Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gun, Meet Foot - LPC Abortion Policy Edition

Yeah, its time to comment on this, unfortunately.

I have held back (mostly) from commenting on the "nuanced" decision by Justin Trudeau to tell all future Liberal Party MPs that, no matter what their stance on abortion, they must vote along pro-choice lines in the House of Commons - the exception being current caucus members who are anti-choice, such as Judry Sgro or Kevin Lamoureux, who are grandfathered in or something.

Well, what can you say to all that? Its a complicated, nuanced position that allows JT and the Liberals to say they're totally pro-choice even though, technically, not every member of caucus will be. It also derails literally years of work on the part of grassroots and caucus members to ensure that our big tent stays big, not to mention running counter to JT's own self-image as a breath of fresh air who wants open votes, transparency, reduction in PMO powers, kittens, rainbows, and other fluffy sounding things. It is, one could argue, hypocritical.

But hey, I've been around long enough to know how the game is played. We announce this decision now, win some support, lose some support, all's forgotten by next month and the worst we end up is even. It isn't as if this is a terribly controversial move anyways; green-light committees probably screen for views on social issues to begin with, and most serious anti-choice candidates aren't going to shack up with the LPC, this isn't 1988. What will this really affect, right?

Apparently the answer is "more than you think." While the issue will indeed smolder out eventually, and the media will move on, one can say it could cause irreparable harm to the brand, JT's in particular. We have MPs being recorded ranting about the decision (thanks, John), former MPs bashing the decision (Jimmy K and, hot off the presses, Martha Hall Findlay), and many questioning whether this was the right time or even the right decision. Not for no reason, either; many may not want to admit it, but those on the other side of the abortion argument deserve their say, even within our Party where they'll be vastly outnumbered - they still deserve a voice. (Personally I would prefer to have the debate, and defeat the regularly invalid and illogical anti-choice arguments that get presented, than not have it at all.)

It may just be a little pinprick in the grand scheme of things, but you know the old saying, "death by the thousand cuts." A narrative is starting to build around the little gaffes here and there that JT makes, calling into question his judgment, and whether he's right or wrong doesn't matter. Combine that image with the idea of Liberals walking back the tough talk we've had against the centralized control of Party, Caucus, and Parliament with decisions like these and, well, you can figure it out.

Maybe this is better to get out of the way now. Or maybe there is never a good time to do this. Guess we'll find out soon enough, right?


  1. Oh brother! Still at it? I may end up doing a post at my place just to illustrate the continued stupidity of this non-story.

    Jimmy K & Martha Hall Findlay are gone bye-bye. They left for other things. They should tend to their respective projects.

    As for John McKay et al, they can join the Conservatives if they're really displeased. In fact, if it is as big a deal as the media and the punditry make it for those above mentioned folks, why haven't they crossed to the Conservatives already? Or, at the very least, sit as independents?

    It's about time a leader of the Liberal party made this stance. From my own conversations with many people, in particular, women, many have come out and said they would never vote Liberal due to anti-choice candidates. If anything, this new edict helps them.

    As for this whole "big tent" myth, well, maybe shrinking it wouldn't be such a bad thing. After all, previous leaders tried the big tent approach and as we've seen,it's failed miserably. Harper and the conservatives, on the other hand, probably have the smallest tent party yet they won a majority last election and are likely to do so again (Im predicting an early snap election, called, say, for shortly after Labour Day -- but that's another discussion for another time).

    Another reason I find this story that won't die so annoying is that Thomas Mulcair and the NDP had already issued the same pro-choice edict for their party members yet no one makes hay of that. Are you going to tell me there have never ever been anti-choice Dippers? (Tony Martin [could have that name wrong] and Bev Desjarlais spring to mind).

    This is a good thing and the timing couldn't be better. Not with Conservatives spewing out private members bills and such. Don't kid yourselves, Harper is as anti-choice as many of his underlings. Harper may have "promised" to not change abortion laws, but he is attempting, by letting his so-Con backbenchers loose with those private members' bills. Eventually the frog could be cooked.

    1. I agree with much of this sentiment, although I'm more wary that comments from McKay et al. are more so damaging because it sends across a message of Liberal infighting...

