05.01.2012 12:00 AM

In today’s Sun: I was wrong – Harper hasn’t attempted to mess with abortion laws

Nearly one year after the election that finally saw them capture their much-desired parliamentary majority, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has become remarkable for being unremarkable.

Apart from killing off the long-gun registry (which was promised), musing about changes to Old Age Security (which wasn’t), and handing out pink slips to some public servants (which should surprise no one), the Harper government hasn’t done much of significance. Until last week, that is.

Last week, one of the trained seals who populate the Conservative backbench summoned the courage to re-open the abortion debate. Stephen Woodworth, the social conservative who represents Kitchener Centre — and who previously achieved distinction for making a joke on Twitter about a drunk who feared he was “crippled” — offered up a private member’s bill that would review when a human being becomes one. At the moment of birth, as Criminal Code declares — or in the womb, as Woodworth believes.

A year after their big election win, it isn’t at all noteworthy that one of Harper’s followers is attempting to re-criminalize abortion. Quite a few of us predicted a Conservative would table a private member’s bill to dilute reproductive rights.

A year later, however, something is indeed noteworthy. Specifically, how Harper and his executive reacted to Woodworth’s motion.

Quite a few of us didn’t see it coming, at all.


  1. deb says:

    I believe this is called lulling the masses into a sense of false security, harper is a devious sob:) I dont believe for a moment that wasnt some kind of setup to send a message and to make him look like he is in control of the bozos of his cabinet. It was also a timely distraction from other scandals that are dogging him and his govt. Colour me skeptical.

  2. J.A. says:

    In my personal opinion, a man becomes a human being at age 75 years, and a woman at a slightly younger age.
    All the scientists, philosophers and ethicists in the world could not establish an answer to when a human life begins, as a specifically human one. Woodworth’s proposed committee certainly would not find an answer.

    • John HOB says:

      I’m afraid that the only convincing, long-standing argument for when life begins comes from the essentialists. Essentialism inevitably concludes that life begins at conception. It got embodied into all sorts of things, such as native land claims and universal suffrage, long ago. That is why the Honourable Member calls for a committee on the definition: he’s sure it will vindicate his view on abortion.

      Of course, some people believe that their child is a fetus until it graduates from Law School. It’s the yuppy position on abortion . . .

  3. Geoffrey Laxton says:

    From a fb post: “After QP today. By my count at least 5 different Con members presented petitions using the exact same wording as Motion 312, and adding that access to abortion be restricted as much as possible. I somehow can’t imagine that the Prime Minister has not given his blessing to members using this wording to drum up support via petitions.” Don’t you think it is a little optimistic to say that you were wrong Warren?

    • Warren says:

      I’m saying what I think.

      • Michael S says:

        Little things have big consequences. I’m wondering who will be more bothered by this, the people that still fear a hidden agenda or those that were hoping for a hidden agenda. I suspect it will be the latter. Long-term it may stir yet another social conservative split.

        WK, by putting it out there, helps fan the flames of future rebellion.

      • Geoffrey Laxton says:

        Understood. I trust your judgment.

  4. Reality.Bites says:

    If one wants to put a cynical slant on it, what Harper has done is send a strong message to the middle that he’ll come down HARD on any attempt to restrict abortion in Canada. It’s not a message to his hard core base, nor is it a message to his hard core opponents. Harper could announce full support for women’s rights and dance on a float in the Pride Parade and I still wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.

    There is no upside for Harper in pandering to the tiny minority that thinks restricting abortion is on the table. Those people already hate Harper and have ever since he shot down their attempt to restrict late-term abortions.

  5. Marc L says:

    Maybe you should also revisit the other predictions you made in the framework of the “hidden agenda” story, such as Harper`s alleged intention to bring back the death penalty. The problem here is that over the past few years, the Liberal Party`s approach has been to try to scare people into not voting Conservative with all kinds of “hidden agenda” horror stories (Guns in our streets, the end of health care, etc) rather than giving us a good reason to vote Liberal. To this day, we don`t know what the Liberal Party would do if it was in power. The Federal Liberals need to change that, before the NDP wipes them off the map.

