CANADA - For the first time since taking office Prime Minister Stephen Harper embraced a solid, social-conservative policy of the right — refusing to have Canada support abortion in foreign-aid projects.
This was a bit stunning to political observers because it meant Harper was flip flopping on his own agenda. For four years now he has avoided any controversial issues that scares off many women, urban and centrist voters... but he managed to do all three when Harper branded his government as anti-abortion.
Harper, according to Conservative-caucus sources, was not leaning this way two months ago, and made that clear to his MPs in March. What is even weirder is that Stephen Harper rarely flip flops on an issue. He usually sticks with it no matter how stupid the idea is.
Its a divisive issue even within the Conservative Party. Some of us are pro-choice and others are anti-abortion. Since abortion is legal in Canada and a whopping 70% of Canadians support the right to abortion and since the Conservative Party only has a minority government its really political suicide to portray your political party as anti-abortion.
Hence why Stephen Harper has avoided the issue for so long.
Here's what happened:
The Liberals made a motion that called on Canada to support the “full range” of family planning initiatives in foreign aid. The motion, sponsored by Liberal MP Bob Rae, also read in part: “the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration in the United States which made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a ‘global gag rule’ that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from promoting medically sound family planning.”
Stephen Harper initially argued at a special caucus meeting on the day of the vote for his party to avoid the ideological trap, and to quietly vote in favour of the motion.
But the Conservative caucus, which accoridng to insiders is roughly evenly divided between pro-choice and anti-abortion sentiments, had another idea.
They believed that the mention of George W. Bush gave Conservatives a way to oppose the motion — Canada’s Parliament shouldn’t be voting on policies of another government.
Harper then allowed himself to be persuaded because too many of the caucus members were in favour of opposing the motion on the technicality. When he closed the caucus meeting, he cited some Mahatma Gandhi wisdom about a leader needing to heed his followers, and agreed the Conservatives, against his initial instincts, should oppose the motion, thus flip flopping on the issue.
When the Commons voted on the motion, the motion failed to pass. Thus Canada would be the only G8 country which would be spending money on abstinence groups overseas (which we all know from experience, abstinence doesn't work) which the other 7 members of the G8 support foreign aid that includes abortion clinics.
In the late 1980s, in a memo to then Reform Party leader Preston Manning, Harper laid out the need for the fledgling party to build coalitions with the Christian right wing, which he described as key to the Conservative base. “I believe that the Reform Party cannot afford to lose moderate pro-life voters,” said the memo, which was revealed in William Johnson’s biography of Harper a few years ago.
So from Harper's perspective this is just an ideological hat tipping to his right wing Christian supporters. Guaranteed votes from people who were already voting for him anyway. Plus it made his caucus happy.
But what about the next election? This controversy, that and the ongoing torture/war crimes issue, could stay with the Conservatives until the next election... The last thing the Conservatives need is to be seen as anti-abortionist, corrupt war criminals who are hiding something.
Oh and if our unemployment rate remains high and national debt growing, economically inept too.