Motion 312 and reproductive rights: pay attention to what Tories do, not to what they say

What? What? I’m pro-choice and pro-life, Edmonton St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber seems to say in this shot grabbed from his website. Below: Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth.

In this era of routine political deceit, wise voters are advised to pay attention to what their elected representatives actually do, not what they say.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada tries to have it both ways on abortion in the debate surrounding Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312, which would have Parliament “study” the point at which a baby becomes a human being, this strategy should be seen for what it is: an effort to chip away at women’s reproductive rights through the Parliamentary back door.

Tory heavy Jason Kenney says he’s voting for it. Prime Minster Harper says he’ll vote against it. But by allowing the vote to proceed later today they are tossing a hunk of red meat to their hard-right social conservative base, which would ban abortion outright in a moment if it ever got the chance.

So even though the motion will likely be defeated – for the time being – they are keeping the issue on the front burner and providing the foes of reproductive choice with opportunities to organize, raise money and generate publicity for their cause. Count on it that they also see a continuing fund-raising opportunity for themselves in this tactic.

But no matter how calculatedly they split their votes, the Harperites really can’t be everybody’s good buddy on this one, as the party’s official caucus blogger, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, seemed to be trying to do in a jaw-dropping post on his Parliamentary website yesterday.

“I have come to the conclusion after years of deliberation and inner debate that I am both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life,” Mr. Rathgeber wrote. (Emphasis added.) “That does not make me bi-polar; it means that this matter extremely complicated, with multiple methods of examination, resulting in potentially polarizing conclusions.”

While it is indeed true this statement does not provide any evidence Mr. Rathgeber is bi-polar, what it does mean is that he’d really like to keep everyone voting for him and his party despite taking action on one side of an issue that is as polarizing in his riding as it is across Canada.

So it’s what Mr. Rathgeber does, and not what he says, that really matters.

And what he’s going to do today, as he stated elsewhere in the blog, is to vote for Mr. Woodworth’s motion, the intention of which is obviously to tighten the screws on women’s right to reproductive choice.

Mr. Rathgeber can try to justify his vote as he wishes, but he’s taking a stand against reproductive choice. Period. No excuses. No opportunity for appeal.

Yet try he does, at length: “A void exists in Canadian law regarding this issue; Canadians are perhaps unique among western democracies in that we have neither sanctions nor regulations approving abortion or the rights of fetuses,” Mr. Rathgeber bloviates. “The void in Canadian law means there are currently NO LEGAL restrictions regulating the process.  Theoretically, a very late term procedure, if performed, would not attract criminal sanction. …”

“Accordingly, given how divisive this issue is, I concede that if the matter were settled, it ought to remain so.  ….  So Parliament must do what the Supreme Court invited it to do in 1988: fill a vacuity in Canadian law, no matter how divisive and polarizing that debate will be.” Yadda-yadda.

In this way, Mr. Rathgeber – and by extension, the entire Conservative Party for which he so frequently speaks, even those parts of it that allow the vote and then say Nay – tries to pass off his action to suppress the rights of all women as just a matter of procedural consistency.

Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt!

A nice analytical hint about the Tories’ real motives is contained in Mr. Rathgeber’s previous blog post, about the death of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, in which the MP laments the decline in the quality of Parliamentary debate from a (largely imagined) golden age of substantial ideas to a contemporary one of fleeting and insubstantial sound-bites.

“Today, we live in the era of the seven-second sound-bite and reaction to the story becomes the next story. … Fulsome debate does not lend itself to the seven-second sound-bite,” Mr. Rathgeber moans, as if it was the other guys responsible for this. “It was policy, not spin, that interested Premier Lougheed.”

Unfortunately – for all of us – it’s nothing but blatant spin that interests Mr. Rathgeber, Mr. Kenney, Mr. Harper and all the rest of the Parliamentary Conservative caucus on this particular issue.

