P.E.I. MPs divided on Trudeau’s abortion stand

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Federal MPs Lawrence MacAulay, left, and Wayne Easter deliver objections to EI changes during a provincial standing committee meeting packed in Souris Wednesday night. At right is standing committee member Paula Biggar.

Prince Edward Island MPs appear to be divided on federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s controversial pro-choice abortion policy for party candidates.

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said he was surprised his leader came out with the announcement last week that all candidates who run for the Liberal nomination in the 2015 federal election campaign must support the Liberal party’s pro-choice stance.

“I was quite surprised, but that’s what happened in a public statement and it is the party policy,” Easter said.

“I’m just hopeful that it doesn’t narrow the breadth of opinion that is within our party on the various issues, because we do need that wide open discussion as a party on this and many other issues.”

Easter is personally pro-choice, but he says he believes the policy would not preclude candidates from running who may personally disagree on the issue.

“It’s not my understanding that a person who is pro-life couldn’t run for the party, but what they’re asking is that they confirm that if the issue was to come to a vote, then they would support that party policy in the House of Commons,” Easter said.

In the past, these kinds of votes-of-conscious have not usually been whipped.

In 2012, a motion many believed was a thinly veiled attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Ottawa made it to the House of Commons. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper has remained firm he is not interested in reopening this debate, he allowed the vote on the motion to be a free one.

Harper voted against it, but several members of his own cabinet minister voted in favour of creating a parliamentary committee to review the Criminal Code’s definition of when life begins including Egmont MP and federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

Easter said he recognizes these kinds of votes have been free in the past, but future votes on abortion issues will now be whipped within the Liberal caucus because the party voted to adopt a pro-choice stance at its 2012 policy convention.

“Also it is ruled that way by the courts,” Easter said.

“Even if the House of Commons was to pass a law going in the other direction, it would be ruled as against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so I think it’s just confirming the reality out there.”

Some Liberal MPs are now finding themselves in an awkward position. While Trudeau did provide a grandfathering-in caveat for elected MPs who are not pro-choice, pro-lifers like Charlottetown MP Sean Casey are still left with a difficult decision.

They must vote with the party, even if they personally disagree with the policy.

“I have openly expressed my personal struggle with this issue in the past, but as in the past, I’ve decided that my personal views should not come first,” Casey said in a statement to The Guardian.

“Parliament has spoken on the matter, as have the courts. Beyond that, my constituents have made their feelings known to me, and the majority do not want this debate re-opened.”

Casey said he realizes some may view this as a compromise of his beliefs, but he says those kinds of judgments are “between me and my faith.”

“It’s important to understand that the overall intention of the policy is to avoid efforts by some MPs who seek, on an ongoing basis, to reopen this very divisive and deeply personal issue, which our Supreme Courts have thoroughly and carefully considered and subsequently ruled on,” Casey added.

Repeated attempts to reach Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay for comment on this story were left unanswered.

In an emailed statement to The Guardian this week, Shea criticized Trudeau over the policy, stating she is proud to belong to a party “running fair and open nominations.”

“After Justin Trudeau’s reckless position on marijuana legalization and now rejecting any potential candidates that respect the sanctity of life, I think we all have cause for concerns about his judgment.”

Organizations: House of Commons, Rights

Geographic location: Ottawa

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