Abortion and democracy - Macleans.ca

Abortion and democracy

When values collide


An exchange from QP last spring, a day before Stephen Woodworth’s motion was debated in the House.

Niki Ashton. Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister promised Canadians that he would not reopen the debate on abortion. Nevertheless, that is exactly what one of his Conservative members is going to do tomorrow in the House. Canadian women have been fighting for decades for this right. Why is the Prime Minister not speaking out loudly and clearly against what his own party is trying to do here in the House?

Rob Nicholson. Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows the rules with respect to private members’ bills. That bill will be debated as all other private members’ bills are debated in the House, in accordance with the rules of the House. I do not see why that should be a problem for the hon. member.

Niki Ashton. Mr. Speaker, during the election and in the House the Conservative government has said that it is not going to reopen the abortion debate, but that is exactly what it is doing in this very House. While other members have done this in the past, the Prime Minister has done something to stop it. This is not the case this time. He is saying one thing in the House while through the back door he is rolling back Canadian women’s rights. Will the Prime Minister stand in the House right now and tell his party that a woman’s right to choose in Canada in 2012 is not up for negotiation?

Rob Nicholson. Mr. Speaker, the government’s position has been very clear. Unlike the NDP, we do not muzzle our members as that party now does. The bill will be debated as all private members’ bills are debated.

The Justice Minister’s comments about muzzling and private members’ business are interesting in light of what has lately occurred with Mark Warawa. But Ms. Ashton’s complaints are worth parsing too. The implicit or explicit suggestion would seem to be that the Prime Minister is somehow responsible for his caucus and could have (should have?) done something to stop Motion 312 from coming forward. Or at least that the Prime Minister is accountable for what’s going on behind him.

Here is something Francoise Boivin said in a scrum earlier this year.

The Prime Minister said abortion is legal in Canada. I mean that was strong words … And he made promises during campaign. So there’s obviously a problem with the way he controls his caucus or it satisfies him because it satisfies some part of their supporters.

And here is what Ms. Ashton told the House when Mr. Woodworth’s motion was debated.

If the Prime Minister did not want a woman’s right to choose to be debated, we would not be here tonight.

Of course, an an entirely separate front, the New Democrats have mocked Conservative MPs as messengers of the PMO.

It’s easy to fall into circular logic here—the Prime Minister controls what his MPs say and do, so why isn’t he controlling MPs like Mark Warawa and Stephen Woodworth?—and from there it’s easy to fall into conspiracy theories. (See my interview with Brad Trost for some discussion of this). So it’s maybe worth sticking with a basic question: Should MPs be free to table bills or motions that do anything other than express full and complete support for unlimited access to abortion? (Or is access to abortion sacrosanct?)

The Conservatives would seem to have run into trouble now after attempting to say no (or at least, no more). But it is a question the opposition parties might be asked as well.


Abortion and democracy

  1. Conservatives hold back on doing anything on abortion. Media – “Harper is a democracy-sucking tyrant who muzzles his backbenchers and suppresses freedom of speech in Parliament”

    Harper allows MP to try to address abortion. Media – “Harper is a democracy-sucking tyrant & dangerous social conservative who lied about never bringing up abortion again. You can’t trust a word he says”.

    Pick your poison.

    • He made that bed by saying the abortion debate would not be reopened. No one forced him to make that claim.

      • You have no clue what john g is talking about in his post above. If Harper made his bed, why is the media changing the sheets behind his back……………………..

        • I didn’t miss his point; you missed mine. My point is that by making a claim he cannot keep (not reopening abortion debate) he has left himself open to criticism from all sides. And the only reason he had to make that claim was to ensure pro-choice CPC voters that, in spite of his personal opinion on abortion, he understood that it had been decided.

      • He made that bed by saying the abortion debate would not be reopened. No one forced him to make that claim.

        It’s even more complicated than that. First he said that he wouldn’t allow the debate to be re-opened. Then he allowed Woodworth’s motion to be tabled, and allowed 49% of his caucus to vote in favour of it. Then he went back to saying that he wouldn’t allow the abortion debate to be re-opened by closing down Warawa.

        So, yes, he shouldn’t have made a promise that he couldn’t keep. More importantly, he shouldn’t go back to insisting on the sanctity and importance of said promise after he ALREADY BROKE IT. Politician’s breaking promises is nothing new. However, using the sanctity of a promise as the rationale for action X after having already broken the promise previously through action Y is a neat trick.

    • Poor Harper. When, oh when will he get a fair shake?

      And why does it have to be one or the other, exactly? This very episode is a demonstration of Harper trying, and apparently failing, to muzzle his backbench. And it’s hardly the first evidence of a tight leash.

      Did he lie about the abortion debate? I dunno – if he really is trying and failing to control his backbench, then perhaps not. But this will be, what, the third private members’ bill to be debated in the House in recent years? Sounds like the debate is on.

      To me, this looks like Harper playing a long game on abortion, and trying to move the ball forward without triggering a backlash that might cost him power.

      • Did he lie about the abortion debate? I dunno – if he really is trying and failing to control his backbench, then perhaps not.

        This is the part that I find most odd. Suddenly the PMO is back to saying that they have to shut down Warawa’s motion, and not even let him speak in the House of Commons on the issue, because they made a promise to the electorate during the 2011 election. So, are we all supposed to just forget that they not only let Woodworth’s motion be tabled back in September, but they let 49% of their caucus vote in favour of it?

        The whole “we have to crack down on Warawa’s motion and statement-giving because we made a promise in our election platform” argument would be a lot stronger if they hadn’t already broken that promise just 6 months ago.

    • Or, look at it another way.

