Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said she was relieved to see a proposal that could have reopened the abortion debate in Canada narrowly defeated at the party’s policy convention on Saturday.
Ms. Raitt said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made a promise during last year’s leadership race that he would not bring forward any government legislation on the subject.
“It was a great thing for the party,” Ms. Raitt told the Globe after the vote.
“Andrew made a clear promise, that people relied upon, that a government of Conservative members would not introduce abortion legislation. Very important to me. And we’re not going to go back on it.”
The matter was one of 30 policies up for debate at the party’s biennial convention in Halifax, where 3,000 delegates from across the country gathered to discuss the party’s game plan a little more than a year before the October, 2019 federal election.
The major theme of the convention this year was party unity in the wake of MP Maxime Bernier’s departure and his accusation that the Conservatives were “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.” In his keynote convention address Friday, Mr. Scheer urged the Conservative Party faithful to rally behind him as he promised to fight political correctness and champion a cross-Canada revolt against the Liberal government’s carbon tax.
Even before the policies were debated on Saturday, Mr. Scheer told several media outlets that he would not be re-opening the abortion debate regardless of the vote. The Conservative Leader refused to do an interview with the Globe and Mail.
The abortion resolution, put forward by delegates from Newfoundland, would have deleted a line in the Conservative policy playbook that said a Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion. Doing so would leave the possibility of such legislation open in the future.
It was defeated by a margin of 53 to 47 per cent.
Some Conservative MPs, however, argued in favour of deleting the line, saying it would mean the party remains neutral on the matter and members would be allowed to have a variety of viewpoints on the topic.
“As we heard over and over this weekend, we are the only party who allows choice. We should not have a values test in our own party,” said Saskatchewan MP Rosemarie Falk.
Ms. Raitt told the convention hall that MPs would have a free vote on any matter of conscience.
However, delegates did vote to ban abortion from overseas maternal and child health programs where Canadian aid is delivered, a return to former prime minister Stephen Harper’s previous aid policy.
Conservative members also approved a proposal to stop “illegal entries in Canada” by taking steps to renegotiate the safe third country agreement with the United States, and to enact legislation that would eliminate citizenship for children born in Canada unless one of the parents is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai spoke against the citizenship motion, telling fellow party members, “Any person who is born in Canada, by law, is entitled to be a Canadian. We cannot choose who is going to be a Canadian and who is not going to be a Canadian.”
Other proposals approved by the grassroots included relocating the Canadian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; supporting the Energy East pipeline; stopping a federal carbon tax and allowing provinces and territories to develop their own climate change policies; supporting free speech; and working towards spending at least 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP on national defence.
As the convention wrapped up on Saturday, Conservative members said Mr. Bernier’s surprise announcement that he was quitting and forming his own only served to catalyze their commitment to the party.
“I really think it made Conservatives realize that we had to be more united than ever,” said delegate Natasha Kornak, a university student in Kingston, Ont.
“We’re stronger together than we are divided.”