John McKay apologized Tuesday after the release of a secretly recorded conversation in which the Toronto MP says he initially thought the Liberal leader's edict on abortion was "a bozo eruption" — something blurted out without thinking.
On the recording, McKay says "it's even more disturbing" that Trudeau's brain trust did think the matter through and he suggests that anyone who doesn't realize the issue is "toxic" has "no political sense whatsoever."
The conversation took place after a young man took McKay aside at the end of a Liberal event Sunday and asked to speak with him privately. The man asked McKay, whose fervent opposition to abortion is well known, what he thought of Trudeau's dictum on the issue.
A recording of the conversation was subsequently given to CTV News by someone the network described as having "Conservative leanings."
"I thought this was a private conversation, I didn't know that I was being recorded and what I said was inappropriate," McKay said in an interview Tuesday.
Trudeau appeared eager to put the affair behind him, saying that McKay "apologized personally to me and, for me, the matter is closed."
Trudeau has been dogged by criticism — including from Catholic bishops — since announcing earlier this month that anyone who wants to run for the Liberal party must agree to support a woman's right to choose in any vote on abortion. Those who do not agree will not get the green light to seek a nomination.
An exception is being made for incumbent Liberal MPs, such as McKay and several others who have long opposed abortion.
"Obviously, Mr. McKay, as we all know, has very strong personal feelings on this issue and I can understand how those personal feelings might have overflowed," Trudeau said Tuesday.
"But my role as leader of the Liberal party is to make sure that Canadians know that the Liberal party will be unambiguous when it comes to standing up for women's rights."
Trudeau said he has no regrets about taking a stand, despite the controversy it has triggered.
"I think that's a good thing that people have clarity on this issue and I was glad to show leadership."
Prior to a pro-choice resolution approved at a 2012 convention, the Liberal party had always maintained abortion was a matter best left to each MPs' individual conscience. Until the party's decimation in the 2011 election, the Liberal parliamentary caucus included a relatively strong minority of anti-abortion MPs, although there are now only three or four.
Still, in the early 1990s, the party also gave its leader the power to appoint candidates, specifically because Liberals feared their party was being hijacked by single-issue anti-abortion advocates.
Trudeau has vowed not to appoint candidates but is instead using the vetting process for would-be candidates to weed out abortion opponents.
The fact that McKay's private conversation was secretly taped and used in an apparent partisan bid to embarrass Trudeau is further evidence that "our opponents are focused on me and on us while the Liberal party remains resolutely focused on Canadians," the leader maintained.
It's also a warning to all MPs in all parties of the kind of tactics they can expect their opponents to use in the digital age — tactics that may force them to be far less candid when speaking to anyone other than family and intimate friends.
"I try to the extent possible to always train myself to realize that in this day and age, when you're in public, you're in public," said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, noting that virtually everyone is armed these days with smart phones that can record video and audio and instantly transmit it.
"They're so omnipresent, I think that it's a question of prudence."
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