Douglas Roche

PEACEMAKING TODAY

September 22, 2014

With his latest statement repeating that Liberal MPs will not be allowed to vote their conscience on the abortion issue (CBC, Sept. 14), Justin Trudeau has rejected efforts by the pro-life movement to build a bridge to him.

This is very troubling, for it shows that the leader whom polls show could become the next prime minister of Canada has turned his back on a sizable number of Canadians.

I was part of a small group of Edmontonians, Citizens for Conscience Voting, who recently wrote to Trudeau, asking him to review his previously announced policy denying Liberal MPs a free vote in Parliament on abortion. "To order an MP to vote on matters involving profound moral issues in a way that violates the informed conscience of the individual is a grave injustice to freedom," we argued.

Our letter was hand-delivered to Trudeau. We had hoped that, in approaching him quietly, we might be able to make it easy for him to realize that he had over-stepped the bounds of leadership in his original announcement and make a quick adjustment.

Trudeau did not reply to us. Instead, in his national radio interview, he dug in: "The rights that women have fought for over decades to be in control of their own bodies and to control their own reproductive health is not a right I'm going to brush aside to defend the freedom of speech or the freedom to vote a particular way for an MP."

With that statement, he has laid down the gauntlet. He is rejecting any rights for the fetus and demanding that any Liberal MP who wants to stand up for those rights bow to his will.

He is showing a recklessness that ill becomes one who asks to be entrusted with the destiny of Canada. What are we to think of a leader who practises alienation politics?

Asked if his pro-choice policy would essentially kiss off the Catholic vote, Trudeau said he too is Catholic. Canada's Catholic bishops, who doubtless have little desire to become involved in the forthcoming election campaign, cannot remain silent. Acrimony and divisions are ahead.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

It is an unfortunate situation, coming at a time when Canadians' attention needs to be focused on the war-and-peace issues blazing around the world – social justice issues on which the Church's rich body of teaching has so much to offer.

DEEPER ISSUES

Our group tried to get Trudeau to see the deeper issues involved in his stand. "Conscience is the last bastion of the trustworthiness of us all, certainly an elected member of Parliament," we wrote.

"If a member surrenders conscience to party on matters of high moral import, how can such a member be trusted on other issues? Conscience is the bedrock of our ability to judge what is right and wrong. Based on the rule of law, a political leader has no right to stamp out a conscience."

We said we respected those who disagreed with us, and all we were asking was that he respect those whose consciences lead them to a different conclusion than he has reached on abortion.

We hold that to deny a parliamentarian's voice and vote is the antithesis of democracy. History is replete with many instances of government and party policies that at one stage were "cast in stone," only to be overturned when new facts came to light.

ROBOTIC FOLLOWERS

The human qualities of the fetus are becoming better understood in society generally, and as new facts come forward they need to be assessed openly in a common desire to develop policies for the common good.

Locking in the Liberal caucus to the abortion status quo suggests that Trudeau doesn't want to hear any intellectual arguments on deeply moral issues, and that MPs should robotically follow his leadership. A sage leader understands that human society is constantly developing.

My experience in Parliament tells me that Trudeau, for all his appeal, is painting himself into a political corner. Does he think he can maintain his rigidity on future votes on moral issues such as euthanasia? What about votes on Canada's participation in wars?

ONLY A SHELL

Parliament certainly cannot become a free-for-all soapbox. Governments must exercise discipline to run the country. But, to paraphrase the famous British parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, if a parliamentarian surrenders conscience to the party apparatus, there's nothing left but a shell.

If enough Canadians speak up on this travesty of democracy, Trudeau may yet change his mind.