By any yardstick one might care to use, Lawrence MacAulay is one of the country’s most successful politicians.
Right now, he is the second longest serving MP in the House of Commons – only Louis Plamandon of the Bloc Quebecois has been around longer and just by a few months. Last November, Lawrence celebrated his 25th anniversary as the Member of Parliament for Cardigan. Yet, there is a very good chance that, if he were just beginning his political career in the next election, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would tell him to get lost, instead of going to a barbeque on his farm like he did last summer.
The reason? Trudeau is mandating that any new candidates who carry the Liberal banner in next year’s election be prepared to vote pro-choice on the abortion issue should the matter come to a vote in the Commons. He did give sitting MPs a pass on the vetting process and MacAulay mistakenly assumed that would allow him to vote pro-life should the matter come up.
That is the course of action he has followed before. Trudeau’s staff quickly clarified MacAulay would have to toe the line on a party vote. The veteran MP agreed publically and, in response, St. Joachim’s Roman Catholic Church in Vernon River cancelled the booking for his nomination meeting at the last minute.
It still remains a mystery why Trudeau enacted the policy in the first place. Even Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, who is pro-choice, seems to be baffled. He pointed out quite correctly in a radio interview that debates on abortion are rare in the House of Commons.
They are rare because MPs from all parties have strong personal feelings on the issue. The standard policy has been to allow MPs a free vote on the issue, unless it is a matter of government policy, and then cabinet ministers must toe the line.
Abortion is legal in Canada and has been for some time. Its legitimacy has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. There are no votes planned on the issue in the immediate future and there is a very good possibility that, regardless of who wins the next federal election, there might not be a vote on abortion during that mandate.
Trudeau has shown a level of political immaturity by splitting his party trying to plan for an eventuality unlikely to happen. In the event a vote did occur, he could whip the MP’s around to his way of thinking then—why divide your party if you don’t have to?
Maybe there is some Liberal right now that has an electability factor that could rival Lawrence but they are put off by Trudeau’s edict. As for Lawrence, it would be a mistake for any of his opponents to think the issue would have enough traction to cause him any long-term political damage. You don’t stay in politics for over 25 years without knowing how to smooth some ruffled feathers.
Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator.