In the past, Campaign Life Saskatchewan has had a single election strategy: identify pro-life candidates to inform pro-life voters. Last spring it was decided that our campaign for this provincial election must have two distinct parts: one to identify pro-life candidates and a separate campaign directed specifically to the voters.
In previous campaigns, we have used short advertisements on radio and television to raise the issue and then placed advertisement in various newspapers across the province listing the pro-life candidates. But there is only so much that can be said in a 60-second radio ad. This time, Campaign Life members received more in-depth preparation for voting with a special “election issue’ newsletter.
Soon after the election was called, over 600 pastors from all Christian denominations in the province received our election newsletter and a letter inviting them to order a copy for each family in their congregation, at our expense. They were asked to distribute these newsletters at their services a week prior to the election.
The response was very encouraging. With the help of these pastors we distributed over 12,000 newsletters, addressing the importance of being a committed pro-life voter, the impact Christians can have and the responsibility they have. A second, and then a third, printing was required. Each newsletter carried an insert listing the committed pro-life candidates in the province.
More Catholic churches placed orders than Protestant, but the Protestant churches that took the newsletter did so with more enthusiasm and more active support than many of the Catholic. Overall, both Catholic and Protestant Christians responded to the newsletter positively. Many readers commented that they received a better understanding of the three-fold demand abortion makes of the Christian – an understanding which could not have been achieved in a short media ad.
Newsletters also carried a voter card insert – our own bright green campaign sign to be placed in front windows to greet door-knocking candidates. A line at the bottom of the card declares the number of pro-life voters in that household. The questions Campaign Life asked of the candidates are printed on the reverse side. People appreciated having the questions at hand rather than trying to “pin the candidate down” by themselves. Some pro-lifers preferred to tape the card to their car window and campaign “Vote Life” on the road.
The candidates’ part of our campaign began with the first letter to the candidates on April 4. Our questionnaire was enclosed. Candidates were given a telephone number to call if they had nay questions. Our first contact with them was made well before the election was called, to allow them plenty of time to investigate and respond before the pressure of intense campaigning started.
A second letter was mailed to candidates who had not already responded as soon as the election was called. A notice was enclosed which made it clear that no response by October 1 would be considered a pro-abortion position. A few candidates protested our “no response” conclusion, but most understood our position and, even if they were not able to give unqualified commitment, were willing to respond. Candidates who had only a few minor qualifications were followed up and in all but one case, after our explanation, dropped their qualification.
We received positive feedback from several candidates regarding this approach. We were told that confining ourselves to five very direct questions, and keeping our letter brief, made our enquiry easier to respond to than some special-interest groups, who overwhelmed candidates with a lengthy questionnaire.
The number of candidates willing to give an unqualified commitment was down this time. Fewer first-time candidates signed and some candidates who had given a commitment in previous elections did not sign this time. We attribute much of that decrease to two factors:
- The NDP told their candidates they would respond for them from their provincial office.
- The PC party provided their candidates with a form letter which claimed personal support of the pro-life actions their government claims to have taken.
The NDP never did respond for their candidates, the PC form letter was unacceptable on three counts:
- The pro-life claims were false. Their government’s actions were so compromised they were ineffective in reducing let alone stopping abortion in Saskatchewan.
- The letter made no commitment to future actions as a government.
- Personal support of their party’s government was obviously preferred to making a personal commitment. We do not want party “yes men” – we want members who are personally committed to ending (not just reducing) abortions in Saskatchewan.
Final results show 42 of 211 candidates gave an unqualified pro-life commitment: 20 Progressive Conservatives, 16 Liberals, and 6 New Democrats. These 42 candidates were spread over 32 of 64 ridings. Our initial reaction to this low response was a combination of shock and disappointment. A second look showed us a positive side.
The strength of the pro-life lobby at the voter level must be getting stronger. Political candidates see they cannot make a commitment at the time of the election unless they are prepared to act on the promise. Even though had fewer candidates, we believe there was a greater percentage of serious personal commitment. We concluded our pro-life vote was better spent this election.
There was a second blessing in this low response. Out of 32 ridings with pro-life candidates, only eight had more than one pro-life candidate to split the pro-life vote and allow the uncommitted candidate to slip through the middle. As it turned out, this is probably what happened in at least three of those eight; but, in three of the split ridings, a pro-life candidate was elected.
The third blessing we saw was the opportunity for pro-life people in the “bare” constituencies to make a really strong statement to all three parties and to the new government. We really campaigned for the “protest” ballot. Unfortunately, people generally are not receptive to this. Many Christians understood the principle behind it (not participating in granting power to someone who refuses to protect innocent human life) and understood its effectiveness politically. The big draw back seemed to be lack of confidence in each other and not wanting to be the only one to do it. At the time of this report, we have to protest or “spoiled” ballot statistics.
One thing that might have hurt our campaign for the protest ballot was a media report that this action was against the law and could result in 5 years’ imprisonment. Some reports failed to point out that only Campaign Life’s executive were liable to prosecution for encouraging this action and that was stretching the law beyond its intent. The voter who cast the secret ballot could never be prosecuted. Unfortunately, some voters will only hear that it is against the law, and may in fear and the desire to be law-abiding, not cast that protest ballot.
The final results showed 12 of our 42 pro-life candidates elected (11 PC and 1 NDP). 12 out of 64 may seem low but looks worse than it is. Many candidates were totally ignorant and therefore there is hope of gaining their co-operation as we educate them. Also 11 of those 12 are PCs and thus form the government.
The single NDP pro-life elected is also good. Last time there were no pro-life members sitting in the opposition which left the government unchallenged. Even with the promises the PCs made in the last election, it became apparent we needed someone in the opposition to challenge them.
Finally, no matter what the election results were, we know we have expended the pro-life commitment in voters and here is where we are most optimistic. The pro-life fire in the province has been rekindled; our lobby will be stronger for this government’s term. We intend to continue this campaign with the voters. Hopefully, the results will be visible by the time we have a federal election, certainly it will be so for the next provincial election. The only way is up.
Donna Darbellay is president of Campaign Life Saskatchewan.