OTTAWA - Some Conservative MPs say they'll likely be helped in the next election by Justin Trudeau's recent pro-choice edict for Liberal candidates, which they hope will chase away certain rivals and hamper others.
The Liberal leader recently declared that prospective candidates must agree to vote in favour of a woman's right to choose whenever such issues arise in the Commons. He's defended the policy by saying his party must protect Charter rights.
That could make it tricky for pro-life Liberal candidates to mount an effective challenge, say Conservative incumbents. They argue that in close races, it could hand crucial votes to the Tories.
A case in point is Mississauga South, a Toronto-area riding held by Conservative Stella Ambler, who opposes abortion. The Liberals have approved one potential candidate so far: community activist Julie Desjardins, who also happens to be pro-life.
Liberals will have a tough time in a riding with an overwhelmingly Christian voter base, predicts Ambler, who beat pro-life Liberal candidate Paul Szabo in 2011, with the NDP a distant third.
"This could make the difference, because people who vote Liberal must be thinking to themselves, 'How can I vote for someone who's not going to be able to follow their conscience?'" Ambler said.
"You don't even have to be pro-life to think that — you just have to think, 'What kind of party legislates political expediency over an MP's conscience?'"
Desjardins, a chartered accountant, said she disagrees that Ambler will reap any advantage. The Conservatives have had years to take action against abortion, and haven't, she said.
"I am going to support the Charter of Rights of Freedoms," Desjardins said. "As far as I'm concerned, that is the law of this land, and I don't believe one can cherry-pick one's rights and freedoms."
In the new Ontario riding of Pickering-Uxbridge, former Liberal MP and pro-lifer Dan McTeague had also been rumoured to be considering a run again.
McTeague did not return a call for comment. Conservative MP Chisu Corneliu said the demographics of the riding, which include a significant Catholic Filipino population, suggest the Liberal policy will pose challenges for his putative rival.
"I think that a candidate who has a very open pro-life profile, he will have difficulties," said Corneliu.
The abortion issue has also been a hot topic in New Brunswick. The province's private Morgentaler clinic is closing for lack of funding. Women there must get permission from two doctors before receiving the procedure at a public hospital, and critics have said this contravenes the principle of access to health care.
Harper made a pointed reference to Trudeau's position when he was visiting the province last week, noting that his party is open to all viewpoints on the difficult issue.
Tilly O'Neill-Gordon, the Conservative MP for Miramichi, said she's been approached by church leaders and others in her riding who say they're incensed by the Liberal policy.
"I feel that (Trudeau) will have a difficult time finding someone here on the Miramichi that's going to step up and say that they're really pro-choice and don't see anything wrong with abortion," said O'Neill-Gordon.
"Miramichi is very Christian — we're fine people, we're a strong bunch of people who would never agree to abortion..."
The perception of an electoral advantage hinges on certain variables — that the abortion debate will mobilize significant numbers of voters to cast a ballot against the Liberal candidate, and that abortion would be a priority campaign issue for others.
Bob Rosehart, a former Liberal candidate who ran unsuccessfully against pro-life Conservative MP Harold Albrecht, said he does not believe abortion will be what motivates voters in Ontario's Kitchener-Waterloo area, where he says jobs and the economy are concern number 1.
A self-described Roman Catholic, Rosehart said residents of the riding likely don't want an MP to vote on such important matters based solely on the MP's own values.
"I would not look so much at my personal views or my religious views, but what do I think the people of this riding and the electorate would want?" said Rosehart, who is not running again.
"I don't think the individuals out there would want people making decisions on behalf of them as an individual woman. The best people to make decisions on women's issues are women."
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