John Ivison: Kenney defies PM over abortion motion as leadership jockeying begins
John Ivison | Sep 26, 2012 7:53 PM ET | Last Updated: Sep 27, 2012 1:34 AM ET
REUTERS/Chris Wattie; CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldThat Jason Kenney defied such clear direction suggests that the race to succeed Stephen Harper has started in earnest.
Pro-life motion not about curtailing women's rights, Stephen Woodworth says: Video
Wednesday night’s defeat in the House of Commons of a motion to study when life begins is more a reversal of fortune than a coup de grace to the hopes of pro-lifers.
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s motion would have set up a parliamentary committee to examine the current definition of a human being, which says children become human at the moment of complete birth.
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In the event, more than half of the Conservative Party voted for a course of action that, by logical extension, could lead to the criminalization of abortion. Eight ministers were among the 87 Conservative MPs who voted in favour of the motion, alongside four Liberals. Rona Ambrose, the Minister for the Status of Women, was one of the Cabinet members who voted against the express wishes of the Prime Minister.
This attempt failed but there will be other private members’ bills and perhaps in future, the Conservative Party will have a leader who is committed to re-opening the abortion debate.
No one expects Stephen Harper to go anywhere in the near to medium term but that has not stopped the jockeying for position from starting.
Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister, supported the bill, despite the Prime Minister’s wish that his caucus follow the lead of his chief whip, Gordon O’Connor, who argued last spring that the House of Commons is not a laboratory and, therefore, not the appropriate venue to debate such a highly charged theological and philosophical issue.
REUTERS/Chris WattieStephen Woodworth stands to vote in favour of a motion calling for a committee to study the definition of when human life begins in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday.
That Mr. Kenney defied such clear direction suggests that the race to succeed Mr. Harper has started in earnest. As one Conservative MP said, anyone who wants to become leader has to have strong support in pro-life circles. “Among our motivated support base, pro-life support is very high and they choose leaders. Aspiring leaders have virtually no chance, if they are seen as pro-abortion,” he said.
That Mr. Woodworth’s motion was supported by 87 Conservative MPs, from a caucus of 163, suggests that Mr. Kenney is the man to beat when the starter’s pistol sounds.
Basic value questions are a pretty accurate predictor of voting intentions. In the United States, one study found that attitudes toward sex before marriage, religion, pornography and homosexuality dictated whether voters opted for Bill Clinton or Bob Dole.
There can be no doubts that Mr. Kenney has raised his standard as the pro-life candidate. At least that was his position in 1990, when a CNN news clip billed him as an “anti-abortion activist.”
There also can be no doubts that Mr. Kenney is popular in caucus for his energetic work as Immigration Minister – one MP said he is second only to Jim Flaherty and there seems to be no prospect that the Finance Minister will run to be leader. By identifying himself as the champion of social conservative causes, Mr. Kenney clearly thinks he will give himself a bump with the membership when it comes to a leadership race. But what does it mean for his chances in the rest of the Canada?
After NDP caucus Wednesday, Tom Mulcair repeated the tired old canard that the Woodworth motion is part of Mr. Harper’s “hidden agenda.”
“Mr. Harper constantly says out of one side of his mouth that he doesn’t want to re-open the debate on abortion. But not only his backbenchers, there’s even a minister … saying he is going to vote in favour of this motion,” he said.
But if Mr. Harper ever had a hidden agenda, it was to keep covert from the social conservatives in his governing coalition that fact that he had no intention of ever legislating on their heartfelt issues.
As backbencher Brad Trost recently told Maclean’s, this neglect has caused some predictable disquiet. “Some socially conservative rank and file members of the Conservative Party have not been happy with [Harper] for quite some time,” he said.
For the bulk of the Conservative movement, power has been preferable to ideological purity. But as the party enters its eighth year in government, that discipline is waning. It looks very much like many Conservatives want to stand by their convictions — and are prepared to wander into the wilderness, if necessary.
The fault lines in the party have been dormant for nine years, yet the cracks remain. And, as any seismologist will tell you, dormant fault lines, when they awake, are more dangerous and costly than active ones.
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