The leaders of Canada’s national political parties all agree on one thing; they do not want to talk about abortion. Yet, with Justin Trudeau’s announcement that going forward all Liberal candidates must be pro-choice, abortion is back on their radar screens.
Under Trudeau’s leadership, the Liberal Party joins the New Democratic Party in discouraging those who believe in the sanctity of life within the womb from the party folds and from running for Parliament. This leaves only the Conservative Party truly open to those with pro-life sensibilities.
While Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair may want to avoid candidates who are solely interested in codifying an uncompromising ban on abortion, party policy that precludes individuals who are not pro-choice from running for office violates a fundamental principle of Canadian democracy.
Representation is a pillar of democracy
As any well-taught sixth grader in the country knows, representation is one of the pillars of Canadian democracy. Canadian citizens have a right to select their representatives to Parliament. Collectively, these representatives should represent the diversity of Canada in race, creed and opinion.
Representatives have a responsibility to listen to the conflicting voices of Canadians on all matters, including those of conscience, even though they may disagree with those voices. The electorate is not well served when political parties pay lip service to Canadians of all views, but then stipulate, as Mr. Trudeau has in an email to Liberal party members, “incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights.”
While it is true that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s last abortion law in 1988 on the basis that the law was unconstitutional, and contravened Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees a woman’s legal right to life, liberty and the security of the person, there are other ways to support pregnant women besides silencing the voices of those who believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception.
Canada needs voices of reason to move beyond polarized arguments
The practice of discouraging, if not down right excluding, those who are pro-life from vying for office implies that anyone who is not pro-choice is incapable of being an effective parliamentarian. There seems to be an assumption that all pro-lifers are radical zealots. This is simply untrue; many people who hold pro-life views and who have reservations about Canada’s lack of abortion laws are quite capable of approaching the issue rationally, realistically, and with regard for a woman’s right to choose.
Canadians need voices of reason on both sides of the abortion debate at the national level. Perhaps if national leaders were more open to dissenting voices on the topic, and to the concerns of the sixty percent of Canadians who favor some legislative restriction on abortion (such as on sex selective abortion), the debate could move beyond inflammatory rhetoric and polarized arguments. Instead of focusing on universal and unrestricted access to abortion or a complete ban on abortion, Canada could move towards the development of educational and social programs that would held reduce the number of abortions in the country, while at the same time respecting a woman’s freedom and right to choose. Too often pro-choice means no choice for a pregnant woman because of a lack of practical support for other options during a difficult time.
National parties that prevent Canadians from running for office based on a single issue shut out many talented, principled, altruistic and reasonable people from participation in the development of the broad range of economic, environmental, legislative and social policies that affect Canadian life.
As Archbishop Cardinal Collins of Toronto noted in his letter to Trudeau, Pope Francis "would have been ineligible to be a candidate" for the Liberals. And, as someone noted on a media discussion board, Mother Theresa would not have made the cut either.
With Trudeau’s “resolutely pro-choice” version of Liberal values, the Liberal Party follows the New Democratic Party in an exclusionary practice that has implications for representation in a parliamentary democracy, and at the end of the day, may do little to support women facing the difficult decision of carrying a pregnancy to term.