The Backbench Spring: Justin Trudeau, democracy and abortion

Is the new Liberal leader going to whip all votes on abortion?


Chris Selley questions the Liberal motion on statements by members and notes that Justin Trudeau’s interest in freedom for MPs doesn’t include the freedom to pursue a new law on abortion.

But it’s not just that Mr. Trudeau is trying to foment dissent within the Conservative ranks on a very basic and important point of privilege (which is certainly fair play, but not exactly Doing Politics Differently). It’s that he agrees with the subcommittee on private member’s business that quashed Mr. Warawa’s motion in the first place. “[I’m] committed to giving MPs more freedom to represent Canadians, but MPs would be required to support Canadians’ fundamental rights,” he tweeted a while back. “For me, a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right.” (He seemed to be suggesting that the motion ran afoul of the Charter, which is absurd.)

In other words, Mr. Trudeau is not so much standing up for MPs’ freedom to discuss and debate issues, or for Parliament as the proper venue for same, as MPs’ right to make embarrassing statements that he can then use against them. It’s very likely that at least a few Liberals would vote for a private member’s motion condemning sex-selective abortion, and he couldn’t have that, could he? It would ruin his angle of attack.

This goes to both Mr. Trudeau’s promised democratic reforms and the larger discussion about abortion and democracy. It’s actually possible that all three party leaders in the House—Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair—are in agreement on this point: no votes in the House about anything to do with abortion.

Jeff Jedras has argued that the Liberals should whip any vote related to abortion: that if the party has taken a pro-choice position, its MPs should adhere to that position. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau basically agrees with Jeff. At least so long as none of his MPs decide to pursue a bill or motion related to abortion and Mr. Harper is able to block any Conservative MP from doing likewise, he might never have to enforce such discipline. But should such a motion or bill reach the floor, if Mr. Harper or his successor should allow that to happen or prove unable to stop it, Mr. Trudeau will be put in a bit of a spot. When Motion 312 reached the floor last fall, four Liberals voted in favour. Were something like Motion 312 to reach the floor now, what would Mr. Trudeau say to someone like John McKay?

McKay, one of four Grit MPs who voted in favour of a motion calling for a review of “when life begins” this week, is outraged over the suggestion debate should on stifled. “It is going to be discussed, and it is going to keep coming up and it is failure of political will to actually deal with it,” McKay told reporters outside the Commons Friday.

Although the Liberals circulated a petition against the motion put forward by backbench Tory MP Stephen Woodworth, interim leader Bob Rae allowed caucus members to vote freely. “I don’t like to go against my colleagues or the platform of the Liberal party. It is not a lot of fun but Mr. Rae had the wisdom to say these are matters of conscience and views,” McKay said. “I think I actually have an informed view. I think my opinion should count for something and I am sick and tired of people refusing to discuss what is a foundational issue in this country.”


The Backbench Spring: Justin Trudeau, democracy and abortion

  1. Why can’t Trudeau basically follow Rae’s lead? I made this point on Selley’s blog. There isn’t necessarily a reason that mps can’t get up and speak to any issue they want; nor is there any reason Trudeau for instance still can’t say this is ultimately a charter issue and when push comes to shove the LPC will lower the boom on any motion that looks like it might go somewhere.[ almost all of them don’t] Why would Trudeau have any more problem than Rae? Allow people to speak freely but draw the party line if you want/have to.

    The bottom line seems to be everyone is terrified of the press getting a hold of this. And it isn’t really rocket science. There’s an overwhelming consensus in the House to not allow changes to the present convention on abortion and the rights of women. Trudeau/Mulcair say it’s a matter of principle – Harper political necessity.[ some principles] What’s to stop the whole House working across party lines to shut down anything other than legitimate debate/opinion?
    I certainly hope Trudeau is going to approach this in an open minded manner. We can have both open debate and party discipline on matters of principle surely. That’ way i think Selley’s piece misses the point.
    Maybe i’m missing some important fact of political life in the House – but i can’t see it.

    • You are missing an important fact of politics. We aren’t just talking about abortion. We are talking about sex-selection abortion. Apparently the polls suggest that 80% or more of Canadians disagree with sex-selection abortion. Now think what that means for an MP who is put in the unenviable position of having to decide “do I vote to denounce” sex-selection abortion when I am a pro-life person keeping in mind that if I don’t denounce it, I am going to held up as a person “in favor’ of sex-selection abortion which is abhorrent to so many Canadians. It is a no win situation and the ridiculous aspect of it is lies in the fact that we have no proof that sex-selection abortion is even occurring in Canada. All abortions in Canada take place in accredited medical facilities and are done by licensed physicians. The Canadian Medical Association is aware that their is a market for the service and they have advised physicians to be on the lookout for people shopping for it. Ultimately physicians have always been the gatekeepers for abortion services. We have no reason to doubt their abilities to continue to do a competent job.

      • If the polls say that, i can see your point. We might have a better idea if this is a non problem or not if our genius of a PM had not decided to muddy the waters by ending the LF census. If we had the data it would be easier to refute or block a motion on SS abortion.

        • Many people like to use Wikipedia as a source. It will actually tell you where sex-selection abortions are occurring. They can tell because there are differences in the ratios of male to female children among the populations that use sex-selection abortion. If you abort all the girl fetuses, you end up with more boys than girls and in fairly short order, your population reflects this. We don’t really need a long-form census to tell us it is happening. We can look at any census of cultural groups and find if is. Next we have to find out if they are getting the service in Canada or if they are travelling outside of the country for it.

          • i find it difficult to believe that wiki would turn up as reliable data as an official census, but if you say so.

          • I think Wikipedia has the data from official censuses. I don’t think we need a long-form census to get info about the gender of children living in the home. The short census tells us that.

          • Wikipedia is not even considered to be a reliable source of data for high school students doing book reports.

  2. “It’s actually possible that all three party leaders in the House—Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair—are in agreement on this point: no votes in the House about anything to do with abortion.”

    Ronald Reagan – With regard to the freedom of the individual for choice with regard to abortion, there’s one individual who’s not being considered at all. That’s the one who is being aborted. And I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.

  3. They know better than attack women in this day and age, for women and their followers have surfaced. Men controlled way too long! Now, we need all of us as equals if we want to change …

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