05.23.2014 07:23 AM

In today’s Sun: Trudeau touches the third rail

Now that he has reopened the abortion the debate – and, rest assured, Justin Trudeau has done so – what next? Who wins, who loses?

Trudeau himself is both a winner and a loser.

At the centre of a Parliament Hill scrum a few days ago, the Liberal leader said “our position as a party is we do not reopen [the abortion] debate,” which was reasonable enough.  Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1988 Morgentaler decision – which jettisoned criminal laws relating to abortion – successive Prime Ministers have carefully steered away from the issue, which is the third rail of Canadian politics.

Messrs. Mulroney, Chretien, Martin and Harper all vowed to never, ever reopen the abortion debate. And they didn’t. So Trudeau’s position was an eminently sensible one.

But, looking a bit unsure in that now-infamous scrum, Trudeau didn’t stop there.  As reporters’ eyebrows went up, Trudeau said: “We are steadfast in our belief [in the Liberal Party], it is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. That is the bottom line.” And then, leaping into the abyss, he reopened the issue he had said he didn’t want to reopen.

Said he: “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.”

In the days since he uttered those words, Trudeau has been engaged in uninterrupted damage control.  As bemused Conservatives and New Democrats looked on, Trudeau’s policy contortions have been something to behold. Over the past few days, Trudeau has said his party is pro-abortion, and its MPs are expected to vote that way without exception – but he has also decreed that anti-abortion candidates are welcome, and (presumably) so too anti-abortion thoughts.  That is, pro-choice if necessary, but not necessarily always pro-choice.

If that makes no sense to you, rest assured: it makes sense to no one else, either.

While the pro-life and pro-choice forces typically disagree on everything, they probably now concur on two slender points.  One, Justin Trudeau wasn’t telling the truth when he said he wouldn’t interfere in the selection of Liberal Party candidates – by telling them how they must vote on a matter of conscience, he was fundamentally involving himself with candidate selection.  Two, he wasn’t telling the truth about not wanting to “reopen the abortion debate,” either – he has now done precisely that.

But Trudeau is not necessarily a loser, now.  On Wednesday, Ottawa Bishop Christian Riesbeck told CBC that Trudeau’s stance was “unseemly.”

“It’s the fact that he considers himself to be a devout Catholic but then adheres to, or advocates for, abortion,” said Riesbeck. “That is scandalous.”

Scandalous? With that, the Bishop has mapped out an escape route for the relieved Trudeau. As Stockwell Day learned the hard way, Canadians favour a wall between Church and State.  They don’t like politicians involving themselves overmuch with religion.  And they don’t like the religious involving themselves, at all, in politics. As such, Bishop Riesbeck has gifted Trudeau’s relieved backroom with what they urgently needed: a way out of the mess they created for themselves.

Whenever the clergy start attacking me about something, a former Prime Minister once remarked to this writer, it helps get me re-elected. The same holds for Trudeau.

The Conservatives and the New Democrats have emerged as winners, too, and without doing very much. Pro-life voters will continue to gravitate to the Tories, convinced that there is no home for them with the Grits.  And for those pro-choice folk who favour no ambiguity, they will find a home with the New Democrats.

So, who loses, at the end of this sad political melodrama?

Canadians, mostly.  The majority of Canadians didn’t want the abortion issue re-opened. They didn’t want the rancour and ugliness it always brings.  They didn’t want what is highly personal becoming, once again, the highly political.

Will they blame the Liberal leader for reopening the debate? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: it has not been Justin Trudeau’s finest hour.



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    que sera sera says:

    Regardless how many column inches have been generated by Trudeau’s political position on abortion, there still isn’t any debate to open anymore in Canada; no one but hopeless ideologues still think women seeking medical care is a matter of “public debate”.

    I applaud Trudeau for standing up for women by closing the door on those few people trying to impose their will upon others by manipulating indebted politicians: through private members’ bills, through public shaming, through inciting hatred towards women who have had abortions. And if your “conscience” precludes you dealing with the political realities of a secular society, perhaps politics isn’t the career for you.

