The Liberals’ announcement to increase access to abortion – to the tune of 3.5 million – is the latest in a string of events bringing life issues to the fore in Canada.
“Whenever an announcement like this comes during a race [the current Conservative Party of Canada leadership race], it’s an opportunity for candidates to define themselves,” states Doug Sharpe, founder of Canada Family Action, a non-profit, non-partisan group that trains Christians to “advance their issues into” the public sphere.
While Sharpe does not applaud the Liberals’ announcement, he welcomes the timing. “Some seize the opportunity, and some run from it.” Sharpe adds, “We must apply pressure so that candidates do define themselves.”
The announcement comes in the wake of a leaked draft ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that would remove federal protection for abortion and lead to the curtailing of legal abortion in roughly half the states in the U.S. Pete Baklinski, director of communications for the pro-life Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), told reporters on May 11, the day before the national March for Life in Ottawa, that the leaked document has made the issue of abortion “suddenly explode” in Canada.
The Conservative leadership race
Many see the announcement as an attempt by the Liberals to discredit the Conservatives, who have long refused to touch the issue. The Liberals made the announcement hours before the CPC hosted its first leadership debate.
A skeleton in the closet of the Conservative Party for decades, life issues are suddenly taking center stage.
Early in the CPC leadership race, in a blog entitled “No Hidden Agenda,” candidate Leslyn Lewis publicly shared her story and her policy platform to protect life. “I know exactly what it is like to be staring at the future you’ve worked so hard towards,” she writes, “and suddenly finding out you’re pregnant.” She describes the pressure to abort her child, declaring, “Person after person told me I had to choose: my baby or my career.” Lewis writes that she is “grateful every day” that she kept and raised her daughter as she developed her law career.
In the blog, Lewis describes a four-point plan to protect preborn children; she also promises funding for pregnant women and new mothers. In a 2020 voter’s guide, CLC gave Lewis an “A” rating and described her as “outspoken and unapologetic on pro-life issues.”
Another life issue
When it comes to life issues, Canadians had another “wake-up call” when euthanasia, described by the government as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), was legalized, says Jack Fonseca, director of political operations at CLC. The legislation is no more than six years old and the Liberals have already expanded its scope from the terminally ill to the chronically ill, then to the mentally ill and depressed, and are now considering extending it to children.
The government “raced ahead of public support” with its expansion of MAiD, says Colin Postma, federal issues manager at the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), a grassroots political advocacy group. ARPA has launched a large-scale campaign called “Care not Kill” to inform Canadians that, starting in March 2023, the mentally ill and depressed are considered eligible for euthanasia.
Public response to the campaign has been strong, says Postma: “Everyone is shocked.” Postma adds, “We need to support those in need, not give them an easy out.”
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada (EPCC), agrees, stating, “We need to care for people with special needs.”
Schadenberg is concerned not only for patients but also for doctors: at the moment, doctors are required to refer patients to MAiD – even if to do so violates their conscience. Last fall, MP Kelly Block put forward a bill that would protect the conscience rights of doctors (Bill C-230). MPs are expected to vote on the bill on June 8.
The EPCC has launched two online petitions (against child euthanasia and in support of Bill C-230) and a postcard campaign: the coalition will send out free postcards to anyone who will sign them and send them to their MP this month. To date, 15,000 people have requested postcards.
‘Every vote counts’
CLC, CFA, EPCC, and 4 My Canada (4MC, founded by Faytene Grasseschi) are encouraging concerned Canadians, 14 years and older, to consider joining the CPC before June 3 to elect a pro-life leader. Only those who join the CPC party before June 3 can vote for a leader.
“We are not telling people how to vote in the next general election,” notes Grasseschi. “We are simply urging them to have a voice now in who the CPC leader will be.”
This spring, Grasseschi discovered that, statistically, only .2 percent of Canadians vote for leaders of political parties. “Every vote counts,” says Grasseschi, when such a small segment of the population is engaged. It’s a truth she learned by experience: last fall, she lost the race to be the CPC candidate for the riding of St John-Rothesay by only 86 votes.
Especially in regions where there are fewer Conservative voters – such as the GTA, Quebec and Atlantic Canada – votes by party members for a leader count for more than do the votes of party members in Conservative bastions such as Alberta. “People need to know the power of their vote,” states Grasseschi, who has launched an “Engage” campaign of daily zoom calls and a nation-wide tour to get the information to voters before June 3.
A new focus on the influence and interests of voters (rather than on candidates or parties) is also helping to mobilize Canadian Christians into action. Sharpe, a 20-year-veteran of coaching Christians in civic engagement, calls the CPC leadership race “an opportunity for Christians to advance their views into a party.”
Rather than “trying to win a political contest” or to promote a party, Sharpe says his goal is to “raise the effectiveness of citizens in all circumstances, including local governments, school boards, and all political parties.”
Sharpe is hosting daily zoom sessions to train Christians to communicate their views and to “take hold of opportunities such as the CPC leadership race.”
Christian pro-life, pro-family activists are hoping that new information and new tools – along with a growing desire among many Christians for protection of life, conscience rights, and religious and other freedoms – will galvanize voters into action.
If the campaigns to get CPC memberships before June 3 are successful, Canada may soon see its first outspoken pro-life leader of a federal party.
A version of this article first appeared on LifeSite News, Canadian edition.
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