There Is No Difference Between The Parties On Abortion Rights

This article is about democratic rights. It is about whether MPs should have the right to express an opinion on a matter of conscience.

Neither this article nor any of the federal party leaders supports a change to the status quo around abortion rights.

For a moment it looked like Elizabeth May was bringing a thoughtful perspective to a non-existent disagreement between the parties about abortion policy. Then she changed her mind. Pity.

As a starting point, consider the following CBC report in 2011 concerning the views of then MP Justin Trudeau. He noted: “… that he is personally very opposed to abortion, but still believes nobody can tell a woman what she should do with her body.”

He is never going to be a candidate for abortion. In what manner will he be “very opposed” if he never manifests that opposition?

Expressed his way, it means that a pregnant woman’s family members should not be allowed to express an opinion about a possible abortion.

Compare Trudeau’s statement with Andrew Scheer’s response to a similar question, referring to both abortion rights and gay marriage.

“Individual MPs have the right to express themselves on matters of conscience, but a Conservative government will not reopen these divisive social issues.”

“As Prime Minister of Canada, I will always oppose measures that reopen these types of debates,” he said, making the point in both official languages.

“A vote was held, it’s settled. Canadians have moved on, I’ve moved on.”
In every election that the Liberals contested against Stephen Harper, they said that he was a threat to abortion rights. He said repeatedly there would be no change and there wasn’t.

Scheer is saying the same thing, yet Trudeau is trying to pretend there is an issue because Scheer has not promised to silence the small minority of Conservative MPs who might raise the issue in parliament. Those MPs know it would go nowhere but feel an obligation to represent the views of people who elected them.

The real issue here is the role of individual MPs. Are they merely a troop of obedient servants who are only allowed to do what they are told by the Prime Minister’s Office?

This appears to be Trudeau’s expectation, notwithstanding the tone of his promise in 2015: “We will give Canadians a stronger voice in the House of Commons by limiting the circumstances in which Liberal Members of Parliament will be required to vote with Cabinet.”

In effect, Scheer’s position on abortion is just as supportive of the status quo as what Trudeau said in 2011. Unlike Trudeau, he is willing to let his members speak what is on their mind but has made it clear that he will “always oppose measures that reopen these types of debates.”

In her initial response to the topic, Elizabeth May, who personally supports women’s rights to safe, legal abortions, nevertheless said her MPs should be allowed to say what they think: “I could talk to them. I could try to dissuade them. I could say it would be unfortunate … but I don’t have the power as leader of the Green Party to whip votes, nor do I have the power to silence an MP,” May said in an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

A few hours later, her Press Secretary changed the message: “Although the leader does not have the power to whip votes, all Green Party members of Parliament must … support of a woman’s right to choose. There is zero chance an elected representative of our party will ever reopen the abortion debate.”

May was on the right track the first time. She had concluded her initial remarks by saying: “And frankly, I think that’s a good thing because democracy will be healthier when constituents know that their MP works for them and not their party leader.”

That is the essential difference between Scheer’s position and Trudeau’s. There will be no change in women’s access to safe, legal abortions regardless of who is Prime Minister after October 27th.

There will be a substantial difference in the right of government MPs to have and express their own views.

The Liberals have probably picked up a point or two in the polls by misrepresenting Scheer’s position and making entirely false comparisons to the dreadful state of affairs south of the border.

They thereby fogged the issue for those who were enjoying summer too much to read beyond the headlines. Supporting the right of MPs to have opinions, without compromising party policy positions, is not a big vote winner.

Now that the election has been called, perhaps voters will tune in more closely to what the real differences are.


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