PC leadership candidates steer clear of life and family issues
By Paul Tuns
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada will pick a new leader this fall, but the candidates hold out little hope for pro-life, pro-family Canadians.
Seeking the leadership are former prime minister Joe Clark, backroom advisor Hugh Segal, former Manitoba cabinet minister Brian Pallister, Québec lawyer Michael Fortier, and Saskatchewan farmer and free-trade opponent David Orchard. If the Oct. 24 vote fails to produce a clear winner, a second vote will be held in November.
The candidate debates, policy papers, and campaign speeches are full of promises to rebuild the once-mighty PC party. Candidates are also promising tax reform, debt reduction, and Senate reform. But other than Hugh Segal's brief discussion of the death penalty (Mr. Segal supports it), "moral issues" have not been addressed at all.
Michael Fortier's campaign manager Fred Loiselle told The Interim Mr. Fortier is a church-going Roman Catholic who is committed to practising family values. He says Mr. Fortier is pro-life, but "does not want to use his personal views politically."
Mr. Fortier has no formal position on abortion, euthanasia, or how marriage and the family should be defined. He is committed, Mr. Loiselle says, to "promote the family within society. It is not a matter of being anti-gay, but (of) promoting families."
Pressed on what he meant by this, Loiselle emphasized his candidate would not "gay-bash." Mr. Loiselle says Mr. Fortier is open to "some kind of fetus protection" because he is uncomfortable with the status quo of abortion on demand.
Roy Norton, campaign secretary and director of policy for Joe Clark, says Mr. Clark has said he is "outlining an approach, not a platform." Mr. Norton says his candidate "would fully respect the party's ‘grassroots' policy development process," and that Mr. Clark has until at least 2001 to develop a full platform. Mr. Norton was evasive when questioned on life and family issues.
Mr. Clark, however, has a long "pro-choice" record. In a 1977 questionnaire, Clark did not answer whether or not preborn children should be granted the same legal protection as "any other human being." As PC leader in the 1979 election, he told the Catholic Register that a lack of access to abortion would "impose a particular hardship" on the poor. He also called abortion "a matter of personal conscience and conviction."
That same year, the Edmonton Journal noted the pro-abortion Canadian Association for Repeal of the Abortion Law had applauded Mr. Clark's position. In the 1983 PC leadership race, Clark said the decision on abortion should be left with the medical community.
Letters to pro-life citizens in the late 1980s, however, were more nuanced. In that context, Mr. Clark said he opposed "uncontrolled abortion on demand" and supported increasing "family planning." He said a "middle ground" was necessary, without stating what that middle ground might be.
Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter, told The Interim that Mr. Clark dodges the issues, "leaving the impression that he might be socially conservative," while he is in fact a social liberal.
The Segal, Pallister, and Orchard campaigns were not available for comment.
In response to Campaign Life Coalition's election questionnaire in 1997, Mr. Pallister said he believes life begins at conception. He did not, however, answer the question on whether or not he would "actively support measures" that would protect children in the womb. He said he would work to ban experimentation on fetal tissue, to exclude abortion as an insured service under the Canada Health Act, and to maintain the prohibition on physician-assisted suicide.
Segal, a former Financial Post columnist, has criticized pro-life Republicans in the United States for holding up funding for the United Nations, because of the UN's support for abortion and population control. Mr. Segal has also branded moral conservatives as extremists who are dangerous to modern conservatism.
So it seems that once again pro-life, pro-family citizens are without a voice in the leadership of a "mainstream" political party.
Mr. Gunter points out that the Tories are not the only party which is timid on life and family issues. But, he argues, the "Tories are especially reluctant to discuss these issues, or campaign on them, because (these) issues have a greater potential to damage their party than any other. The Liberals are mostly united to the left-of-centre on moral issues. Reform is mostly to the right. However, the Tories, with the Red Tories breaking left and the social conservatives breaking right, are more nearly evenly divided ... (and) to force the matter would split them badly."
Furthermore, Mr. Gunter argues, "the Tory hierarchy is almost entirely made up of Red Tories." As a result, any pro-life, pro-family candidate will "be treated as an outsider. If one already is an outsider, as Fortier is, compounding that is simply not sound politics."
William Gairdner, a conservative public-affairs commentator and author of the books The Trouble with Canada and War Against the Family, says the failure to address moral issues stems from the nature of current political discourse. Mr. Gairdner told The Interim that we live in a society where "morality is considered private ... and politicians are clever to avoid moral positions because these will inevitably draw attack in the language of democratic rights."
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