OTTAWA — Jane Philpott is standing by the commitment she made as a Liberal candidate to support access to abortion despite her personal beliefs.
The former cabinet minister, now running for re-election as an Independent in her suburban Toronto riding after being kicked out of the Liberal caucus in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair, said there are some issues that might cause her to vote differently from her former party should she return to Ottawa after the Oct. 21 vote.
But abortion, which she described as a right that is both protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and upheld by the courts, is not one of the issues where she plans to change her approach.
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“The commitment that I made as a Liberal not to oppose access to abortion is something that I will maintain a commitment to,” Philpott said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requires all Liberal MPs to vote with his government on matters of reproductive health, and would-be candidates for his party are asked during the nomination process whether that will be a problem.
Philpott, a Mennonite and a family doctor, said her religious belief has no bearing on what she would do as an MP.
“I have personally never been in the circumstance where I have had to make a decision like that,” said Philpott.
“If I were, my sense would be that unless there were extraordinary extenuating circumstances, that it would not be the right choice for me personally to make for myself,” she said, “but that has nothing to do with my obligations as a member of Parliament to uphold the broad rights that are well-documented for Canadians writ large.”
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The former health minister also accused the Liberals of being intentionally divisive last month by circulating a 2005 speech by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stating his opposition to same-sex marriage, especially since many Liberal MPs, including some still in the caucus, once held those views.
“I think it’s what makes Canadians so cynical about politicians,” she said.
“We should be talking about what good things we are going to do to improve the lives of Canadians, rather than finding ways to amp up divisions amongst Canadians,” she said.
Philpott also criticized the Liberals for suggesting Scheer would restrict access to abortion as prime minister.
“For Liberals in particular to politicize an issue that has to do with the choice that women make about their reproductive rights, I think is highly opportunistic and shows a focus on political expediency rather than truly respecting something that is such a serious and important personal matter for Canadians,” she said.
In Markham-Stouffville, Philpott is up against Helena Jaczek (herself a doctor and a former Ontario health minister) for the Liberals, Theodore Antony for the Conservatives and Roy Long for the Green party.
The NDP have yet to nominate their candidate in the riding.