      First, Harper claims that he won’t let the abortion debate be re-opened. Then, he allows Woodworth’s motion to be tabled, and allows his caucus to vote their conscience on it (so, 49% of his caucus, and 27% of cabinet support the motion). Then, he PREVENTS Warawa from bringing his motion forward, and even prevents him from speaking to the issue on the floor of the House, on the reasoning that he needs to keep the party’s promise not to allow the abortion debate to be re-opened. The promise they just broke back in September.

      So, sure, there’s an argument to be made that Harper will be pilloried in the media for breaking his promise, and that he’ll also be pilloried in the media for keeping his promise. However, the reason we know for certain that this is the case is because the government has gone back to insisting that they need to keep the promise they made during the election, despite the fact that they already BROKE that promise back in September.

      So, yes, it’s a difficult situation for the PMO that both cups are filled with poison. That said, it was Harper’s idea to drink from both cups.

  2. The sheer hypocrisy of the oppostion parties is plainly visible for alll to see right now. As it stands the CPC seems to be the only party having it’s MP’s speak up for a debate on this file where both the NDP and the Liberals spin themsleves into new fits of hysteria and whip their own MP’s into submission – has anyone else noticed a right to lifer from the Liberal or NDP be allowed to speak up – hmmmmm – what is wrong with this picture. The opposition can not have it both ways and are making themselves look like fools here – either Harper is Hitler re-incarnated and does not allow free speech or he has more credibility than what they appear to have at presetnt – there are quite a few Liberal MP’s right now watching very closely as they too would love the opportunity to express their suppport for stopping the insane murder of our unborn children and the devastation it causes – especially using the so callled choice argument – what sort of choice is this? it isn’t a choice issue at all it is a deen moral issue where you either stand up for life or support throwing it in a garbage can – very simple reallly!

    • These accusations are unfounded. A few Liberals voted in favour of Woodworth’s motion, indicating that they were not “whipped,” as you claim. And the CPC clearly does not allow its members to speak up on this issue, as demonstrated by the CPC colluding with the NDP at the committee level to deem Warawa’s motion “non-debatable,” which is, of course, completely anti-democratic.

      • then where are the pro lifer liberals if they haven’t been whipped?

        • Wayne, I realize nothing is going to change your mind, not even facts, but for the record, the following Liberals voted in favour of Motion 312: Liberal MPs John McKay, Lawrence MacAulay, Kevin Lamoureux and Jim
          Karygiannis voted for the motion. The LPC caucus was not whipped.

          • that was not the question which I realize that you will never answer – where are the MP’s in the liberals right now on this specific issue – where are their voices – all I hear is ranting about harper and rogue MP’s and nothing from the Liberal pro lifers – in fact if they are not careful they will lose support because right now a whole bunch of us cross party pro lifers are pressuring each of our respective parties to step up and debate and you are the one who is obviously in denial – each vote is separate you can not argue your way out of the obvious – where are the liberal pro lifers right now – can you answer this or not? simple question

          • As I said below to Francien, as long as the prime minister has pledged not to reopen this divisive and time-wasting debate, I don’t care what any MPs believe personally. The prime minister says it’s closed; why don’t you and Warawa and Trost and Vellacott and the cast of thousands believe him?

          • So you’re saying you believe in an autocracy, that if the PM says so, it must be? Sorry; no. The PM may essentially have absolute power, but he oughtn’t, and saying that other MPs should shut up and obey is quite appallingly anti-democratic, no matter the debate.

          • No, that isn’t what I said, or at least it isn’t what I meant.

          • They voted on the issue and now they’re busy with other things. Is there something wrong with that? I understand that for pro lifers the issue becomes obsessive, but you can you not realize that MPs have a number of laws and motions and issues etc. to deal with?

          • Right, and why exactly have the Liberal MP`s and the NDP sitting in committee turned down Mark`s motion to bring it to the House. And why is that not being discussed repeatedly by Wherry and you and everyone else…………………………..

          • Because we believed the prime minister when he said this issue would not be reopened as long as he was PM? As long as he’s pledged that, I don’t care what any of the MPs believe personally, and I’d thank them to stop wasting time and get back to talking about, oh, maybe the budget and the economy.

          • Maybe because only about fifteen percent of Canadians want this issue to be dealt with by federal legislators.

          • You are completely wrong on both counts: the 15 % quote is wrong and you are not answering my question to begin with. My question was why Wherry does not discuss such Liberal and NDP actions repeatedly.

            You don`t even realize that you are wrong on both counts. What contribution you make!

          • You don’t like Wherry, don’t read him!!! But since you’re having a tantrum over the fact that nobody answers your question, I’ll risk another guess. Liberals and NDP MPs actions are not discussed to the same extent as those of Conservative MPs because we are governed by members of the Conservative Party. Since those who govern and their backers have the upper hand on what legislation gets adopted, their opinions and actions have more impact on our lives. Therefore, the press, here and everywhere has always paid more attention on government than opposition.
            I have no illusion of grandeur : I don’t comment to contribute anything, I just comment.

          • Right, you just comment not to contribute anything.

            Any misunderstandings need to be corrected: I do not have tantrums; I comment passionately as much as I can. Artists always work with passion when working on something. Perhaps you could have been aware of that fact, since the artistic community in Quebec made quite spectacle when demonstrating how fairly art program funding was to be considered. Remember when…………….

        • then where are the pro lifer liberals if they haven’t been whipped?

          Probably hiding in the same place as the 10 Tory Cabinet Ministers who supported Woodworth’s motion.

    • We still have no idea how many closet separatists are in the NDP because Mulcair won’t let them speak to the issue. At least not until they quit his party.