Liberals want pro-choice candidates only in next election: Trudeau

Liberal Party takes official stance on abortion rights


OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau says opponents of abortion need not apply to run for the Liberal party in the next election.

And if they do apply, the Liberal leader says they’ll be weeded out during the vetting process for nomination applications.

“As a party, we are steadfast in our belief … that it is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body, and that is the bottom line there,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.”

Exceptions will be made, however, for incumbent opponents of abortion who became MPs before the party officially adopted a pro-choice stance, such as Toronto MPs John McKay and Judy Sgro.

Their beliefs will be “respected to a certain extent,” Trudeau said, “but our position as a party is we do not reopen that debate.”

Trudeau revealed the party’s new hard line on abortion one day before the annual “March for Life,” in which thousands of abortion opponents are expected to descend on Parliament Hill.

In the past, Liberal MPs have been among those who’ve addressed the March for Life crowds. Opponents of abortion have traditionally formed a strong, vocal minority in the Liberal caucus, although their ranks have thinned considerably over the last two elections as the caucus shrank overall.

Until two years ago, Liberals did not have a party position on abortion, considering it a matter of conscience that should be left to each individual.

However, at their 2012 national convention, delegates for the first time approved a resolution that explicitly endorsed a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion — adopting the same position long held by the NDP.

Trudeau said the evolution of the party position was cemented last year when Liberals “chose a resolutely pro-choice leader with over 80 per cent of the support of militants, of membership.”

Abortion is just one issue on which would-be candidates’ views are vetted during the party’s so-called green light process for nomination applicants. Their views on same-sex marriage and the Charter of Rights are among the other issues canvassed, Trudeau said.

“We make sure that the people who are stepping forward are consistent with the Liberal party as it is now, as it stands under my leadership and under the feedback we’re getting from Canadians across the country.”

Trudeau’s decision to bar abortion opponents from seeking Liberal nominations brings the party full circle from 1992, when party members gave then-leader Jean Chretien the power to appoint candidates.

That power was deemed necessary to thwart a group that called itself “Liberals for Life.” They had taken over a number of Liberal riding associations where they hoped to elect staunch opponents of abortion to carry the party banner in the 1993 election.

Over time, Chretien used the power for a variety of purposes, including to protect incumbents, appoint star recruits and increase the percentage of female candidates.

For his part, Trudeau has said he won’t use his power to appoint candidates, promising to allow open, democratic nomination contests in every riding. But he’s using the vetting process for nomination applicants to weed out abortion opponents and others considered unsuitable.

Trudeau was initially stumped Wednesday when asked whether he’d allow Liberal MPs such as McKay to vote freely should an abortion bill come before the House of Commons.

“Well, it’s a tough one because one of the things that’s a strength of the Liberal party is that we draw in voices from right across the country and on a range of perspectives,” he said.

Eventually, he added: “We will see what happens … when that issue comes up. My preference is that we not be engaging in a discussion of abortion. For me, it’s a debate that has been settled for the vast majority of Canadians and we don’t need to reopen that issue.”

For his part, McKay predicted he’ll have few problems being one of only a tiny handful of anti-abortion MPs in an officially pro-choice party and caucus.

“Every MP has some points of estrangement between he and his party or she and her party,” he said in an interview.

“I dare say I’ll have a few awkward moments. That’s life.”

Indeed, he predicted it will be less awkward for him than for the vocal abortion opponents who make up roughly one-third of the Conservative caucus.

While the Conservative party hasn’t barred abortion opponents from being candidates, “what’s it got them?” McKay questioned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged not to re-open the abortion issue and has intervened to shut down attempts by his backbenchers to introduce private members’ bills on the issue.

Trudeau’s hard line on abortion would appear to squelch the comeback hopes of some former MPs, such as Dan McTeague, who are staunch opponents of abortion.

Under the leader’s dictum, the party won’t give McTeague the green light to run for a nomination in his old Ontario riding.

McTeague could not be reached for comment.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he doesn’t understand how the Liberal party can have a “two-tier” approach to abortion, one position for incumbent MPs, another for all other would-be candidates.

“You’re making an offer to the Canadian public. You’re saying this is what we stand for,” Mulcair said.

“The NDP has been clear on this. We know who we are. … No NDP MP and no one running to be an NDP MP will ever vote against a woman’s right to choose, simple as that.”

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Liberals want pro-choice candidates only in next election: Trudeau

  1. About time that was cleared up.

  2. The Liberal Party website assures us that the party “ensure that local Liberals, in every riding, get to choose who they want to represent them in the next election.” Well, almost anyone. Strike another blow against democracy. Sigh.

