On abortion, what’s the difference between Harper and Trudeau?

Comparing the party leaders’ positions

Asked a question about abortion access in New Brunswick last week, the Prime Minister decided to muse aloud about the inclusiveness of the Conservative party of Canada—musing that has been interpreted as a reference to Justin Trudeau’s recently questioned stance on abortion-related votes in the House of Commons.

“Ours is a big party where we understand the Canadian people have different, often conflicting views on issues like this, deeply held views — and all such views are welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada.”

This was cute. Not least because it’s not clear that there’s much of a difference between Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau on this point.

It was 14 months ago, of course, that a Conservative MP, Mark Warawa, was stymied in both his attempt to move forward with a motion on gender-specific abortion and his attempt to deliver a statement in the House on that motion. The latter move was explicitly the responsibility of the government whip, the former was merely said to be the doing of the Prime Minister’s Office.

From a Toronto Sun report at the time:

“Scott Armstrong was whipped,” one MP said. “There’s little doubt that the Prime Minister’s Office wanted this motion removed so that it not be dealt with by the House of Commons.”

A week after that subcommittee on private members’ business made that decision, the Conservative caucus met. Details of that meeting were subsequently leaked to the Globe.

The Prime Minister reminded his MPs he made a pledge to Canadians during the 2011 election: that his government would not reopen the abortion debate and that Conservatives wouldn’t bring forward legislation on the topic.

“He said he’s determined to keep his word to the people of Canada and he views this motion as tantamount to breaking the promise,” one source said. “He vowed he would use whatever tools are at his discretion to prevent the abortion debate from being reopened.”

As I noted at the time, the Prime Minister had seemed to blur the distinction between government business and private members’ business. But the Prime Minister’s position on abortion, at least as of March 2013, would seem to have been fairly clear: no Conservative MP shall endeavour to make it a matter of parliamentary business.

A ruling from the Speaker subsequently undercut the government side’s ability to govern what MPs say during the time reserved each day for statements by members, but the ability to block an abortion-related bill or motion from reaching the floor of the House has not really been tested since (though Stephen Woodworth did ask for unanimous consent for a motion in April that would have recognized the equality of every human being).

And so now along comes Justin Trudeau and his demand that all incoming Liberal MPs will be expected to vote against any restriction on abortion. The edict does not bar anyone who holds anything but the most absolute pro-choice opinion from joining or running for the Liberal party.

In a message to supporters this weekend, Mr. Trudeau expanded on his relative open-mindedness.

Canadians of all views are welcome within the Liberal Party of Canada. But under my leadership, incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights.

Change the wording around a bit and you’ve got Stephen Harper’s position. In fact, here is what Mr. Harper said at one point during the last election.

“As you know, in our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue,” Harper said. “But I think I’ve been very clear as party leader.… As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.”

You’ve got to thread a needle, I think, to find a distinction between those two positions.

Mr. Harper might still be willing to do everything in his power to prevent an abortion-related bill or motion of a Conservative MP from reaching the floor of the House, but he presumably wouldn’t whip the vote if a vote did occur. In fact, I don’t think he could whip the vote even if he wanted to. Going back to Motion 312, a vote in September 2012 showed a healthy split in the Conservative caucus—in that case not even the cabinet was unanimous, which arguably went further to break Mr. Harper’s campaign commitment than anything Mark Warawa would do.

Of course, if Stephen Harper does everything in his power to prevent a motion or bill from reaching the floor of the House and Justin Trudeau holds his caucus to a status quo position (and the NDP is doing likewise), it is unlikely that there will be any vote to whip. At least unless someone wants to make trouble. (The NDP briefly flirted with a motion on abortion last week before backing off.)

Less concrete, but still potentially relevant: How free are Conservative and Liberal MPs to publicly express views that do not correspond with their leaders’ positions on abortion? Would Justin Trudeau tolerate an MP who was open in his or her disagreement with Mr. Trudeau’s stance? Can MPs who have concerns speak freely without fear of being somehow punished?

If we expand our perspective beyond Parliament Hill, we get to what might be the only abortion debate this country’s politicians are willing to engage: whether foreign aid funds should be used to provide access to abortion. The Harper government has been careful to ensure its maternal health initiative and even its funding of Planned Parenthood avoided abortion. The Liberals, on the other hand, “believe that the full range of reproductive health services must be included in government aid for maternal health.”

That seems like the proxy fight for the fight that isn’t really happening in Parliament.

(One other thing that might be speculated about: What becomes the position of a Conservative government if that government isn’t led by Stephen Harper? Does a future Conservative leader or prime minister maintain Mr. Harper’s commitment to the status quo? Or does he or she take a slightly different position?)




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On abortion, what’s the difference between Harper and Trudeau?

  1. Should there be a difference? No.

    Anymore than we’d debate putting a train all across the country…

    • We don’t have a railway “all across the country”. The railway system on the island portion of NL was shut down thirty years ago – and in Labrador, the only rail line is the terminus in Labrador City of a Quebec-based line that primarily carries iron ore from the mines.

      A poor analogy.

  2. Trudeau’s stance seems to have moved considerably towards Harpers position, though his initial statement to reporters seemed pretty categorical in using pro-choice views as a deciding factor in for eligibility as a Liberal candidate. In fact, he also included Liberal membership in that.

    “For current members, we will not eject someone from the party for beliefs they have long held,” Trudeau said. “But the Liberal party is a pro-choice party, and going forward, all new members and new candidates are pro-choice.”

    On the whole, as he has done on numerous occasions, Trudeau made a statement, and then backed off from the initial stance.

