Trudeau’s abortion move guarantees renewed debate within Conservative party
“That awful Mr. Trudeau,” my grandmother would say, half-meaning it, half-not. “Look what he’s gone and done now.”
It becomes increasingly difficult to argue this one trait of Pierre Trudeau’s, at least, has not been passed on in carbon copy to his eldest son; that is, his ability to drive people barmy. Case in point, the furor over Justin Trudeau’s declaration that the Liberal party is now “resolutely” pro-choice, and will screen potential candidates accordingly. That was last Wednesday. In response, much outrage. How could he? How dare he? He promised better!
It is certainly fair to knock Trudeau for not meeting the very high expectations he raised, especially during his drive for the Liberal leadership, that his brand of politics would be revolutionary, that all MPs would henceforth wallow in sublime liberty, and that every Liberal riding association would become its own little free-standing republic. But the fault was more in the over-promising than in what has come since.
As a practical matter, party leaders must retain ultimate oversight over their nomination processes to protect their brands, to weed out the catastrophically divisive, incompetent or untrustworthy, and to prevent Trojan horse incursions by candidates with agendas inimical to the party’s. Every political organization does this. To suggest the Liberals should not, and become a kind of Aquarian kindergarten in which all the kids do whatever they please all the time, is disingenuous. Trudeau should not have gone as far as he did in proffering his anarchic utopia, and he is wise to have placed limits on it.
Consider the history. The seminal Grit leadership convention of the modern era took place in Calgary in 1990. Pretty much everyone at that convention, if memory serves, despised and mistrusted everyone else, and continued to do so through the decade that followed. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there were two major factions and a couple of smaller ones warring within the bosom of the party. In 2004 and 2006 this cost them dearly, as organizers and workers on the outs with the ruling cabal sat on their hands.
Which brings us to abortion. It is true, of course, that a majority of Canadians would support some restrictions. A nationwide survey by Ipsos, commissioned by Postmedia News and Global TV in 2012, showed that just 49 per cent of respondents supported abortion “whenever a woman decides she wants one.” A plurality, 60 per cent, said they would support “the introduction of a law in Canada that places limits on when a woman can have an abortion during her pregnancy, such as during the last trimester.”
Hence the view that the debate is not settled, despite there having been no abortion law in Canada since 1988, and the notion that Canadians eager to argue about it are somehow being restrained from doing so, because of cowardly leadership.
Here’s what’s been lost in the argument: For one, the Ipsos 2012 data also showed that only six per cent of Canadians, almost a rounding error, would like to see abortion banned outright. Second, third-trimester abortions are already restricted, albeit not through federal law, and are very rare. Sex-selective abortion, practiced in cultures where boy children are prized over girl children, is viscerally unacceptable to many Canadians. But here again, federal legislation is not the only possible remedy. It is increasingly common for doctors and other health workers to refuse ultrasounds simply to reveal the gender of a fetus. Postmedia’s Sharon Kirkey reported in February that both the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Association of Radiologists have criticized “entertainment” ultrasounds, as has the Canadian Medical Association Journal. This problem can be addressed, in other words, without the blunderbuss of the federal government getting involved.
As for politics? The question is indeed settled. If it weren’t the federal Conservative party, which has a powerful social conservative wing and has – again, according to Ipsos data – drawn large numbers of conservative Roman Catholics away from the Liberals in the past decade, would be proposing to restrict late-term abortions, at the very least. That hasn’t happened because a) such procedures are already restricted; and b) the Tories know the ensuing debate would be wrenching, extend far beyond the partial measures being discussed now, because so many abortion opponents insist on a total ban, and would be catastrophic electorally. This, by the way, is the most important immediate consequence of Trudeau’s move: It guarantees the debate within the Conservative party on abortion will be renewed, which can’t help but cause Prime Minister Stephen Harper grief.
Amid all this, and given an entire generation of women and men in Canada have come of age since 1988, with no obvious disastrous effects, it’s somehow appalling for Trudeau to say aloud that he and his party are now “resolutely pro-choice?” Well, no. Not really. It was an obvious move and one that will benefit the Liberals, down the road.
Michael Den Tandt: Justin Trudeauâ€™s abortion move guarantees renewed debate within Conservative party