This election will be Ron Gray?s last as leader of the Christian Heritage Party. After 13 years of leading Canada?s only pro-life federal political party, he is stepping down on Nov. 6 at the party?s national convention in London, Ont. The 75-year-old had already announced his intention to retire and called for a leadership race, when the Parliament dissolved and the Oct. 14 election was called.
Despite the leadership race to succeed him, Gray says the CHP has never faced a national election this united. ?The three candidates for the leadership are all willing to support the new leader chosen by the convention,? he told The Interim. ?There are no issues that divide us. It?s just a matter of choosing who has the skills, the strategy, the fresh vision to lead the party forward.?
Each of the three declared leadership candidates ? Rod Taylor, Harold Ludwig and Jim Hnatiuk- believes strongly in the CHP?s pro-life and pro-family position. As proof of their commitment to the party?s vision, all three leadership contenders are running in the general election as CHP candidates.
Gray was born and raised in British Columbia. Prior to becoming active in the CHP, he was a journalist, public relations officer, college administrator and federal public servant. His media stints include the Vancouver Sun, BC Report and the CBC. He and his wife Janet have raised nine children ? including adopted, step, and foster children ? and they have 14 grandchildren.
After 25 of years of media and public relations, Gray became a Christian in 1978. At the time he was a public information officer with Fraser Valley College in B.C. Finding the academic milieu somewhat uncomfortable as a new Christian, he accepted a similar position with the Trinity Western, an evangelical university in Langley, B.C.
There he discovered pro-life activism through John Hof and other B.C. pro-lifers. He became involved with Rescue Canada and participated in pro-life pickets.
During the late 1980s, the B.C. government began a legal persecution against pro-lifers who engaged in peaceful picketing outside abortuaries. Gray saw several of his fellow picketers convicted. ?When they threw John Hof in jail I had the privilege of driving him to prison,? Gray said.
Assuming he, too, would be sentenced to jail, Gray resigned from Trinity Western, feeling it would be unfair to ask the university to hold his position while he served a jail sentence.
The sentence never came.
?So I sentenced myself to three months picketing on the sidewalk outside of the Vancouver abortuary, with a sign on my chest that said, ?We will help you and your baby,? providing a phone number underneath,? he said.
Gray then stood as a CHP candidate during the 1988 federal election.
In 1995, the CHP found itself under the interim leadership of Heather Stilwell. Gray was asked several times to run for party leader. ?They asked me three times, and I only said no twice,? he laughs. At the CHP?s 1995 convention, he won the leadership on first ballot with support from 86 per cent of delegates. ?I took this as a pretty clear indication that this is what I was supposed to be doing,? Gray said.
The CHP membership agreed, voting 98 per cent to reconfirm his leadership at the 1988 convention, and unanimously at the conventions in 2001 and 2005.
Under his leadership, the party focused on increasing membership, developing more comprehensive policies for the party?s platform, and improving the party?s election readiness.
Yet Gray and the CHP also faced persecution from those who oppose the party?s pro-life and pro-marriage platform. In 2006, homosexual activist Rob Wells denounced the CHP and its leader before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Wells is also the complainant in several other human rights investigations, including that against Fr. Alphonse de Valk of Catholic Insight. The investigation against Gray and the CHP is on-going.
Asked whether the complaint influenced his decision to step down, Gray emphatically replies no.
He believes strongly in the CHP?s mission and feels the party needs a younger leader. ?I used to travel on three-week stints promoting the party,? he explained. ?Now that I?m turning 75 at the end of the year, I find myself unable to recover from a 3-day trip.?
Yet he remains firmly committed to the party, its pro-life platform and its success in future elections. ?I think the party needs and deserves a leader with a little more energy and stamina,? he said. ?But I will continue to work for the party, in whatever capacity they want, probably as a writer.?