      In terms of the policy itself, however, I doubt it will change much. Eric Grenier (from ThreeHundredEight.com) has a good analysis of the political impact of the policy here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/08/justin-trudeau-pro-choice_n_5290683.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

    2. CK,

      I think you should do your own post on this, I always enjoy your stuff so please do!

      As for the rest of what you're saying... I actually tend to agree sort of with the sentiment that maybe "shrinking the tent" isn't such a bad idea. The problem is where that line is drawn (and, personally, I don't mind it being drawn over abortion, SSM, or other social issues), because we're dealing with a situation where we are the third party, and if we want to not be the third party we need to ensure we're open enough to allow other supporters in. Its not a coincidence that the NDP started gaining in popularity the more open they were on certain issues, even if those issues contradicted fundamental or majority beliefs within the party.

      Besides, we have knotted ourselves over and over in an attempt to open up the party - think the Supporters category, plus battles here and there against pillboxed riding associations. Its entirely possible to say what Liberals support but also be open, and I am of the general opinion that saying we support pro-choice views is fairly harmless... but, as much of a slippery slope fallacy that this is, we do need to be careful. At what point do we draw the line around so much we look like a red carbon copy of the Cons and their intra-party dictatorship?

      But, as I said feel free to write up a post - I would not mind my assuaging my concerns!


      I remember that article, and I think Eric's right in that the policy won't really affect people on the issue of abortion rights - but he doesn't make mention of the narrative of JT being Harper-lite by dictating what his party can and can't say. That's the thing I'm worried about.

  2. Bev was antisame sex marriage not antiabortion and that's why she ended up getting penalized and then defeated for the nomination by the wonderful Nikki Ashton.

    The reason its not a problem for the NDP is that the NDP hasn't had an antichoice cacus since the 80's. The NDP has run a few candiates that are antiabortion in thier hearts, but they respect party policy. There is no great rift in the NDP over this, while the Liberal Party does have the major rift.

    It also doesn't help that Trudeau made open nominations central to his compact with his party and would be voters, and along with pot the centrepiece of his promises, so breaking it alreadyin record time would have blow back.

  3. I think on this matter I side with ck. I don't think the Liberal brand is taking the hit some insiders think it will from this, because the Liberal brand as the centrist big tent party is still true especially when compared to the ideological constraints imposed by the Harper CPC and NDP respectively. Part of the Liberal problem over the past decade is that it was seen as lacking any core principles aside from wanting power, well this decision helps with that, and it should help restore some credibility on the left flank of the party, especially at a time when the NDP has been causing some within its ranks of soft voters (as opposed to the hard core partisans) to question how truly committed to their old principles. It also increases the Liberal appeal as being pro-woman by finally going all-in on lets face it a policy they should have been whole hog in front of all along.

    As to the argument about how this contradicts open nominations, I don't agree with that POV. Any party that does not set certain basic policy positions that representatives will be required to follow is just begging to be taken over by single issue groups of one sort or another, or worse becomes such an unwieldy conglomerate that it loses too much appeal. I also think the free speech argument while important does NOT trump the importance of the right of women to control their own bodies. The most basic human right of all is the right to control your own body after all, not free speech, not freedom of socialization, but freedom to decide for yourself what happens to your own body, all other rights start from there in my view.

    Trudeau is clearly still making some mistakes, but far less than what most people expected given his clear inexperience going into this. Overall he is still coming off as a figure who inspires hope of love of country instead of breeds fear, and I strongly suspect that the electorate is getting very tired of the fear campaigns and wants someone who gives them "the vision thing", especially a positive one, and on that front Trudeau is by far and away best suited for that role. The NDP under Mulcair are not able to inspire in that way, not like they could with Layton at the helm, and having a leader who in a lot of ways has little to offer to distinguish himself from the Liberals in his own history without the roots within the NDP of prior leaders leaves a lot of soft NDP voters who have voted Liberal in the past ripe for the picking by Trudeau. A lot of the NDP support they got off the Libs in the last three elections is not likely to be there this time because of the changes in circumstances from length of time since their scandals to lack of charismatic leader appeal with Layton to intense disgust at what Harper has done with his majority. So Trudeau making these choices I suspect overall is more to the benefit than to the detriment of the Liberal party despite his detractors both without and within the party claiming otherwise.

