Further clarifying Justin Trudeau's position on abortion votes - Macleans.ca

Further clarifying Justin Trudeau’s position on abortion votes

Lawrence MacAulay thought he could vote as he wished. He can’t.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Chris Wattie/Reuters

Veteran Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay recently told the Guardian in Charlottetown that he would be able to vote his conscience on future abortion-related votes in the House. But it turns out he can’t. But it turns out he’s all right with that.

Back in May, Justin Trudeau explained that Liberal MPs would, in future, be expected to follow a strident pro-choice position when voting in the House of Commons. At the same time, he said that “the existing MPs who have been grandfathered in to a certain extent will be respected to a certain extent in their choices, but our position as a party is we do not reopen that debate.”

Speaking to the Guardian, MacAulay similarly used the word “grandfathered” to describe his situation: ”

He’s indicated that I can vote whatever way I choose. I’m, I guess, what you call grandfathered.”

I confess I thought that was the situation myself. But the Guardian reported that Trudeau’s office was of a different opinion—apparently MacAulay would be expected to vote with the party.

After the Guardian‘s story started circulating this morning, MacAulay sent out a statement to clarify that he would be voting with the party.

I’d like to clarify my comments to the Guardian from the other day. I am personally pro-life, and have long held these beliefs; however, I accept and understand the party position regarding a woman’s right to choose.

Despite my personal beliefs, I understand that I will have to vote the party position should this issue ever come up in the House of Commons.

After the Liberal caucus meeting, Trudeau then explained as follows.

The grandfathering in was around the nomination process. We brought in a new, more robust nomination process for the, you know, over 300 ridings in which we have no Liberal incumbents. The existing incumbent MPs were green-lit originally through a different process that we respect. But the policy going forward is that every single Liberal MP will be expected to stand up for women’s rights to choose.

In May, Trudeau was asked specifically about whether John McKay, another anti-abortion MP, would be allowed to vote freely or be told to skip the vote. Trudeau responded that, “We will see what happens … and you will see what happens when that issue comes up.” But it seems clear now that the intention is not for McKay or MacAulay or any other Liberal MP to have a free vote. Here is the explanation from this evening from Trudeau’s office.

Grandfathering applies to nominations out of respect for the former process but Mr. Trudeau brought in a new process for new candidates moving forward. Grandfathering does not apply to votes in the House of Commons, where Canadians deserve to know that Liberal MPs will stand up for women’s rights.

That does not seem to leave much room for abstaining. (Though a full discussion here would have to get into what, if anything, would happen to an MP who did abstain.) MacAulay and Kevin Lamoureux are now on record as saying they will vote with the party and Sean Casey has previously shown a willingness to defer to his constituents on abortion. Liberal MP John McKay declined further comment today when the Canadian Press asked, but he previously said he was not sure how he’d vote.

Beyond the practical issues of Trudeau’s caucus management, we previously considered the philosophical questions of conscience votes here and here.