With an election looming, grassroots Ontarians are asking whether the Mike Harris Tories are more “progressive” than conservative. They’ve certainly been a huge disappointment for one of their most natural constituencies: pro-life, pro-family voters.
With an Ontario election seeming imminent this spring, Ontario voters for whom life and family are the first priority are feeling deeply betrayed by the Tories.
It seems that many of them voted Progressive Conservative in the 1995 election. They believed that the government of Mike Harris would be much different than the previous NDP and Liberal administrations on social, as well as economic, issues. Some informal promises were made by PC leaders. There were many signs there might be some action on life and family issues.
In the end, many feel that the Tories have shown interest in only one issue – the Ontario economy. Some observers have said there is a new shallowness of purpose and lack of overall philosophy in the party.
Most pro-family voters shared the Tories’ position that government spending and growth was out of control and that dramatic changes were needed. That was another reason why they voted Tory. What they didn’t anticipate was the PC’s extremely narrow focus and pre-occupation with finances.
To be fair, a good number of Tory MPPs are family-values oriented and want to have social conservative policies implemented. Unfortunately, their general inexperience and timidity, and a consistently overbearing party leadership, have short-circuited all major social-conservative initiatives.
Life and family are not priority issues for the Mike Harris government. The genuine social-conservative members have been the most timid that pro-life veterans have seen in almost 30 years of political lobbying. There have been discussions within caucus, letters exchanged, and some battles behind closed doors. But very little has been presented in the legislature, and there have been few strong public statements. So far, no Tory has emerged as the family-values leader at Queen’s Park.
In general, there is a climate of fear and extreme caution on moral and social issues – although one wonders what the MPPs are afraid of in this free society where no one will be shot for speaking the truth (not yet, at least!).
All indications are that this state of affairs is exactly what the party’s inner circle wants.
Campaign Life Coalition and other pro-family groups have generally had a positive experience in lobbying individual MPPs. The PC MPPs have been much more open-minded than those of the previous NDP and Liberal governments. But it has been surprising how poorly informed MPPs in all parties have been on life and family issues. More-over, any good achieved in these relationships was often negated by the following:
1. Entrenched NDP and other social-leftist bureaucrats have not been removed.
The PCs came into power with a weak understanding of how deeply entrenched were the left-wing civil servants. Deception and manipulation of the rookie MPPs has been a piece of cake for the experienced, unaccountable, and difficult-to-remove civil servants. For several months, even the Premier was misled about the fact that the injunction against pro-life protests was a temporary injunction, rather than a permanent one. The most corrupted ministry has been that of the Attorney-General. Many backbench MPPs have been disgusted with the government’s inability or unwillingness to clean house.
2. MPPs’ personal staff manipulate members’ communications.
Frequently, pro-life mailings and telephone messages to the members mysteriously disappear. In the first year or so, inexperienced MPPs did not realize that they had to carefully hand-pick staff who either agreed with, or at least respected, their personal principles. Eventually, a number of members replaced their staff, and CLC’s observation is that more should have done the same. This is a common problem in politics at all levels of government.
3. MPPs are intimidated by party leadership to drop social conservative initiatives.
Pro-life leaders found that genuine interest and commitment on life issues by members was sometimes stifled by party higher-ups. After more than three years of unreturned phone calls and other strange behaviour, it became clear that there was a government strategy on these issues – they’re not to be touched at all. MPPs have been told to avoid “controversial” social-conservative issues because they would divide the party and cost votes – the latter being not at all true.
It is fairly common knowledge, even among puzzled opposition members, that MPPs Jim Brown and Frank Klees have been squelched by Tory brass when they attempted actions on social issues of natural interest to conservatives. Klees was given a hard time by the party because of his efforts to restore parental control over the healthcare of minor children – a right taken away by the previous NDP regime. Shockingly, his rather mild bill on this was voted against by four cabinet members, with Health Minister Jim Wilson actually speaking against it.