    Meanwhile, back in the Conservatives’ lake-of-fire constituency, perhaps there will be “public debate” on making homosexuality illegal …… again.

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      Warren says:

      Gender selection thing cool, too? How about LTA?

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        que sera sera says:

        In my world, Warren, nothing about abortion is “cool”.

        Few people actually believe politicians are somehow more qualified than a woman herself, along with her doctors, to make medical decisions regarding her pregnancy.

        Many actually trust women, more than politicians, to make our own personal (including medical) decisions about our lives.

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          Warren says:

          That’s nice. But what’s your answer?

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            que sera sera says:

            What’s your question?

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            Warren says:

            Again: Gender selection thing cool, too? How about LTA?

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            que sera sera says:

            Again: nothing about abortion is “cool”.

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    Coelocanth_Jones says:

    Clerical interference saves the hair apparent’s ass, great call Warren

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    Joe says:

    What is muddying the waters here is the issue of abortion which to my mind is a side show to what is really going on here. Trudeau has trampled on the charter right of freedom of conscience involving those who are elected to represent the views of the people of Canada. In short he has denied each and everyone of us our freedom of conscience. Don’t agree with a war that Trudeau favours? Too bad PM Trudeau will drag Canada into that war anyways because people of anti-war conscience were kept out of the decision making process. Don’t like the idea of sending arms to North Korea? Too bad your conscience doesn’t count in Trudeau’s Canada.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I agree in large part with caucus solidarity but when you take preventative measures to make sure dissenting voices don’t even get into caucus you have what Trudeau says he admires most in Communist China.

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      sezme says:

      The problem is how do you define what exactly is a matter of conscience as opposed to a matter of policy? There’s surely a lot of overlap. In the past, conscience has has been used to excuse members who disagree with policy on particularly emotional issues.

      Also, to your point about constitutionally protected dissent, what JT has said is that he expects people who seek nominations to vote along party lines on this issue. There’s nothing to stop elected MPs from voting their consciences on any number of issues. Except the consequences. But even in the worst case, they wouldn’t be thrown in jail for doing so.

      So: still not China.

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        Joe says:

        You don’t have the concept of informed debate down pat yet do you. Regardless of policy or tradition or whatsoever you deem as trumping another’s point of view the fact is that the more points of view taken into consideration the better the decision that will be made. Parliament has a fundamental duty to reflect or give hearing to, all the views of Canadians whether a leader or party policy agrees with it or not. In this case most Canadians fit along a sliding scale of acceptance/rejection of abortion. Few of us are in complete agreement with full access or full denial. Therefore if I object to late term/partial birth abortion I should have some way of bringing my concerns to the government of Canada through my elected representative should I be aware of it happening. However if my MP happens to be Liberal then I am effectively shut out in trying to end what I consider a black mark on the noble character of Canada.

        More to the point of my previous posting was the idea that a leader can be wrong for all kinds of reasons. However if he surrounds himself with a bunch of nodding neddies who agree with everything he says then the nation as a whole will suffer. I’m quite certain that the Chinese leadership had a ‘one child policy’ and anyone who disagreed with that policy didn’t get very far up the political ladder. Well guess what – JT isn’t as far off that Chinese ideal of his as you would have us believe because ‘policy’ says…..

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          Kaspar Juul says:

          So you criticize sezme for responding to you than repeat the same hairbrained comparisons to China.

          Another one named sockpuppet…so much for “informed debate”. Unless that’s what you call your patronizing arrogance.

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            Joe says:

            Here’s a hint. If a political leader says he admires a dictatorship and then goes so far as to deny freedom of conscience of the very people (his wouldbe MPs) who should have the most freedom to express their conscience then anyone who holds democracy near and dear should be forewarned that the political leader will try to act as a tyrant should he be elected.

