The Conservative Party is insisting that a government led by Andrew Scheer will not reopen the abortion debate, after confusion was raised by comments from the party’s Quebec lieutenant.
Conservative MP Alain Rayes recently told Le Journal de Montreal that rivals are trying to “demonize” Mr. Scheer, saying, “Andrew Scheer has confirmed that he would not allow one of his MPs to introduce [anti-abortion] legislation.”
Mr. Scheer’s director of communications, Brock Harrison, told HuffPost Canada on Monday that Mr. Rayes made the comment “based on something he misheard.” Conservative spokesman Daniel Schow told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that a “Conservative government will not reopen this debate.”
Mr. Rayes’s comments on Monday suggested that no Conservative MP would be allowed to touch the issue under Mr. Scheer, but those comments were later walked back and the Conservative Party itself did not directly say what it would do about backbench MPs who may want to reopen the abortion issue. The Globe asked the party repeatedly to clarify its position and it declined to do so.
Conservatives point out that abortion laws did not change under former prime minister Stephen Harper, who led a Conservative government from 2006 to 2015.
Mr. Harper vowed in the 2011 campaign not to allow any debate on abortion in the House of Commons and tried to block Mark Warawa, a Conservative MP, from introducing a motion on the topic. Mr. Scheer, who was Speaker of the House of Commons at the time, later clashed with Conservative Party leadership over allowing Mr. Warawa to speak about abortion during a Member’s Statement.
When Mr. Scheer campaigned for the Conservative Party leadership in 2017, he said that MPs should be allowed to debate any “matters of conscience” that they wished to.
“I believe 100 per cent that members of Parliament have the right to bring forward and debate any legislation of importance to them,” he wrote at the time.
But the Conservative Party refused to answer questions from The Globe on Tuesday about what the party’s policy is with respect to private member’s bills – and what Mr. Scheer would do if a Conservative backbencher brought such a bill forward.
Mr. Scheer declined an interview request, and most Conservative MPs contacted were mum on the topic, but some reiterated that it would not be an issue.
Mr. Schow said the Conservative leader has been “crystal clear” and that Canadians can rest assured a Conservative government would not reopen the debate.
“Plain and simple: Conservatives will not reopen this issue,” Mr. Schow said.
Conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, Tim Powers, said Mr. Scheer needs to say exactly how he would handle the hypothetical situation of a member wishing to bring forward legislation on abortion.
“It’s a sort of conversational trap the Conservatives have to be careful about because what they’re saying, it is entirely accurate, but there could be the perception of loopholes, they have to explain to people why they’re not loopholes,” he said.
Conservative MP Peter Kent said a Conservative government led by Mr. Scheer “will not reopen this debate, period,” adding that Conservative private members can speak to their faith and their conscience.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen said she had “nothing more to add to what our leader Andrew Scheer has said.”
For her part, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said gender equality will never be achieved as long as the topic of reproductive health is constrained within “non-productive partisan hack lines around an election.”
“We should instead be focused on how we support women, love them and empower them to make, equal, safe and healthy choices – no matter what that is – based on their beliefs, their situations, and for their future.”
Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly accused Mr. Scheer of saying one thing in Quebec and another in the rest of Canada.
“Canadians deserve an answer and Mr. Scheer needs to look in the eyes of Canadians and tell them what his position is, it’s a question of honesty,” she said.
With reports from Daniel Leblanc