TORONTO — One of the four candidates competing to lead Ontario's Opposition raised questions about access to abortion this week, resurrecting a political hot potato while stopping short of promising to reopen debate on the issue.
Doug Ford's statements that he would not personally revive the abortion debate but would allow those in his caucus to bring forward legislation on any matter important to them appears to be a "Hail Mary" move aimed at wooing the party's socially conservative members as the leadership race comes to a close this weekend, a political analyst said.
"This is a top-down leader and for him, on this issue, to be signalling that, hey, it's ok by him for any of his caucus members to be where they want to be on the map on this one tells me that this is a retail politics vote-getting move, pure and simple," said Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Toronto's Ryerson University.
"If he really believed it, he would say this is what he's going to deliver, and the fact that he's not prepared to say that says to me it's about appealing to a base and portion of the (Progressive) Conservative party that nobody else has, on this issue, spoken to."
In interviews with various media outlets this week, Ford suggested that as party leader he would welcome having members of his caucus table legislation that would require parental permission for abortions sought by minors.
He clarified his position Tuesday, saying that while he personally believes in "the sanctity of life," he would follow in the footsteps of the federal Conservatives by not rekindling debate on the issue.
"That being said, I will allow MPPs to draft, bring forward, and debate any legislation that is important to them," Ford said in a statement.
"The Liberals have set a dangerous and narrow-minded precedent both federally and provincially. I will never put members of my party in a position where they will have to compromise or deny their personal beliefs. I will never muzzle members of our caucus."
Issue divides rivals
While the right for patients to give or refuse consent is laid out in law, there are currently no provisions regarding parental notification, according to Ontario's medical regulator.
Physicians must determine whether a patient has the capacity to give informed consent regardless of age, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. If the patient cannot consent, then the physician must seek out a substitute decision-maker.
"A minor patient is either capable of providing informed consent to treatment or they are not," said spokeswoman Kathryn Clarke. "The usual obligation that physicians have to maintain patient confidentiality exists for minor patients who are capable of providing informed consent to treatment."
The issue seemed to divide Ford's rivals for the leadership, with only one — parental rights activist Tanya Granic Allen — saying she believes parents should be directly involved and consulted about any medical treatment proposed for their child.
"She has never discussed legislation, she just believes strongly that parents are responsible for the best interest of their children and patient-doctor confidentiality should not permit a doctor to treat a child outside the knowledge of their parent," said spokesman Mike Patton.
Former Tory legislator Christine Elliott said she wouldn't prevent party members from voting in line with their beliefs, even if they clash with hers.
"I do not support any restrictions on abortion access, but would support a free vote by party members on any issues involving matters of conscience," she said.
Caroline Mulroney's camp said the Toronto lawyer and businesswoman has been clear she has no interest in revisiting the controversial issue.
"While she respects the broad range of opinions on this issue, she would not restrict a woman's access, or criminalize her right to choose. She won't reopen this debate," said spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, said she wouldn't wade into the Tory leadership debate but said her government's position on the abortion issue has been longstanding.
"We support a woman's right to choose and that been our position for a long time," she said. "That will not change."