    I would add also that there is far less impression of Lib infighting compared to the last three leaders in all of this even with the incidents cited, especially since this is an issue most people can see causing some strong initial reactions to as opposed to being evidence of factionalism. So overall this action of Trudeau I think is more positive than negative, especially in the strategic sense, and less damaging in the short term than many have tried to paint it as. Now, I'm not saying there is no negative impact, but to be honest one of the things the Liberals needed to do was show that they had lines in the sand and were willing to take hits for them to help show they were a party with real principles and willingness to take hits for them. This does that, even given the less than perfect manner Trudeau brought this about, so overall I think this will prove out to have been a good move overall.

  4. Politics of same sex marriage are not at all akin to the politics of abortion. Anyone with even a fleeting understanding of the SSM issue years ago could have seen the issues potential. (Incidentally, the same is true for marijuana legalization.) It was one of those rare issues that the public had the ability and willingness to delve into. More importantly, the arguments against SSM are idiotic and little bit by little bit the defenders of “traditional marriage” were always going to pay a price for making those arguments. By contrast, public opinion on abortion debate have remained remarkably stable with no hint of either side make a breakthrough. There is a good reason for this. Leaving aside the idiotic notion that personhood begins at conception, the abortion debate is a philosophical and scientific labyrinth.

    In this sense, Trudeau abortion stance could be said to be a mistake. Best to leave sleeping dogs alone. That said, electoral success for the Liberals in the next election depends on Liberals making a breakthrough in area of the country with a population large enough to affect the national numbers. With the hope that such a surge will get supporters of other parties to think about voting Liberal. An explanation is in order. Voters do not often vote strategically, but they did in both 1993 and 2011. As the PC voters in Quebec began to move on mass over the Bloc in 1993, many traditional PC voters elsewhere in the country went in search of a new home and no doubt strategic considerations, certainly region ones, played a role for many. In Western Canada most followed the lead of the NDP voters, who had already migrated over to the Reform party prior to the writ being dropped. (The NDP vote collapsed before the PC vote did in 1993. The PCs were tied with Libs going into the 1993 election. That was in marked contrast to the NDP. Going into the 1993 election the NDP were at 8% in the polls. They finished with 7% of the vote. In other words, the notion that NDP voters moved over to the Libs to block the Reform party is not there in 1993. As for 1997 and 2000, the regional makeup of Canadian politics, the unpopularity of NDP governments in Ontario and BC and NDP support for the Charlottetown accord explain why the NDP vote did not return to normal until 2004. Strategic voting had nothing to do with it.) However, a sizable chunk of PC voters in Western Canada moved over to the Liberals. Most PC voters migrated to the Reform party in Ontario and in the Maritimes the PC vote moved over to the Liberals in NFLD and PEI and to the Reform party to lesser extent in NS and NB. Finally, in Quebec a chunk of what was left of the PC vote moved over in equal portions to the Bloc and Liberals.

    Something similar happened in Ontario in 2011. As the NDP began to surge in Quebec and Ignatieff turned in one of the worst debate performances ever, the Liberal vote in and around Toronto collapsed. Suburban Liberal voters moved in droves to the Conservatives and urban Liberal voters moved in droves to the NDP. The party was ripped in two.

    If the Liberals are to reverse the 2011 tide, the most like place for a breakthrough is urban Toronto. The NDP appear too strong in Quebec for a frontal assault, but NDP appear especially vulnerable in urban Toronto. Layton and Chow are out of the picture, Toronto has been a bastion of Liberal support and the polls both provincially and federally are pointing in the right direction. All of this brings me back to the topic of abortion. While taking a more robust pro choice position seems little hope of gaining the Liberals new converts on a national level, inside pro choice urban Toronto the policy could very well bare fruit and could help establish a needed Liberal bridge head there.

    1. If the arguments in favour of traditional marriage are idiotic then, the idea of state sponsored marriage is idiotic since, it is those arguments and those benefits gay people wish to achieve through SSM marriage.

      It is not an idiotic idea that "personhood" begins at conception, if not at conception when? The cognitive ability between a person at conception and one at birth are similar; both are dependent on others, have limited free will and a limited understanding of their environment. A strong case can be made that a moral argument exists corroborated with physiological evidence that the beginning of the human existence and life start at conception . Are disabled people also not full participants in "personhood"? Is there an end date or condition whereby "personhood" is revoked? Frankly, your first paragraph makes you appear to be a bigot!