Kelly McParland: New open and inclusive Trudeau Liberal party welcomes all beliefs that match its own

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper sharpened his message on abortion Thursday, saying political parties have no business trying to “impose” a position on politicians when it comes to matters of morality and personal faith.

Harper was reacting to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s statement this week that all of the party’s MPs — including existing members of caucus — must vote pro-choice if the abortion issue arises in the next Parliament.

The prime minister’s reaction went beyond previous statements in which he promised the Conservative party would respect people with a range of “deeply held views.”

In slapping down Lawrence MacAulay, a Prince Edward Island MP and former solicitor general, the  Liberal leader made clear that when he made his original remarks on abortion, he actually meant something entirely different.

For instance, when he said he  respected the right of MPs to have differing views, he meant he respected it only to the extent they were willing to vote against those views. And when he said current pro-life MPs would be grandfathered “to a certain extent,” he meant “to no extent.”

Mr. MacAulay discovered this when he told his local newspaper, The Guardian, that despite Mr. Trudeau’s edict, he intended to continue voting  as his conscience sees fit.

“He’s indicated that I can vote whatever way I choose. I’m, I guess, what you call grandfathered,” MacAulay said last week, adding that he is ‘pro-life all the way through.’

“I have done and voted the way that I wish to vote and will continue to do so.”

Soon afterwards, one of Mr. Trudeau’s aides disabused Mr. MacAulay of this belief.  In saying MPs would be “grandfathered”, all he meant was that since sitting MPs had already been elected, there was little the party could do about denying them the right to run as Liberals. What he didn’t mean was that they could stick to their beliefs.

“The policy going forward is that every single Liberal MP will be expected to stand up for women’s rights to choose,”Trudeau said, no matter how they may feel about taking the lives of unborn children.
Mr. MacAulay is clearly a quick study, and signaled his willingness to subvert his own deeply-held beliefs to whatever the party leader ordered.
“Despite my personal beliefs, I understand that I will have to vote the party position should this issue ever come up in the House of Commons,” he said in a subsequent statement, released via Twitter.
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This says something about Mr. MacAulay, who evidently puts his party above his own beliefs, is willing to say so in public, and is willing to cast a vote against his own convictions even on an issue as fundamental as the ending of life.

Politics is not absolutist, and the need for compromise is part of the game. But compromising about Wheat Board policy or the choice for the next lobbying commissioner is one thing, compromising on a personally held belief that involves the taking of life is something more serious. Mr. Trudeau is saying that the Liberal party under his direction views no conviction is so sacred that it can’t be thrown over because the party dictates it. Mr. MacAulay is shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Gee, if you say so.”

Canadians might want to remember this when the next election comes around. Those PEI voters who supported Mr. MacAulay in the belief he was sincere about his views now know otherwise. Pro-life voters who backed him in the past, have been made aware that to do so again means subordinating their own beliefs to Liberal party requirements. And unlike Mr. MacAulay, they won’t get a pension out of it.

Canadians at large can see just how empty is the new Liberal claim to be the defender of open, inclusive government. Mr. Trudeau, it appears, is open to MPs holding any and all controversial views, as long as they accord with his own, or are willing to vote as such.  The joy Liberals get in depicting Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a manipulative bully yanking on the strings of backbenchers must be diluted somewhat by learning that their young leader is, if anything, even less inclined to tolerate dissent. Mr. Harper, despite his own abortion views, has made no effort to alter the laws, or to silence Conservative MPs who would like to see the file made more active.

Mr. Trudeau’s clarification means Canadians who feel some restrictions on abortion are justified – even if just to ban the practice of sex-selection procedures – are viewed with suspicion in the Liberal party. It means MPs are on notice that they are free to their opinions, as long as they’re willing to abandon them when required.  It means that the Liberal claim to a greater respect for openness and honesty is just so much hot air.

It’s just as well Mr. Trudeau made all this clear.  Now we know.
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