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Evangelical Christian activist Charles McVety is shown outside his Toronto office on May 26, 2005. (Donald Weber/Donald Weber/The Globe and Mail)
Evangelical Christian activist Charles McVety is shown outside his Toronto office on May 26, 2005. (Donald Weber/Donald Weber/The Globe and Mail)

Jane Taber

Stand on abortion could cost Harper votes, evangelical leader warns Add to ...

Stephen Harper's refusal to reopen the abortion debate risks suppressing the Conservative vote, a leading voice of Canadian social conservatism says.

"There is just no energy out there," Charles McVety, the evangelic leader and Christian activist, said in an interview. "Frankly, my fear for Stephen Harper is that being so overt standing against the pro-lifers, he risks not motivating Conservative voters."

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Mr. McVety noted the Conservatives lost 160,000 votes between the 2006 and 2008 elections. He blames Mr. Harper's decision just before the 2008 campaign to block Conservative MP Ken Epps's private member's bill that would have made it a separate offence for killing a fetus when a pregnant woman was murdered.

"He lost massive numbers of votes," Mr. McVety said. "And I think, again, at the outset of this campaign - again saying he is not going to touch the abortion issue - I think that does not motivate Conservatives to get out and knock on doors and make phone calls and put signs up and hustle."

Historically, if voter turn-out is low "the Conservatives suffer - that's an absolute equation."

"Conservatives are conservative by nature so if they don't show up at the polls Harper may lose his bid for a majority," the president of the Canadian Christian College added.

The abortion debate was reignited last week after the Liberals leaked a tape of Brad Trost, the incumbent Conservative candidate in the riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt, bragging that he had contributed to the government's decision to "defund" the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

The Harper team went into damage-control mode, denying that any funding decision had been made. On the campaign trail, Mr. Harper repeated that would not reopen the abortion debate and that any effort to do so would "defeated" under his watch.

But Mr. Trost was partly correct. The IPPF has been in limbo, waiting to hear from CIDA about its 2010 funding proposal for $9-million over 18 months. This indicates to Mr. McVety that funding is not coming, despite what the Tories said last week.

"It hasn't been funded in over a year. I don't think it's coming," he said, noting, too, that the Harper government had announced last year that its G8 maternal-health initiative would not include funding for abortions.

"Internationally the Harper government has made it very clear that they are not funding abortion overseas," Mr. McVety said.

Domestically, though, he said his supporters would like to see the government yank funding for abortions.

"But that's fallen on deaf ears," he said. "This is something we continue to push on because we feel very strongly about it. But there are times when that message is more receptive than others. And frankly, when you're in a constant campaign mode as we've been in for the last seven years the controversial issues are not something that politicians entertain during a campaign."

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