On October 25, it became startlingly clear to Canadians that the Reform Party would have a far greater role in Parliament than almost anyone would have predicted just six months ago.
Preston Manning as done a brilliant job of convincing people that he is a populist. He has recognized that millions of Canadians feel alienated from the political process. They see Members of Parliament as being unresponsive to the majority of voters and over-anxious to provide themselves with benefits such as the world’s best pension plan.
In response, the Reform Party has stated that MPs must be more accountable to their constituents. The role of MPs, Reformers loudly proclaim, is to represent the views of constituents in Ottawa rather than be spokespersons for their parties back in the ridings.
All that sounds very reasonable. But a look at the whole Reform agenda reveals that Reform’s noises about making the system more democratic is little more than a smoke and mirror game in which pro-lifers and the unborn are going to emerge as losers.
On the matter of abortion, Reform MPs will be required to vote according to the wishes of their constituents. Either by way of a referendum or a poll, Reform Party MPs must determine what the majority of their constituents wants on such matters and vote accordingly.
Power to the people
Manning has portrayed this as proof that his Party intends to return power to the people, that it will make Parliament reflect the views of Canadians. Don’t be fooled. The only question is – on what issues is Manning willing to ignore public opinion?
Here’s just one example. Opinion poll after opinion poll over the last four years has shown that the majority of Canadians remain consistently opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement. This undisputed fact has not stopped the Reform Party from supporting free trade.
Free trade is not an issue of fundamental morality; it is neither intrinsically good or bad. Whether it is good or bad for a country all depends upon circumstances and on what the citizens of that country value. It is an issue about which Canadians are fully capable of under standing and forming an intelligent opinion.
In contrast, issues such as abortion and capital punishment are questions of fundamental moral principles. People on both sides of the issue agree that the rightness or wrongness of abortion cannot be decided by public opinion. It is a moral issue which transcends public opinion.
So, if there were ever an issue on which a Party has not merely the right but the obligation to choose a position and to exercise leadership it is on an issue such as abortion. But it is on this very issue that the Reform Party says public opinion must be decisive.
Preston Manning has turned the role of public opinion on its head. On issues where public opinion should be heeded, Reform is willing to ignore it. On issues which involve morality and where public opinion is not decisive – Reform would make such opinion king.
To be fair to Reformers, their pro-life supporters suggest that the referendum proposal is simply a clever strategy intended to promote the pro-life cause. They make the following argument: any Party which takes a pro-life stand will be ridiculed and run into oblivion by the pro-abortion media. Reformers, most of whom are personally pro-life, will be able to manipulate the referendum process to ensure as strong a pro-life vote as possible comes forward. Thus, the referendum process simply allows the greatest number of Reformers to be elected and enables those elected to support pro-life initiatives.
All my work in the pro-life movement has taught me that this just isn’t going to happen. Those who are too frightened to be identified as pro-life during an election never develop the courage to work for the unborn in the House of Commons.
Reformers are willing to take heat and to lose votes defending their controversial stands on issues such as immigration cutbacks and severe government budgetary reductions. They do so because they care about those issues. Their referendum stand on the abortion issue is not a victory for democracy nor a clever strategy. It simply reflects that they really do not care enough to see the unborn protected by law.