But it really boils down to something as simple as this: no matter what they tell you, if you’re concerned about women’s rights, you’re foolish to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

12 Comments on "Motion 312 and reproductive rights: pay attention to what Tories do, not to what they say"

  1. Kathleen Smith says:

    David, for the first time since I began reading your articles, I must disagree with you.

    As is required for all private member bills, Mr. Woodworth’s Private Member’s Motion 312 went before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs’ subcommittee on private members’ business. There is a strict set of guidelines on what makes such a motion “votable” and members of the committee are held to those guidelines, whether they like it or not. Further, regardless of how Harper or his government view the motion, they are bound by procedures of Parliament. The subcommittee is a non-partisan convention, made up of members from all parties. The Harper Government has no control over this committee. It was this committee that decided the motion was “votable”, simply because they were bound by the procedures and regulations set forth in the guidelines. That committee consisted of members from ALL parties and the ALL found the motion to be votable.

    When the motion first came to the floor, both Harper AND the CPC Party Whip not only decried the motion, they specifically stated that all CPC members should vote against the motion. It’s interesting to note that other federal party leaders advised their members to vote with their conscience and did not advise them to vote against the motion.

    In the meantime, the liberal media (and it’s very difficult for me to state this, being a supporter of the LPC myself) has seized this opportunity to go after something he did everything in his power to keep from happening. He wouldn’t allow the motion to come forth from a party member, so Woodworth when rogue. He didn’t want it passing through the subcommittee, but he had no control over that and so it happened. He has advised his entire party that he expects them to vote against it. What else is supposed to do?

    Finally, what is being ignored in all of this is the fact that Harper is, at his roots a Libertarian. His Libertarian philosophy has been glaringly evident via his actions as Prime Minister. I make no comment on the good nor the evil of his philosophy, but I would remind you that Harper has been firm on his word to not reopen this issue and has done everything within his power to stay true to that word. If Harper wanted this issue to be readdressed, make no doubt he would’ve already done so. It’s obvious from all of the other bills he has managed to pass that he really is not all that concerned with what Canadian citizens think of his vision of this country.

    David, I would strongly urge you to research what actually has taken place when it comes to Motion 312. There is nothing that bothers me more than being in a position wherein I feel forced to defend Harper, but this time Harper didn’t encourage a devilish deed. One member went rogue and started this tornado all on his own.

  2. Tom in Ontario says:

    There was a time long ago when Tories in Ontario were ruled under the mighty hand of Mike Harris. In his cabinet were strong arms like Baird, Clement, Flaherty. Like their federal counterparts today they had a wild bunch of pro-lifers chomping at the bit to have an abortion “debate” the goal of which was, at the very least, to have paid for abortions taken off the list of procedures covered by provincial health insurance.

    Harris was too smart. At no time did he ever broach the subject publicly and nothing was ever done. Likewise, he left gays strictly alone, never alienating them of their votes. Voila! Back to back majorities. Harper, if he listens to his Ontario boys, will take the same approach. Let the womens’ rights neanderthals have their debates and shouting matches, nothing will happen. He has too may female supporters to allow the crazies in his party to wreck his electoral chances in 2015.

  3. Alex P says:

    Please allow me to share what I just sent to my MP.

    Dear Minister Ambrose,

    This argument is not about about whether life begins at birth, conception, or with a bottle of wine. It’s about prime minister Wile E Coyote discovering a wedge issue so sharp it can separate a woman from her uterus passenger. Or at least shore up some tiny part of the political base.

    It would be much more comfortable for some if the universe wasn’t messy like women’s bodies, and instead was orderly like our prime minister’s trademark Stable Conservative Majority hairstyle. Until then, I will keep relating this story:

    The Dominican Republic’s church-inspired ban on all abortions has cost the life of a pregnant 16-year-old according to her mother, Rosa Hernandez. The teen, who suffered from leukemia, was unable to undergo life-saving chemotherapy until it was too late. The DR’s ban prevented a therapeutic abortion of the 13 week fetus as doctors were unwilling to make an exception.

