09/18/2014 10:46 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:58 EDT

Trudeau's Abortion Stance Is 'Undemocratic,' Former Liberal MPs Say

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Canadian Parliament Liberal Party member Justin Trudeau participates in a panel discussion during a conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress in the Astor Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel October 24, 2013 in Washington, DC. Co-founded by former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff John Podesta, the liberal public policy research and advocacy organization is a think tank that rivals conservative policy groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

OTTAWA — Seven former Liberal MPs are calling on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to reverse his “dictatorial” stand on abortion and allow his caucus to speak and vote freely on the issue.

In an open letter released Thursday, the social conservative MPs who were elected in the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s say Trudeau’s position of rejecting any potential candidate who would support anti-abortion legislation is undemocratic, discriminatory, unconstitutional and a break with party tradition.

“If your order is not rescinded, it will stand as a precedent for you, and future Liberal Leaders, to issue similar edicts on other moral issues,” the group writes.

“If the Leader can ban people from running for the party because they are opposed to abortion, then why not because they advocate euthanasia, or agree with human cloning, or are opposed to either or both these concepts? Where does one draw the line?”

Trudeau responded to the subject on Twitter:

In an interview with the Huffington Post Canada, signatory Pat O’Brien said the Liberals under Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had been a big-tent party of many divergent views. Strong anti-abortion caucus members sat side-by-side with colleagues who supported abortion rights, he said.

“They co-existed because they all had a right to have their own opinion within that party,” O’Brien said. “That door has now been slammed by Mr. Trudeau. He wants groupthink, and only groupthink.”

O’Brien, who quit the Grit caucus over the issue of same-sex marriage and is not a current Liberal party member, said he hopes Trudeau will be a “big enough man” to see his error and correct it.

“[This] flies in the face of everything the Liberal party always stood for,” he said. “There needs to be some pushback from within the party. There are many Canadians who traditionally supported the Liberal party, and I think that they are very seriously considering whether they can do that now.”

O’Brien said he believes the Grits will alienate ethnic communities, regular church attendees and pro-family type people and hurt the Liberals’ chances of forming a government after the 2015 election.

“He may have calculated that and be prepared to write that off, but that’s his decision.”

Trudeau's spokeswoman, Kate Purchase, told HuffPost that women's rights are long-held Liberal values that the party will not back down from.

“Anyone is entitled to hold their own personal views, but Canadians deserve to know that when they vote Liberal they will get an MP who will vote to defend women's rights in the House,” she wrote in an email.

Over 90 per cent of delegates at the Liberals 2012 convention voted in defense of a woman’s right to choose, she added. “That’s democracy in action – I don’t see how you can charge that as undemocratic.”

Former Liberal MP Tom Wappel, who has worked with the anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition and also signed the letter, told HuffPost convention votes are “hardly democracy” because there are only a few thousand delegates, few of whom show up to vote on a Sunday morning after a night of partying.

Trudeau is turning the Liberal party into “NDP-light,” Wappel charged.

He encouraged social conservatives currently in the caucus, such as John McKay and Lawrence MacAulay, to sit as independents.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides everybody the freedom of conscience and the right to free speech, expression and thought and “that includes Liberal members of Parliament in my view,” Wappel said.

“Be wary,” he said as a message to his former colleagues. “If your right to vote your conscience is taken away on one issue, it can be taken away on all issues.”

The open letter sent Thursday was signed by former MPs Garnet Bloomfield, Murray Calder, Rex Crawford, John O’Reilly, Janko Peric as well as Wappel and O’Brien.

Every one of them, at one point or another, voted against extending rights to same sex couples. Bloomfield ran for the Reform Party in 1997 and the Canadian Alliance in 2000.

Wappel said the group had approached several other former Liberal MPs but many were unwilling to sign the letter.

Read the full open letter below:

Dear Mr. Trudeau;

We, the undersigned, former Liberal Members of Parliament, are concerned about your recent pronouncement that people who hold a particular view on a given moral issue, as a matter of conscience, cannot be Liberal candidates for the position of M.P. unless they agree to park their consciences at the entrance to the House of Commons and vote directly opposite to their fundamental beliefs, as directed by you. We believe your undemocratic position will alienate many voters who have, in the past, voted Liberal. We ask that you rescind your decision, for at least the following reasons.

First, the firm position of all previous Liberal Leaders, including Pierre E. Trudeau, has been that, on moral issues, Liberal Members of Parliament were able to vote according to their respective consciences. This clear and consistent position served the Party well, as witnessed by the number of years the Liberal Party was the Government in the 20th century. For you to fully reverse this wise,

long held position of all your predecessors, without any cogent reason, legal or otherwise, has the potential to alienate many former Liberal voters.

Second, since your edict singles out the issue of being opposed to abortion, but only that issue, it clearly discriminates against a select class of people, namely those who oppose abortion, and no one else, such as those who might oppose, or be in favour of, say, assisted suicide. We believe that such discrimination is a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2 (a) which guarantees everyone, even Liberal Members of Parliament, “freedom of conscience“, and (b), which guarantees everyone, even Liberal Members of Parliament, “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”.

Third, your pronouncement deprives the members of local Liberal Riding Associations from nominating for election, anyone who is pro-life, and, by logical extension, anyone who has firm personal beliefs on any issue that differs from Party policy as imposed by you. This clearly negates your promise that Liberal nominations will be fair, open and democratic.

Finally, if your order is not rescinded, it will stand as a precedent for you, and future Liberal Leaders, to issue similar edicts on other moral issues, such as being either for or against assisted suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, animal/human genetic splicing/mixing and many such issues which we cannot even imagine today, but which may develop as our technological knowledge increases at an ever more rapid pace. After all, if the Leader can ban people from running for the Party because they are opposed to abortion, then why not because they advocate euthanasia, or agree with human cloning, or are opposed to either or both these concepts? Where does one draw the line?

As Liberal leader, we urge you to return to democratic principles and sensible Party tradition and rescind your ban on people who hold a particular moral belief, from running for the Party, unless they agree to do exactly as demanded by you. How can such a discriminatory policy serve the democratic ideals of our great nation?


Garnet Bloomfield

London-Middlesex (1980-1984)

Murray Calder

Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey (1993-2004)

Rex Crawford

Kent (1988-1997)

Pat O’Brien

London-Fanshawe (1993-2006)

John O’Reilly

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock (1993-2004)

Janko Peric

Cambridge (1993-2004)

Tom Wappel

Scarborough Southwest (1988-2008)