Stephen Harper is trying to lay to rest, once and for all, any notion that a Conservative government would reopen the abortion debate – after a Saskatchewan MP urged supporters to keep up the pressure to do just that.
"In our party, as in any broadly based party, there are people with a range of views on this issue," Mr. Harper said Thursday when asked by reporters how Canadians could trust a Conservative government not to tamper with a woman's right to an abortion.
"As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," Mr. Harper declared. "The government will not bring forward any such legislation and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister."
An audio recording reveals Brad Trost, the Conservative incumbent in Saskatoon-Humboldt, telling members of the Saskatchewan ProLife Association that their petitions and his own influence had helped kill government funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which, among other activities, counsels women on abortion-related services.
The group has been waiting for more than a year for word on whether its request for $18-million in federal funding will be granted. While the Conservatives spearheaded a global initiative in 2010 to improve maternal health in the developing world, Mr. Harper faced international criticism for saying Canadian funding would not support services that provided or promoted abortion.
In a statement released Thursday, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda neither approved nor ruled out funding for the organization. "If Planned Parenthood submits an application that falls within the government's parameters, there will be funding," the statement reads.
But whether or not the group receives its grants, Mr. Harper wanted to make it more than clear that voters need not fear his government would lift the lid on the abortion debate if it obtained a majority government from voters on May 2.
"My position is, I'm not opening this debate," he responded, when asked a related question by a reporters. "I don't want it opened. I have not wanted it opened. I haven't opened it as prime minister. I'm not going to open it. The public doesn't want to open it. This is not the priority of the Canadian public or this government and it will not be."
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who was campaigning in Toronto, said he found Mr. Trost's words troubling.
"We're naturally concerned to hear about this," Mr. Layton told reporters. "Our party has been very strongly in favour of a woman's right to choose. And to see the potential for that kind of influence in the back rooms of the Conservative party naturally is worrying."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff agreed, saying the Trost speech is another example of Conservative secrecy.
"This is the way the Conservative party operates. This is why people talk about a secret agenda," he said. "Nothing is clear. Nothing is transparent."
While acknowledging that not every member of his caucus supports a woman's right to choose, Mr. Ignatieff said that is the Liberal Party's position.
"These Planned Parenthood stories are absolutely what makes Canadian women think: 'Wait a minute. What are these guys up to? What have they got in mind? Where are they going with this?' And we're saying: Let's be clear. You vote for the Liberal Party of Canada you will be voting for a party that defends a woman's right to choose, domestically, internationally."
With reports from Gloria Galloway and Bill Curry