So Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper will move on — yet again — from the thorny question of his party’s position on abortion. How many times must he “move past” this debate before he, along with all of Canada, realizes the issue is shackled to his ankle by chain?
The weight at the end of that chain, it now appears, is no less than eight cabinet ministers and two ministers of state who stood in Parliament Wednesday in support of a private member’s bill championed by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth.
On the surface, Woodworth’s motion was not about abortion or choice in Canada. His bill instead proposed the formation of a committee to examine the question of whether Canadian law should legally recognize an earlier start to life, one that extends a child’s autonomous beginnings into the womb.
Such an examination is not, per se, a debate on abortion. It is, however, a pro-life-centric question and likely not by coincidence, a strategically important place to attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada.
Following the vote — it was defeated 203 to 91 — Harper quickly said his government would move on and he repeated his oft-stated disclaimer: the Conservatives are not interested in reopening the contentious abortion debate.
Yet there are those cabinet ministers, including Rona Ambrose and Jason Kenney, whose rise in support of Woodworth’s bill speaks volumes. As well, there are roughly 80 other MPs in
Harper’s party — about one third of the government’s ranks — who seem to share Woodworth’s views.
Canada’s prime minister is a strong leader, one of the strongest this country has seen. His grip on internal party workings as well as policy formation remains firm. He will no doubt drag his chain and weight behind him with ease, at least for the moment.
What happens in future years, however, when Harper’s strength fades? The weight of opinion those cabinet members and other MPs represent is significant, and may yet find a way to render meaningless Harper’s assertion his party has “moved past” this tenacious issue.
Canada’s abortion laws were struck down in 1988 by Canada’s Supreme Court and were not rewritten. Successive governments, including this one, have said the issue is dead. Women have the right to choose.
Unfortunately, there is that weight at the end of a chain around Harper’s ankle. Unless he breaks it and walks free, Canadians may never be sure such will always be the case.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.