            I didn’t hear the original speech and have since heard two translations so I assume the statement was in French, but Jr. Trudeau said that the Liberals think too much and he is out to fix that. Later translations said ‘reflect too much’ which although more palatable still doesn’t bode well for a would be national governing party.

            Thought – reflection – Pshaw its bombs away for J Trudeau.

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          Mike says:

          Canada is a representative democracy, which means that your only way of bringing your particular concerns to the government is through the act of choosing which candidate to vote for at election time. Once your riding selects someone to represent them in parliament, that elected Member can vote as they please on bills (party Whip issues aside) with no concern for what is good or bad for the riding, or for your concerns.

          Further, even a party Whip cannot force an MP to vote in a certain way, nor can the party Leader. Mister Trudeau may want only pro-choice candidates, but he can’t force them to vote pro-choice. The only power he holds over an elected MP is whether or not to allow him or her to remain in caucus.

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    Marc L says:

    This is what you get when you elect somebody as leader of your party for one and only one reason: because of his name. Justin has shown once again that he has little grasp of public policy issues. I hope I’m mistaken, but he simply strikes me as not being very bright. This is not his first gaffe, although it is probably the most damaging. My favourite as an economist: he babbles on about the plight of the middle class and then, when he is asked how he defines the middle class he provides a completely absurd answer, revealing that he has no idea what he is talking about. Somebody is going to have to rein this guy in and even then, I cringe when I think about how he will handle himself in a TV debate.

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      Mississaugapeter says:

      Some folks saw it work for the Republicans, with an accomplished and intelligent man being succeeded by his less than brilliant son a few elections later, and saw an opportunity for themselves.

      Note: The more dumb the leader, the easier the folks behind him can manipulate and control him.

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      Al in Cranbrook says:

      Indeed, the LPC was desperately hoping for “Trudeaumania: The Sequel”. Clearly, this ain’t gonna happen.

      Running for the office of Prime Minister and competing for the title of Canadian Idol are two entirely different matters.

      …or so one would be inclined to think.

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        Matt says:

        Don’t be so sure. Some women were interviewed at his now infamous “Ladies Night”

        On ol’ girl, looked to be in her sixties was asked about Trudeau’s policies.

        Her response?

        “Lets get him elected, then we’ll worry about his policies”

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          Matt says:

          Crap. Should have read One ol’ girl.

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            Kaspar Juul says:

            Ol’ girl? Why don’t you just call them “you people” Ross Perot.

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    WestGuy says:

    The issue of gender selective abortions is one I find interesting. It is disliked by pro-life people because it’s abortion and disliked by pro-choice because it is used to predominantly target females. I don’t understand why some conservatives pushed for a ban on gender selection abortions. When you’re trying to get something banned, why separate out the one thing about that something that your opponents dislike as well.
    Trudeau is right. You can’t say abortion is a woman’s choice and then limit the factors that a woman can consider when making that choice. That said, his declaration that only pro-choice candidates need apply will probably end up being a huge gift to the Conservatives. People expect their elected representatives to represent their positions to the party, not the other way around.

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    ian turnbull says:

    The Sun is having a heyday with him. http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/archives/sunnews/politics/2014/05/20140522-193000.html

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      MississaugaPeter says:

      WOW! I guess it is not just the government that the Clueless One admires about China.

      China: 1.18 male(s)/female (2010 census)

      That’s 6 men for every 5 women.

      Full Transcript:

      MARISSA SEMKIW: A woman comes to you. She says she’s pregnant with a girl and she wants to terminate the life of the child because it’s a girl. What would you say to her?

      JUSTIN TRUDEAU: My position has been very clear. The Liberal Party is the party standing up for people’s rights. And the Liberal Party will always be the party of the Charter. So we will continue to stand up for people’s rights and not legislate them away.

      MARISSA SEMKIW: So to be clear, you wouldn’t discourage her from having an abortion because it’s a girl?

