05/08/2014 05:40 EDT | Updated 05/15/2014 06:59 EDT

Why Justin Trudeau's Pro-Choice Pledge Won't Cost Him Votes


Justin Trudeau's decree that all future candidates wanting to run as part of his team must be prepared to vote pro-choice in the House of Commons is a step in the right direction for the Liberal Party.

The vast majority of Canadians are already on this side of the debate. A survey done by Angus Reid in early 2013 — the most recent survey I could find, perhaps hinting to what degree Canadians have moved on from this issue — made this clear.

The poll showed that a little more than two-thirds of Canadians supported women having the right to an abortion either throughout their pregnancy or during a more limited time frame. Forty-four per cent supported the right to an abortion at any time, while 23 per cent supported it with more restrictions than currently exist.

By comparison, just one in five Canadians thought that there should be severe restrictions on when an abortion could be carried out. Only five per cent said abortions should be illegal under all circumstances.

So Trudeau is unlikely to lose many voters because of his stance, while the potential for growth is far greater. This is another case of Trudeau trying to give the party a more modern appeal in his image.

Former Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis recently lamented in an interview with The Globe and Mail that the Liberal Party is no longer the one he knew. But most readers would likely come away from that story thinking it a good thing the party is moving away from the ethnic politics and old-fashioned deal-making Karygiannis regrets is no longer welcome.

But what about the open nominations the Liberal leader promised? Is this yet another example of him reneging on that pledge? It depends on how literal one wants to take that guarantee.

All parties screen their candidates — and with good reason. No commitment to open nominations should include, for example, the potential for openly racist candidates to claim a party's nomination. It would be incoherent for parties to allow a mix of candidates with widely divergent views, particularly offensive ones, to represent them on the ballot.

The open nomination pledge is limited to allowing members to choose from qualified, eligible candidates, rather than allowing party leadership to parachute high-profile people into a riding over the local membership's heads.

A completely open nomination process would be easily exploitable by special interest groups, particularly in ridings with a small number of members. Assuring that nomination candidates meet a minimum standard of eligibility is sensible.

The problem with the open nomination pledge, however, is one that has become a bit of a theme for the Liberal leader. His actions have, at times, failed to live up to his rhetoric. "Open nominations" is an easier sell than "open nominations, after candidates go through the appropriate screening processes and if they play nice."

If Trudeau does not take greater care to keep his lofty rhetoric grounded, he could get skewered on the election trail when he is pressed on the specifics of his party's promises.

The pro-choice pledge, however, is an easier one to keep for the Liberals, as well as another example of the party masterfully keeping its leader in the headlines and setting the agenda.

Most importantly, it is a step towards erasing one of the contradictions the Liberals have had to endure in recent years as evolving Canadian public opinion outpaced the party.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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