Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Liberals are desperately trying to “change the channel” on their own controversies by releasing a video Thursday of a Toronto Tory candidate calling for laws to restrict abortion.
The edited clip, which Liberals say is from an anti-abortion event in Ottawa in 2017, features York Centre candidate Rachel Willson calling for “pro-life legislation.” In the video, Willson also calls for a “national monument to the unborn in Canada.”
Veteran Liberal MP and minister Carolyn Bennett shared the clip ahead of Scheer’s campaign event with Willson in North York. Bennett suggested Scheer’s decision to appear alongside Willson flies in the face of his claim the abortion debate won’t be revisited if the Tories form government.
Scheer, who has faced questions over his views on reproductive rights and marriage equality, told reporters a Conservative government won’t reopen the abortion debate. But, unlike the leader of the Liberals or New Democrats, Scheer also won’t prevent his backbench MPs from doing so through private member’s bills or motions.
“As prime minister... I will vote against any measure that does attempt to do that. We’re going to be focused on things that unite Canadians, unite our own team,” he said.
Willson was asked directly if she’d introduce legislation on abortion rights or support another MP who might do so. She didn’t explicitly rule it out but suggested she’d fall in line with Scheer’s direction.
“Well, we just heard from our leader and I absolutely support our leader’s position that we are focused on issues that unite Canadians,” she said.
Willson added that she’s never “hidden” that she is “pro-life,” noting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also said he was personally opposed to abortion in 2011, despite not supporting restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.
Asked if she believes she would have a free vote on bills dealing with abortion, Willson said she is grateful Scheer’s Conservatives “allow free votes on issues of moral conscience.”
Though once seen as a Liberal stronghold, York Centre was one of a handful of Toronto ridings captured by the Conservatives in the 2011 election that gave the Tories a majority. In 2015, Liberal Michael Levitt won the riding by less than 2,000 votes.
Scheer said it’s “not a surprise” Liberals keep bringing up the abortion issue and accused the party of fear-mongering.
“I’m going to make a prediction. They are going to continue to do this for 39 days because they are desperate to change the channel on their scandals and corruption,” he said.
Scheer suggested the Liberals’ attack is linked to reports that the RCMP is “looking into” possible obstruction of justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The Grit offensive comes on the same day as the first leaders’ debate in Toronto, hosted by Maclean’s and Citytv. Scheer is expected to face questions on his socially conservative voting record, including his earlier opposition to gay marriage. But he won’t face those questions from Trudeau, who is skipping the event.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has already ruled out propping up a Tory government in a minority Parliament because of what he called Scheer’s “disgusting prejudice against LGBTQI2S+ people and families.”
Watch: Scheer says a Tory government won’t reopen debates on abortion, gay marriage