      JUSTIN TRUDEAU: My role as the leader of the Liberal Party is to make sure that Canadian legislation respects people’s rights and that’s what I will continue to do.

      MARISSA SEMKIW: Yesterday you said you were happy with the status quo on abortion. But right now the status quo is that it’s perfectly fine to abort a child because it’s a girl. Do you have no qualms with that?

      JUSTIN TRUDEAU: I will leave discussions like that between a woman and the health professionals that she encounters. I don’t think the government should be in the business of legislating away people’s rights. And that’s why the Liberal Party is steadfast in this position.”

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        MississaugaPeter says:

        “I don’t think the government should be in the business of legislating away PEOPLE’S RIGHTS.”

        I guess marijuana will be the first of MANY NEW DRUGS THAT WILL BE LEGALIZED if the Clueless One becomes PM.

        What about the PEOPLE’S RIGHT to bear arms?

        But if you are running for the Liberal Party, the CLUELESS ONE will take away your RIGHT to think freely.

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          que sera sera says:

          Speaking of clueless, you seem unaware that it is Americans – not Canadians – who have the right to bear arms.

          Maybe take a break from hurling invective to do some objective research. Especially while exercising your right to think freely while calling others clueless.

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            MississaugaPeter says:

            Dah, yes I am aware that the right to bear arms is an American thing.

            The point is that your CLUELESS ONE is suggesting that, let’s try it again, slowly, “I don’t think the government should be in the business of legislating away PEOPLE’S RIGHTS.” If he genuinely thinks that, then he believes that people should be able to own guns and anything else they fancy, because the government by restricting them is “legislating away PEOPLE’S RIGHTS.”

            The CLUELESS ONE has no problem with folks using abortion to select a gender. More progressive countries than Canada have problems with this. For the CLUELESS ONE to not even acknowledge any abhorrence to this is pathetic.

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            que sera sera says:

            Speaking of clueless, you not only appear to be conflating the Americans’ Second Amendment with the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, you also appear duped by the NRA: guns are not people, guns do not enjoy the same protection as people under the Canadian Charter.

            Perhaps more CBC and less NRA might help you further your education about Canada.

            Cheers, eh.

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    Tom Fitzgerald says:

    No one is winning. In 2003, 103 768 abortions were recorded in Canada – evidently, a large number of people are too ignorant to figure out contraception thus unnecessarily endangering young women and further burdening an already overburdened health system. Of course, clerics of the Catholic Church and other religious groups preach against birth control. It is no accident and grimly ironic that Quebec’s abortion rates are among the highest in the Western world; school sex education programs are not universal in Quebec. Further, many of these young women would like to have a baby but our antiquated economic system offers only a rather austere and bleak reality for many young people. As we look at Montreal Hospital and Gas Plant scandals, fiscal mismanagement should be denounced as the root cause of many social problems.

    The late term abortion issue is generally overstated: over 90% of abortions in Canada are done in the first trimester, only 2-3% are done after 16 weeks, and no doctor performs abortions past 20 or 21 weeks unless there are compelling health or genetic reasons. Aborting females is a growing and serious issue. The elephant in the room is that it occurs primarily in certain ethnic/cultural subgroups – but, alas, no critique of non-Canadian cultures is allowed under the official doctrine of unqualified multiculturalism. For this reason, abortion will likely have to be recriminalized to the delight of retrograde clerics. The desperate young woman (especially rape and incest cases) and the sexist practitioner of gendercide will recreate an unregulated and covert abortion trade. (Cheap airplane travel makes this all the more likely.)

    Isn’t it about time we actually had freedom from religion and not just freedom of religion (which is often no freedom at all)? Isn’t it about time intellectuals could simply denounce sexists and misogynists without fear of being branded (often, via the machinery of the Canadian State) as racists or anti-immigrant or heretics and such like? Canada used to have some aspiration to be a modern, enlightened country. We appear to be increasingly medieval and backward.

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