    Continue reading at… http://goo.gl/CrxWj

    This government abandoned women in the third world and is now intent on abandoning them at home. All for a tiny electoral advantage. As for the opening question, lets just agree to disagree. We can compromise on “life begins when you’re old enough to buy a gun.”

    This, I assume, will get my house egged.

    • Rob Rheaume says:

      Alex, if this is the letter, you wrote to a Member of Parliament, I wouldn’t read it. In fact I never finished the first paragraph. Where I come from, you treat people the way you would expect to be treated. I will finish reading your comment after I submit this one. I am pro-choice but I have to say, I don’t have a no-zero policy. Considering this is work you have completed, I will give you a grade, 10%

  4. ronmac says:

    I’m pro-choice and pro-life…! Lol! How can he be both? Just who does this Rathberger character think he is? A Liberal!

    In all seriousness this when-does-life-begin debate is the Death Valley of politics. You can`t blame politicians for not wanting to touch this. It’s a no-win situation.

    But if we can’t decide when life begins we can determine when it ends. Simple. The moment somebody steps into the voting booth and votes Wild Rose is grounds for being declared legally brain dead. Lol again.

  5. Martin E says:

    I find it both telling and quite sad that the “progressive” position on this issue is an attempt to shut down or stifle any real discussion or debate on the subject. In fact, there seems to be a very conscious effort on the part of Climenhaga and other self-styled “progressives” to render abortion a taboo subject (and the person who brings it up a pariah) unless, of course, it is being discussed in terms of absolute, unqualified support for the procedure. No sign of the usual “progressive” posturing about appreciating nuance, encouraging public debate for better policy decisions, or respect for MPs who aren’t moving in lockstep with their parties. If this smear piece (oh, pardon me, “award-winning journalism” TM) represents Climenhaga’s best comment on the issue, maybe it would be better if he just focused on his karate instead. On second thought, although the piece will be applauded by its ideological fellow travelers, its inherent hypocrisy, simmering hostility and hint of desperation (or is it hysteria?) will likely be off putting to many others, and in that sense, I’m glad that it has been posted.

    • anne Wilson says:

      Ugh, scare quotes. Progressives support choice, not abortion only. Calling out the Tories for hypocrisy isn’t an attempt to shut down debate.

      Kathleen, do you really think the one member went rogue? I think he was given tacit approval by Harper and the PMO to bring up an item for the Tories’ base. Harper can vote against it so the non-base voters don’t get scared. Strategic, and disgraceful.

    • Rob Rheaume says:

      I think it was a victory for democracy, this vote. It wasn’t a victory for the pro-life but their voice is just as important to be heard as the pro-choice. Its absurd that people are now calling for the resignation of Rona Ambrose. I have read several accounts of people who are pleased with her performance in Status of Women’s portfolio.

      Today, she stood up and defended her choice. Quite alarming that this was the first question posed to her in a year. So if men and women Members of Parliament were so concerned with the Department for Status for Women, why no questions until they go into attack mode today?

      I don’t see those who voted YES going on a witch hunt for the 100 NDP MPs who all voted NO? They all voted NO? I wonder if later on, some will slip and admit they wanted to vote their conscience but Thomas Mulcair had other ideas.

      Harper is a smart man though. Whether he takes the Cons into the next election or another leader, he is putting all these social issues to rest early in his term. By the time 2015 comes around, Harper or his replacement can run on their economic record, provided things hold up. They might just get another majority if they play their cards right. Gay rights are done, abortion is now done. A few more issues put to rest and the NDP don’t have a plank cause the Conservatives aren’t bringing controversial issues back. But the 50% who voted Yes and the 50% who voted NO, give Harper the opportunity to explain to Canadians, they had a free vote and he doesn’t have to whip his folks. The Cons went 50/50 on this vote, and he used the NDP and Liberal votes (the NO votes) to lend credibility that the House of Commons is not pinned under the Harper Regime.

