HALIFAX – A resolution that put abortion back on the Conservative party’s agenda has been narrowly defeated.
Abortion opponents had put forward a resolution that would’ve struck a line from the Conservative policy book that says “a Conservative government would not support any legislation to regulate abortion.”
It was defeated Saturday afternoon by electronic voting after a vote by placards was too close to call. Conservative party members are in Halifax for a three-day policy convention.
The abortion resolution had earned 82 per cent support from delegates who attended a break out session on health and social issues on Friday afternoon, following a heated debate. Opponents Friday said they worried the proposal would reopen the debate on abortion.
It was enough support to send the matter to the national plenary floor for consideration, where it was met with more debate on Saturday, with pro-choice and pro-life party members clearly divided.
“While I appreciate the intent and emotion around what we are talking about today, the reality is that we had a very long leadership race and in that race our current leader made a bargain, a promise,” the party’s deputy leader Lisa Raitt told delegates while speaking at the ‘No’ microphone. “He promised that he would not bring in legislation with respect to abortion.”
Raitt said members have a free vote on matters of conscious – a position Scheer has repeatedly said he backs.
Another delegate told the plenary she worried socially conservative policies like this one would hurt the party’s chances of winning a majority government in 2019 because of push back in urban centres and areas including Montreal, the Greater Toronto Area and British Columbia.
However, other delegates were adamant striking the wording from the party’s policy document would only serve to neutralize the issue. “We are not saying that we will introduce legislation, we are saying we will give our members free thought,” one delegate from the riding of St. John’s East said.
“We’re neutral on same-sex marriage. Make it neutral on abortion,” he argued.
Others demanded the party stand up against specific types of abortion, including late-term abortions & sex-based abortions, issues that one MP said has earned support across pro-choice and pro-life lines.
“Come on, gets some guts and do what we need to do that we can do together,” Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall said, adding she supports Scheer as leader.
On Saturday, Scheer again promised he would not reopen the abortion debate.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Scheer said he would not bring in any legislation to reopen divisive issues like abortion, even if a majority of members had voted in favour of the resolution.
He said he welcomes open debate and discussion within the membership, but will remain “unequivocal” in his stance that he will not entertain divisive social issues, including the abortion debate.
Instead, he said he hopes to work with party members on issues they can all agree upon.
With files from Canadian Press