MP Eric Lowther encourages social conservatives to get involved in the political process

Canadian pro-life and pro-family advocates, discouraged by how politicians at the federal level are for the most part ignoring their input, could take some heart following the Reform party’s caucus meeting in Toronto on Sept. 17.

Apart from a commitment from leader Preston Manning to make the strengthening of the family one of his party’s three priorities in the coming parliamentary session, Reform’s family caucus chair Eric Lowther met with a number of representatives from the sphere of family and human life issues, including members of the Canada Family Action Council, REAL Women of Canada, Campaign Life Coalition and assorted local groups.

“We are very strong on the whole issue of strengthening the family,” said Manning during a “Building Bridges” session with a cross-section of Canadian society, including various ethnic groups. “We think the family is at the heart of the social fabric of this country … We think there’s a lot more that Ottawa can do to strengthen the family, and we want to have that emphasis.”

Manning added that he believed “we can actually build a better country for the 21st century – a country where … families are treated with more respect.”

He also pushed the United Alternative initiative, noting that the effort could have the result of propelling Canada’s conservative movement forward to the point where it commands a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

At the “Children and Family Policy Meeting,” Lowther stressed that the Reform party looks at every piece of legislation that comes before the House of Commons and critiques it according to how positively or negatively it will impact on the family.

“In this country today, some of us have gotten tired of working for family issues … This really should be a no-brainer. Why are we having to push for what seems common-sense? It gets almost exhausting.”

He observed we are living in a time when “almost anything goes … There are almost no restrictions.” In this milieu, many claim that “you can’t legislate morality.” But Lowther took issue with this assertion, noting that “we do legislate morality – we say it’s illegal to steal. Our laws send a message as to who we are. What you will or won’t do defines who you are.”

At one time, the Supreme Court was used to ensure minority groups would not have their rights trampled on by the majority; now, minority groups use the Supreme Court in order to advance their narrow agendas and impose them on the majority. “So what carries the day, unfortunately, is political power,” said Lowther. Reform has called for democratic reforms to ensure power is not concentrated in the hands of a few who don’t seem to respond to the democratic process.

Pro-life advocates may have been disappointed in the repetition of the Reform policy that controversial moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia be put to a referendum. “People may not like referendums, but what have you got right now? … We have had many petitions on stopping abortion in this country and what has come back? ‘The government has no intention of dealing with this issue’ … I’d rather have a referendum where it’s out in the open, there are rules around it and we have to deal with this thing front-up, than not deal with it at all,” he said.

Two years ago, Lowther was a self-described “working stiff” in the corporate world, who decided to get involved because “I was tired of the way it was going and wanted to see if I could do something different.” He encouraged social conservatives to take the plunge into politics, since – although they may feel marginalized – they have “huge influence.” About 150 organizations advocating a range of family and life issues are active in Ottawa.

“What I’m a little frustrated with is that those of us who are social conservatives need to be bolder. We need to have the sense that we can impact the process … You guys have a very powerful hammer to play in the whole process. I encourage you not to see yourselves as small in your own eyes. Political power is really the game. You need to let these people (in Parliament) know that you’re watching them. You can have an effect.”

Recent developments including the granting of a broadcast licence to the Christian-oriented Crossroads Television System, and the establishment by Finance Minister Paul Martin of a committee to examine family taxation, show the effectiveness of pro-family lobbying.

“I encourage you to get involved in the process. You can have an impact,” said Lowther. “Network with other family groups … You’ll have greater power, because the social conservative element is the power player. Whoever can keep them onside will win the day.”

Lowther outlined three priorities he has with regard to family issues: the respect by governments of parental authority over children, fair family taxation and the allowance of communities to determine their own standards. “We don’t see the federal government as a solution for family issues, which are better dealt with at a community, municipal or provincial level,” he said. “The reins of power must be returned to the people of this country so that politicians are more accountable and can’t sidestep things through the courts.”

In response to concerns that the Reform party is watering down its heretofore strong stances on family issues, Lowther said it is a very real worry. “There are many people saying we shouldn’t touch on these sensitive things, that they’re losing political issues. I’m told all the time … ‘Let’s not go there.’ There are lots of guys pushing on that side, sure. If those are the only voices … we’re going to have a hard time.”

Lowther compared the Reform party to a bus. “Whoever gets on the bus determines where it goes. We have a bunch of people on the bus who are concerned about family values and issues. Three-quarters, if not more, of our caucus is onside.”

Addressing concerns that pro-life and pro-family candidates for nominations are getting “shut out” of the nomination process, Lowther pledged to “dig into that. I’ve got a meeting with some people on that.”