Candidates address social issues in Tory leadership race

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More than a dozen MPs, former MPs, and businessmen are running to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as permanent leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. With 14 people officially in the race after reality TV star and businessman Kevin O’Leary entered the race in January, some party insiders are beginning to wonder if many candidates will drop out before the May 27 leadership vote.

Candidates must declare and have their full entrance fees paid by Feb. 24. The deadline for Canadian citizens and residents to become members to vote is March 28.

Currently, the race features two candidates that Campaign Life Coalition rates as pro-life: MP Brad Trost and former MP Pierre Lemieux. According to CLC, both have perfect voting records during their time in Parliament. They have both been raising social issues on the leadership campaign trail.

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In November, Trost talked about conscience rights for health care workers and Lemieux raised the issue of sex-selective abortions.

In early January, Lemieux sent two emails to supporters unveiling new socially conservative positions. On Jan. 6, Lemieux said he would rein in activist judges. “In recent decades,” Lemieux wrote, Supreme Court judges “have decided the most controversial questions of our times — not voters.” He said issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and prostitution should be decided by Parliament not judges. He vowed to “put term limits on Supreme Court judges” and “give Parliament a vote on the appointment of Supreme Court judges” to make them more accountable. On Jan. 8, the candidate sent another email saying a Lemieux government would bring transparency to abortion in Canada. Lemieux said he would, “require provinces to provide full public disclosure of abortion statistics, for the purpose of transparency, the ability to develop good public policy base on data, and accountability for taxpayers’ money.”

Trost also began to roll out policy. On Jan. 3, he restated his pledge to pass legislation to protect unborn victims of violence and to outlaw sex-selective abortions. He followed that up with an announcement that a Trost government would launch an advertising campaign to value the lives of people with Down syndrome, in order to discourage the abortion of preborn babies diagnosed with the condition. On Jan. 25, Trost issued a statement promising to scrap Bill C-16 if he became prime minister. C-16 is the Liberal bill that adds gender identity and expression to the Criminal Code provisions on hate crimes and amend the Canada Human Rights Act to create special protection for individuals who self-identify as transgender. C-16 passed the House in November and is currently before the Senate.

Also, when U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy banning non-government organizations that commit or promote abortion from receiving American foreign aid, Trost applauded the decision; he also called on his fellow Conservative leadership contenders to state their position as to whether Canadian foreign aid should fund abortions overseas. Trost said that the Harper government focused on aid for maternal and newborn health rather than abortion. He said Stephen Harper was not pro-life but still sought to limit abortion funding abroad because the issue is not really that controversial.

iPolitics contracted MP Andrew Scheer, who had a perfect pro-life voting record according to CLC but has vowed not to re-open the abortion issue. Scheer, the political website reported, “did not provide a response.”

Other than with Trost and Lemieux, social issues are seldom raised in the leadership campaign. MP and former labour minister Lisa Raitt addressed abortion in an interview on CTV’s “Power Play” when host Don Martin said she was a moderate and “pro-choice.” She interrupted him to say he did not know what her position was on the issue. She said it is a tough decision for women and told a personal story: “My mother had me and was going to give me up for adoption. She chose not to have an abortion, so I have some really personal views about it,” perhaps suggesting some reticence about abortion. She added, “I think it’s a decision that is a tough decision for any woman to make, but I would never bring in legislation to make it illegal, ever.”

CLC’s Jeff Gunnarson said his organization is disappointed that despite Raitt’s personal testimony and the distinct possibility that under different circumstances she would not be alive today, she still supports the status quo of an unfettered abortion license.

On Jan. 17, Kevin O’Leary told the CBC’s “Power and Politics” program that he is a proud social liberal and ran through a litany of issues: he was in favour of same-sex “marriage,” euthanasia, abortion, and decriminalizing marijuana. Last year, he told Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant, “anything to do with the happiness of individuals, the state has no right to be in your bedroom. I don’t care if you want to marry a goat. I am for it. I really am.”

Polls have O’Leary well ahead of the other candidates, although party insiders say he does not have the ground game to sign up new members. Gunnarson told The Interim it would be disastrous if O’Leary, who is “proudly socially liberal and at odds with a sizable part of the base of the party,” won the leadership.

Other candidates running include MPs Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Deepak Obhrai, and Erin O’Toole, former MPs Andrew Saxton and Chris Alexander, and British Columbia businessman Rick Peterson.

CLC is encouraging its supporters to purchase a membership for the mail-in ranked ballot because pro-life Canadians can show support for both candidates who share their values. Gunnarson told The Interim, “this is a rare and special opportunity for pro-lifers to elect a social conservative as leader of the Conservative Party.” Memberships must be purchased before March 28 to be eligible to vote for leader and Gunnarson urges anyone interested to do so immediately. “Don’t wait,” he warned, “people forget, things come up. Just purchase a $15 membership in order to have the chance to elect a pro-life leader.”

CLC will determine what other guidance it will give in the next few months. Bernier, who is not socially conservative, says he welcomes free votes for pro-life and pro-family MPs, while Chong, who is most associated with democratic reform, seems hesitant to allow free votes on issues like abortion. Gunnarson said that Trost and Lemieux “clearly deserve the top two spots on the ranked ballot but there might be candidates who, because of their opposition to euthanasia or past voting record or approach to free votes, deserve some consideration, but we are not nearing a decision quite yet.” Gunnarson said it is unlikely CLC will endorse anyone else but said it is possible the organization will point to the pros and cons of other candidates regarding life and family issues and democratic rights.

Gunnarson said pro-life Canadians must vote for Trost and Lemieux because their records and actions during the leadership race are “unambiguously deserving of our support.” He also noted that if the two most prominent socially conservative candidates do poorly, the media and party establishment could use the results to dismiss pro-life and pro-family voters as politically insignificant.

While public polls of party members are scarce at this point in the race, one leaked to iPolitics by the Bernier campaign (before O’Leary entered the race) suggests that Bernier, Leitch, and Raitt are top-tier candidates with about 20 per cent each and that Trost is in the second-tier at about 10 per cent, which represents a respectable showing. Trost indicated in an interview early last month that he is among the top three candidates in selling memberships.

Gunnarson said despite the encouraging signs, pro-lifers should ignore the numbers and become involved because “being active in the parties is the best way to ensure Canadians have leaders who share our values.”

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