Manning acknowledged the need for fiscal and social conservatives to work together, and another potential leadership candidate, Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day, has earned the respect of both groups of conservatives. Stock says Day, who has balanced Alberta’s budget and is a darling of the tax-cutting crowd, “is absolutely stellar” on moral issues.