There are also reports that MPP Jim Brown was approached by some PC caucus members, including the party whip, and told to drop his “abortion bill” (conscience legislation). Brown did suddenly drop the bill leaving the Coalition for Conscience that had been working with him for months in a terrible dilemma. Until recently, Brown was perhaps the most outspoken and helpful Tory MPP on issues concerning life and family. Last December, he “resigned” his position on the Crime Commission because of remarks he made on a radio program about the increase of prostitution during the Santa Claus parade. Some of those who have worked with Brown and who are aware of the animosity from some party insiders towards him, believe the radio program scenario was just a ruse to silence him for other reasons.
Isabel Bassett, with her many Ontario high-society connections, is known as a Red Tory on social issues, having an entrenched pro-abortion position, and other very liberal social views. She is said to have the ear of party second-in-command Ernie Eves. Combine this with the appointment of gay activist Keith Norton to head the Ontario Human Rights Commission, NDPer Dave Cook to head the education restructuring commission, and all of the foregoing, it is reasonable to conclude that:
(a) the Tory leadership has an unwritten, but very firm policy that no “controversial” social-conservative bills or policies will be permitted to get past first base during this mandate;
(b) anything that might even potentially have any negative impact on abortion access will not be tolerated – whether it is restoration of the rights of parents over their children’s healthcare, conscience legislation, abortion de-funding, public access to current hospital abortion statistics, or even attempts to discover who was behind the fire-bombing of the Morgentaler abortuary in 1992; and
(c) this policy is likely the price of an agreement between the Mike Harris inner circle and Red Tory party members, and perhaps even some opposition members, for guaranteed co-operation with the all-important, almost sacred, Tory economic agenda. Nothing else explains why the government would be so brutally insensitive, and why it would so consistently betray its core social-conservative supporters and MPPs.
Whom to vote for? FCP could gain protest vote
Pity the voters. They have a choice between three main parties that are all more or less pro-abortion and anti-family. In response, many Ontarians for whom these issues are a high priority will likely just stay home. Some may once again decide to vote for the Family Coalition Party (FCP), if there is a candidate for their riding. Unlike the last election, there will be no illusions about what the Tories will and won’t do for family life in the province. The FCP might recover what it lost last time – and much more – from frustrated voters.
Campaign Life Coalition will continue to encourage voters to support only those candidates who are truly pro-life. It encourages support for those in all parties who have given some serious indication that they are genuinely concerned about life and family, and it encourages voters to give FCP candidates special consideration. CLC will call for the defeat of those who are clearly on the other side or who have betrayed the unborn child, and Ontario’s families, with their empty promises and inaction.
In the meantime, CLC encourages voters to challenge the good MPPs – those who know right from wrong on life and family and other moral issues – to finally speak up publicly, and do something to restore sanity to Ontario’s collapsing moral culture.
Political party allegiances or political career ambitions should never be placed above God. And yet, that is so often done by men and women who allow themselves to be seduced and manipulated by political party culture.
The Mulroney Effect
Some veteran pro-life observers have noted a resemblance to the “Mulroney effect” in this government. Loyalty to the leader and the party, at all costs, was strongly emphasized during the Mulroney federal PC government. MPs were pressed into following lock-step behind the entire government agenda for the good of the party’s main agenda items. Some MPs were heard to say to constituents, “We’re the government’s representative in this riding, not your representative” – or words to that effect. The leader was portrayed as a “great guy,” and MPs were told it would be a shame not to co-operate with him completely. (The same thing has happened to the federal Liberals under Jean Chrétien, by the way.)
In the end, many good pro-life and pro-family Tory MPs ended up representing their party far more than their country and constituents. They betrayed personal principles and even religious beliefs. Many foolishly believed that by not being publicly critical, they would get cabinet positions and be more effective for the family in that role.
Once in cabinet, they found that they were more controlled than ever by party dictates. They threw away a once-in-a-lifetime, God-given opportunity to be great men and women of vision, and betrayed those who placed the greatest trust in them. For this and other reasons, the voters responded with a vengeance at the polls. Many of these MPs are now remembered, for what they didn’t do, as opposed to what they did do. At the moment, it appears some voters will remember many current PC MPPs in the same way.
Steve Jalsevac is a Toronto director of Campaign Life Coalition.