    • Heh….Trudeau’s views have never changed. SoCons don’t much like Harps views though.

  3. We are propagandized about left, middle and right politics, but they are all statism parties.

    Real issue is liberty versus statism. I don’t have options on my ballot for less bailouts of uncommon good, less buddy deals and less government waste consuming my wallet in hidden spend side infaltion/protectionism/taxes and income taxes. Not one option of LESS governemtn managing people like chickens.

    I applaud Trudeau for taking a stand and not being a jellyfish like Harper (no spine). Shows Trudeau does not support treating our women like government and/or religious breeding vessels. Fact is, Trudeau has shown to be the least statism option we have.

    And why this conservative is seriously considering to vote “Trudeau”. While his father screwed us with debt, maybe the son is different? As I am desperate for a ballot option that isn’t just statism picking my pocket for lobby buddies, banks, corporations, unions and other money for nothing wastes of uncommon good. If we don’t have a vote for less government managing us for our money, and transparent government, I guess we are slaves of Orwellian statism.

  4. Left (NDP), Middle (Liberal), Right (Cons)…..but we ignore the most important values and ethics of statism versus liberty. Histrically, only option on our ballots is statism. No economic or personal liberties allowed, as in statism people don’t manage government, government manages the people.

    I have recently decided I am not any longer a “Conservative”. I am for more liberty and less statism. As its statism that messes us all up. We need to earn $800,000 to buy a $400,000 home that has a tax out cost of $200,000 to make. We pay taxes on income, then inflated prices of mostly taxes in the spend on labour, tariffs, fees and materials with taxes in them. Statism types want us to ignore the spend side inflated costs….that make $800,000 of gross income needed for a $200,000 tax out home.

    And now the statism types (NDP/Lib/Cons) want to manage our women like chickens and cows? Thank you Justin Trudea for taking a stand and show you have limits to the insanity of statism. As part of why Canada is failing is just too damned much non-value added expensive liberty slamming government. We are even too busy supporting governemtn kids with hidden and real taxes we don’t have as many of our own.

    If Justin takes the liberty view where people have rights, be it killing organized crime on Marijuana, or preserving womens rights to their bodies, he can count on my support.

  5. I am pro-choice, the only choice that respects womens rights to their own bodies. I applaud Trudeau for supporting women, and why this conservative is going to likely vote Liberal in Calgary SW.

    I am not a statism-religious conservative like Harper, I and a liberty-conservative. And up until Trudeau’s comments on pro-choice abortion, legalization of marijuana … I categorized Trudeau incorrectly as a another Orwellian statism freak.

    Big reason our socoety is not function right economically and socially is we have too much Orwellian statism. We earn $800,000, pay half in taxes to buy a $400,000 home that is built with 50% of labours going to taxes….for a $200,000 tax out home. (I skipped bank/debt, the second enemy of wealth for clarity). Isn’t just homes, Canada taxes foods and clothing necessities to get the poor, disabled, retired and other low icnome groups…..just tax statism greed.

    And we wonder why the rich get richer and everyone else gets a lower standard of living. Government, lobbiests all want high costs for higher taxes to feed the illusions of statism.

    At least Trudeau is a spark of possible personal liberties and less government managing the herd mentality.

    BTW, I am a 2%er. This comes from the top. Government is your worst enemy of Liberty. Pretty hard to get ahead when government takes so much and delivers so little in return.

  6. I wonder if Aaron’s arms ever get tired after carrying all that water for the Liberals.

    Aaron…we get it. You don’t like Harper.

    the difference between the two positions however, is that Harper understands that people have different views, and while Harper doesn’t want to re-open the abortion debate, he does not stand on a soap box and demand everyone needs to agree with him in order to be welcomed to run for the party. Trudeau is a lightweight, and he proves it every time he opens his mouth about any topic that contains any type of complexity. The fact he’s trying (yet again) to run away from something stupid he has said…is hardly a surprise.

    Trudeau on the other hand…..opens his mouth before his handlers tell him what he’s supposed to think….and he invariably puts his foot in his mouth. The result, is what we see now. Trudeau telling folks that they can think the way they want….up to a point. A reversal…without actually reversing anything.

    • “Trudeau telling folks that they can think the way they want….up to a point.”
      Unlike Harper telling them they can think the way they want…up to the point of reopening the debate.
      I take your point – Harper’s position is different…just cuz.

  7. In other words, “…the Governemt of Canada has NO business in the bedrooms of Canadians…”
    atleast they both agree on that,
    (but I bet Harpo wished he was the author if that now famous quote).
    :)

  8. haha i meant to say

    Historically (and it probably true today to a great extent) Liberals were the party who would fight tooth and nail for women’s reproductive rights, while Conservatives had to hide their desire to ban those rights for electoral benefits. So the bottom line might be the same, but it’s a matter of vigilance and fear whenever the Cons are in office, and relief and security for women when they

  9. Yep. Trudeau seems more for persoan liberty and rights than is Mulcair and Harper.

    And why this conservative would vote for Trudeau if an election were to happen today.

    Trudeau wants legalization, even thought I don’t do Marijuana, I am for 100% legalizing it. Making so many a criminal to keep crime weed pricing so high for criminal profit, and so many gov-union cards in police, justice, parole, jail guards is just supporting organized crime. I even wonder how much marijuana organized crime and union money goes to lobbyists keep it illegal.

    Isn’t just womens rights, seems like Trudeau might support the notion of liberty of people before Orwellian statism. If he does, I will vote Trudeau. Need an option on my ballot that is not Orwellian statism picking more from my family’s pocket.

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