  3. Are we seriously going to try running an election on abortion rights? It worked for Chretien in 2000, but it hasn’t been an issue since. Fear mongering over abortion rights is hardly going to be effective in 2015, after nearly a decade of Tory rule, and no change to abortion rights. Sometimes what worked in the past just won’t work anymore. There seems little reason to even bother with this stipulation, except to make a point of it. And if we’re making a point of it, I have to assume it’s going to be a plank in our platform in some measure. It also means we might have some more nasty and embarrassing nomination battles where the leader has to step in and toss out a perfectly fine candidate due to some anti-abortion statements in the past. Is this what we want?

    • It worked against Boogieman in Chief Stockwell Day. Not sure why the Trudeau kid thinks it will work against Harper. Not like it hasn’t been tried. Sometimes the focus groups (which I’m sure is where stupid ideas like this one originate) just lead you down the rabbit hole.

  4. “…one of the things that’s a strength of the Liberal party is that we draw in voices from right across the country and on a range of perspectives,” [Trudeau] said.

    Well, given the above, and the party’s restrictions on what views are acceptable if you want to be a candidate, it would seem a strong Liberal party is NOT what JT wants.

    I agree that voices from across the country with a range of perspectives strengthens a party. I’m not sure that refusing to allow individuals who differ from official party policy on one or two issues is a good way to gain that range of perspectives. If the only ones you allow to participate are those who think exactly as the leader, all you get are Yes people.

    One of the reasons I like the Liberal party is that it is generally not bogged down in left or right wing idealism. This freezing out of potential candidates because they may dissent on one or two issues is not, to my way of thinking, a positive step.We have already seen, thanks to the CPC, the dangers of too much groupthink.

    Lighten up, Justin. A healthy discussion can open new viewpoints and alternatives that you may not have seen by surrounding yourself with Yes bobbleheads. You don’t have to agree, or sanction the viewpoint; the discussions can still be illuminating.

    A healthy democracy welcomes a wide range of views. You might want to bear that in mind.

    • A democracy might. The party constitution won’t.

    • Would it be acceptable to permit a white supremacist to be a candidate?

      I realize that, unlike white supremacy, being anti-abortion is still mainstream, but to some of us the right to have control over our own bodies is so intrinsic that the mere fact that some politicians think it is up to debate is offensive. So I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one – this is not about opposing points of view. Perhaps to Trudeau, like many of us, this is about fundamental human rights and therefore not up to debate.

      • The fact you equate a white supremicist with a pro-life supporter, tells us everything we need to know about your views and values.

        what if a black candidate is pro-life? What is the comparison?

        Such idiocy.

        • Abortion has always been a racial question. It’s white pregnancies they’re trying to promote.

          We bomb brown and black babies, and their pregnant mothers without the slightest concern.

          • Emily, you are mentally ill. A sick, sick woman. Get help.

          • Attacking me won’t change the white supremacy crap of the right wing anti-abortion crowd. Sorry

        • There is no relation to your comment about black candidates and my comment.

          Maybe you should try reading again.

        • I get the feeling I should help you out a bit with this James.

          See, the right to live free of discrimination based on the colour of your skin is a fundamental right, that is not to be questioned.

          And the right of a woman to control her own body is also a fundamental right, and not one that should be questioned. I realize that there are many people who continue to do so, but I reject their “right” to do that, in the same way I would reject someone asserting they have a “right” to discriminate against a person of colour.

  5. You either support the party constitution, or you don’t.

    Simple choice.

    Cons and Dips do the same thing.

  6. Trudeau is making the Liberal Party as narrow minded as the NDP. There is now no freedom of conscience in either party.

    • You realize all these policies were voted on at the Lib convention?

  7. Bad move. The Conservative party is now the only one that allows candidates to be pro-choice or pro-life. The Liberals are marginalizing themselves. As the big red tent gets smaller the diversity of Canadians will be seen to reflect in the Conservative Party, not the Liberals.

    • Being the party of ‘forced pregnancies’ is not a good place to be.

      • Doesn’t matter. Fact remains that Cons will be only party that reflects Canadian diversity on this issue (which consistently polls at close to an even split). I’m pro-choice but believe parties should leave it up to the consciences of their members, because about 50% of population is pro-life.

        • It doesn’t poll at an even split. Quit fantasizing.

          Canadians are mainly pro-choice, and in any case regard it as an old issue we’ve already dealt with.

          It’s also protected by the constitution.

        • It doesn’t poll at an even split. Canadians are mainly pro-choice, and it’s protected by the constitution.

    • It is also the only party that appeals to racists and bigots.

      I am not concerned.