  6. Ken says:

    In this context, a woman has a right to control her own body. It is a right which may not be abridged, no matter how many people think it should be, or how many people find the consequences disagreeable. Those MPs who are voting their so called conscience on the issue are displaying a monstrous egotism.

    Like everyone, MPs have every right to their own thoughts and opinions on the subject, but they have no right to impose those opinions on the rest of us by voting to impose a particular religious view point on the rest of us through Parliament. We have been there and done that. It was called the “dark ages.”

    This is an affront which undermines social harmony. If anyone ever needed evidence these Harper Cons are not at all Conservative, this is it.

  7. david says:

    Who voted for Motion 312?

    Motion 312, the attempt to reintroduce controls on reproductive choice via the Parliamentary back door, was defeated yesterday evening, 91 to 203.

    Most of the MPs who voter for it were Conservatives, aided and abetted by a few Liberals and Edmonton’s “Independent Conservative.” This list was grabbed from an anti-choice site.

    Conservatives who voted for Motion 312:

    Alice Wong, Barry Devolin, Ben Lobb, Bev Shipley, Brian Jean, Blaine Calkins, Bob Zimmer, Brad Trost, Brent Rathgeber, Brian Storseth, Bryan Hayes, Candice Bergen, Cheryl Gallant, Chris Warkentin, Chuck Strahl, Colin Carrie, Colin Mayes, Dave Van Kesteren, David Anderson, David Sweet, Dean Allison, Dean Del Mastro, Diane Ablonczy, Earl Dreeshen, Ed Fast, Ed Komarnicki, Gail Shea, Garry Brietkreuz, Gerry Ritz, Gordon Brown, Guy Lauzon, Harold Albrecht, James Bezan, James Lunney, James Moore, James Rajotte, Jason Kenney, Jeff Watson, Jim Hillyer, John Westen, John Williamson, Julian Fantino, Kelly Block, Kevin Sorenson, Kyle Seeback, Larry Miller, Laurie Hawn, Lavar Payne, Lawrence Toet, Leon Benoit, Mark Warwara, Maurice Vellacott, Merv Tweed, Michael Chong, Mike Allen, Mike Lake, Nina Grewal, Patricia Davidson, Patrick Brown, Peter Panashue, Peter Van Loan, Phil McColeman, Pierre Lemieux, Pierre Poilievrel, Randy Kamp, Ray Boughen, Richard Harris, Rick Norlock, Rob Anders, Rob Clarke, Rob Merrifield, Rod Bruinooge, Rodney Westen, Ron Cannan, Rona Ambrose, Roxanne James, Royal Galipeau, Russ Hiebert, Stella Ambler,
    Stephen Woodworth, Ted Opitz, Terence Young, Tilly O’Neil Gordon, Tom Lukiwiski, Wladyskaw Lizin

    Liberals who voted for Motion 312:

    Jim Karrygiannis, Kevin Lamoureaux, Lawrence MacAulay, John McKay

    Independent who voted for Motion 312:

    Peter Goldring

  8. Gavin says:

    Cowards, who voted against this bill. Cowards who support infanticide and masquerade it under womens rights – https://www.google.ca/search?num=10&hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1440&bih=755&q=abortion&oq=abortion&gs_l=img.3..0l10.1841.3015.0.3785.8.6.0.2.2.0.77.429.6.6.0…0.0…1ac.1.rMs1cSVW6dM, if that is not murder, God help us

    • Hands off my uterus says:

      Gavin, I presume from your name that you are not a woman, ergo, you do not have a uterus nor a valued opinion on this issue. Until you get a uterus, you can respect a woman’s right to choose and shut your trap. Oh and no, it’s not murder, considering a fetus cannot survive outside a woman until the third trimester.

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