    • smelter rat says:


      • Marc L says:

        You just won`t let it go, will you? Makes me think of one of the Communist groups here in Quebec in the late 1970s, who actually wrote `”from defeat to defeat until the final victory”. You just keep going…

        • Jason King says:

          “”from defeat to defeat until the final victory” that could also have explained Reform and look where they ended up

    • frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

      I still dont trust this man as far as I can spit. Dont forget I was once a member of his party.

      There are many in his party who would love to see the return of the death penalty, who would love to see me back in my closet, and whose ideal of feminsm is “Real women”.
      Mr. Harper knows these issues are ballot box poison, so he throws a sop occassionally to his base(which has achieved far more under his tenure than if they moved to their natural home, the CHP)
      Meanwhile Mr. Harper gives short shrift to the environment, with cutbacks to DFO while sockeye and coho stocks plummet on the West coast, and cod stocks remain fragile on the East. Severe cuts recently announced at Parks Canada. He also seems intent on ramming the Enbridge Pipeline Project down the throats of Northern and First Nations British Columbians.
      From a Progressive Conservative Govt that worked to diligently for an Acid Rain Treaty, whose leader was named “Greenest PM” to someone whose environmental policy would not be out of place in Industrial Revolution
      England….it is to weep….
      Mr Harper may be a man of his word, but that is why I fear for the environment…..

  6. eddie says:

    Maybe I’m a cynic but I think this was harper just pulling strings on his dancing puppets to divert the masses. I can’t stand the man but I have to admit it was well played
    1 – the bill completely distracts people from scandals like the jets and bev oda that are plaguing him and gets them off the front page
    2 – he responds to the bill saying an all party committee approved it being introduced (likely the dippers on the committee are neophytes who thought oh this is perfect we’ll really get him now ) and then says he has no intention of supporting it and the Party whip issues strong statements against it —- result the most right wing government we’ve had looks moderate
    3 – the ultra conservatives are placated for now as the issue has been brought forward giving it exposure

    Pure Machiavellian maneuvering executed near perfectly.

    the left needs a strategist this good

  7. Ted B says:

    What we are seeing is the final slow transformation of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada back to the Mulroney Tories. More conservative than anyone else, by somewhat mildly so (overall) and not so much on social issues (other than the environment and crime).

    Harper’s desire is to entrench the CPC as the “natural governing party”, the default for the largest majority of voters. He knows or has finally accepted that Canadians are, by and large and generally speaking, fiscally prudent and socially progressive. Even in Alberta as we now know.

    He is just enough of a powermonger and a snake to feel no loyalty to many of the principles he claimed were fundamental just a few years ago. But the trade-off, I’m sure in his mind, is that the party is moved close enough to the centre to always be an option for those red Tories and moderate labour (don’t forget, Harris won in 1995 because labour voters moved from the NDP all the way across the spectrum and stayed there) and centrist Liberals.

    He also knows, now, that he doesn’t need the hardcore social conservatives as much as they need him, since there are so many more votes in the centre and they are starting to come his way.

    The ascendency of the NDP and the eclipsing of the Liberals has given him much more room to grow on his left than his right. And in a very permanent way.

    • kenn2 says:

      While I don’t see Harper bringing the Progressive back any time soon, I agree that he could be pragmatiic enough to pursue and hold the center. Maybe.

      Harper’s desire is to entrench the CPC as the “natural governing party”, the default for the largest majority of voters. He knows or has finally accepted that Canadians are, by and large and generally speaking, fiscally prudent and socially progressive. Even in Alberta as we now know.

      He also knows, now, that he doesn’t need the hardcore social conservatives as much as they need him


      Like the GOP in the US, Canada’s new right swelled their ranks by lifting the tent skirts and inviting in the hard right and the nutbars. The weedier patches of the right’s grassroots. It got the CPC into power. I would dislike Harper a little less if he boots them back out.

      • frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

        Why would he boot them back out?……he’s one of them….It was Refoormers that took over the Progressive Conservative Party……not the other way round…..
        We lost the nutbars and the extremists when Reform split away from the PC Party……rue the day we ever made peace with them and papered over the cracks of a failed marriage…..

      • Ted B says:

        He won’t “boot” them, but he won’t cater to them much. Just enough to keep most from looking elsewhere a la Wildrose and to keep most from throwing in a few dollars.

  8. Ted H says:

    Harper as well as anyone else knows that life begins when the dog dies and the kids leave home.

  9. James Calnan says:

    It’s easier to be a man of your word when its to your political advantage. 🙂

    By making his vote clear, and by having the Whip state the government’s case, this is about Harper as Leader, controlling a fractuous caucus that sees opportunity in majority strength for the expression of previously supressed legislative desires…

    The question is whether these back benchers will stick to their principles and force more issues like this onto the floor of the House, or whether they’ll have to face their core voters at home after caving in to political compromise and expediency. Either way, its an opportunity to let them work some more tears into the fabric of their party.

  10. Michael Behiels says:

    Why have the journos forgot about WRA’s rout in Alberta?

    Smith’s defeat sent a loud message to Harper & Cabinet & they reacted very quickly.

    Harper remains a social conservative but keeping power is more important.

    Harper intents to grow his majority & kill of the remaining remnants of the hapless Rae Liberal rump.

    To do this Harper has to overcome the gender gap by winning the votes of a lot more women.

    Re-criminalizing abortion would have cost Harper the re-election in 2014-15.

    • The Doctor says:

      . . . never mind the fact that the Conservative platform specifically said they would not bring in any law restricting abortion.

  11. Philippe says:

    Not to be a conspiracy theorist or anything… but this looks to me like a Harper sanctioned trial balloon. By introducing this debate (while pretending they’re fiercely against it) – it accomplishes 2 things.

    1) It slightly moves the goalpost and conditions Canadians to start accepting this debate (which was previously taboo)… making it less onerous every-time it’s introduced;

    2) It gives the Harperites a precise pulse of where public opinion it – without endangering them.

    Harper the tactician has thrived by doing things incrementally rather than with a sledgehammer. This is a long-term approach for them. I suspect this isn’t the last abortion debate we’ll see.

    • The Doctor says:

      Keep on believin’

      • Philippe says:

        Impossible not to with Harper’s past quotes. They didn’t leave much room for interpretation. The second the Cons feel they can get it through without being booted out of office, they will.

    • Ted B says:

      On the contrary, actually, I think.

      I think that he has now taken a hard position that, so long as he is PM, will not budge from.

      I think he wants to keep the focus on his agenda which is economic and establishing the CPC as the natural governing party, and to do so he needs and actually wants social conservativism (other than crime) off of the agenda altogether.

      I think he is sending a message to any MP who thinks they can do something he doesn’t himself put on the agenda.

      He is the boss and anyone, even within his own party, that challenges that will get a firm and unhappy reminder.

      • Philippe says:

        I fear you’re wrong (no way that private member’s bill goes forth without PMO approval), but hope you’re right.

  12. Attack! says:

    Susan Delacourt tweeted the other day that an insightful observer suggested to her that the reason Harper let it come forward was simply to cause more grief for the Liberals … presumably by exposing divisions in THEIR caucus & posing them with the dilemma of whether to whip the vote (which both they & the LPC’s own supporters will criticize, either way).

  13. kre8tv says:

    Pragmatism ahead of ideological ambitions is what keeps a party in power for a very, very long time in this country. Whether Harper can sustain that in a party that also has a history of turning on its own for not sufficiently advancing deeply conservative ambitions…well, that’s another matter.

  14. The Doctor says:

    WK, thanks for the post. Kudos for making it. I’m impressed that you’ve got the integrity to admit that you misjudged.

    I’ve been arguing with several regular posters on this site for some time now that this is what it is: i.e., that the CPC’s position on this was in their platform, and that they wouldn’t bring in any law re-criminalizing abortion or anything like that. Every time, the True Believers would tell me no, no, no, just wait till Harper gets his majority, then the hammer will come down. Well, he’s got his majority and what just happened. And instead of these people having your integrity and admitting they misjudged, we get even more creative spin and quasi-conspiracy theories. I’ve even had people actually say that now the hammer is coming via his second majority. Talk about lame.

    There is plenty of stuff to severely criticize Harper and the Conservatives over. So it truly boggles my mind why so many Liberals want to spend their time criticizing Harper for something he’s clearly not guilty of and clearly has no intention of doing. As a campaign tactic, this kind of stuff ceased to be effective 2 or 3 election cycles ago. It’s getting really old and lame, and Warren is intelligent enough to see that.

    • Ted B says:

      Agree on all fronts.

    • Philip says:

      Two or three election cycles ago it could be argued that Harper didn’t really have a track record to talk about, therefore scary hypothetical positions would have been more effective. Now Harper has a nice long list of things he has actually done which opposition parties could use to beat him with.

      Harper’s biggest vulnerability is that now he has lost the trust of an increasingly large number of Canadians. In retrospect, proposing changes to the OAS in Davos, really frightened a lot of people who normally don’t follow politics. Particularly since it came out of nowhere and had not been mentioned during the campaign. The various Conservative shit shows which followed Davos, only cemented in people’s minds that here was a guy not to be trusted. Once trust is gone, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to regain.

      • Paul says:

        People also need to remember that we live in a global framework. Canadians are smart enough to know that we are doing quite well compared to the rest of the industrialized countries. Much of the credit needs to go to tough decisions made by governments past (Chretien, Harris) and some to governments present. Fear mongering when Canadians feel good about their governments of all stripes across the country is pissing into the wind.

        Any leader care to step forward with a real vision?

  15. Glen says:

    Good article. You probably gave Sun readers the warm-and-fuzzies this morning.

    I too have regained a little respect for Harper because of this whole situation.

    Unless of course this move is all part of his secret agenda.

  16. Dan says:

    The problem with constantly attacking Harper’s hidden agenda, is that the Liberal party is then making his actual agenda seem pretty reasonable by comparison.

    And then there are the hyper-conservative policies where the Liberal isn’t actually that different. Like austerity (see Dalton McGuinty, Chretien/Martin), Afghanistan (see Ignatieff), and abortion (see last week).

    And that’s why the Liberals are in the wilderness. They make themselves sound like an alternative in some hypothetical sense, but never offer an alternative in any real sense.

  17. JamesHalifax says:

    Regardless of what many think of Harper, he has proven to be a man of his word as Warren admits. That being said, even Chretien had some “loose cannons” in his caucus, but that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of them all. Let MP’s have their views, but when they run counter to Party Platform, it needs to be made known. Harper has done that.

    The only time Harper has changed his mind, is when circumstances and facts dictate that it needs to be changed. Similar to Chretien and the GST promise and free trade. Reality meant that the Libs of the day had little choice. If the economy was going to recover, Canada NEEDED free trade and the GST. Without them, the Government never would have balanced the books. Kudos to Harper for keeping his word, and kudos to Jean Chretien for NOT keeping his. Both were correct….given the circumstances.

    (Paul Martin on the other hand….was pathetic. And his “Brain Trust” proved to have neither the brains, nor the trust)

  18. James Di Fiore says:

    This was a typical Harper tactic, actually. His strategy of an incremental ideological face-lift of the country depends on him being able to look reasonable to both sides. By allowing his back benchers to reopen this debate, he throws red meat to the pro-lifers. By saying he is disappointed by it (even though he could have cracked the whip of silence) he looks moderate to his haters. For him it is a win win. After all, his base would never vote Liberal or NDP anyway.

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