Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says he supports equality for women, paying homage to his own mother who sponsored a refugee group during an immigration announcement last week. But his actions, and those of his party, tell a different story.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 3, 2019.
OTTAWA—The usual suspects are lining up telling Canadian women to shut up about the abortion question.
Anti-feminist Margaret Wente penned a column last week accusing Liberals of creating a false issue.
Talk show hosts joined with Global Television’s Ottawa bureau chief David Akin to downplay any concern on abortion access in this country.
“Alarming rhetoric aside, there is no serious threat to abortion rights in Canada,” said Calgary talk show host Rob Breakenridge on a Global newsfeed.
Similar pundits went crazy when newly-elected prime minister Justin Trudeau set a precedent by making gender equality a crucial element of cabinet making.
The national press gallery pounced on Trudeau when he left Rideau Hall, demanding to know why he would ever introduce a notion like gender parity in cabinet appointments.
“Because it’s 2015,” was an answer that left them speechless. That same answer prompted millions of women around the country to celebrate the fact that Canada would finally have equal numbers of women and men in cabinet.
Just last week South African President Cyril Ramphosa announced a parity cabinet, joining Rwanda and Ethiopia in the rarefied club of African equals.
If he wins the election, the Canadian leader of the opposition won’t be joining that club.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says he supports equality for women, paying homage to his own mother who sponsored a refugee group during an immigration announcement last week.
But his actions, and those of his party, tell a different story.
Instead of committing to cabinet parity, Scheer leads the only political party in Canada that still refuses to set targets for recruitment of women candidates.
Equal Voice, a non-partisan organization designed to promote the election of more women, polled every party in the last election and all responded with specific goals, except the Conservatives.
Scheer also slapped women in the face when he named a vocal anti-choice advocate as his Status of Women shadow minister, or party critic.
Before the appointment, Member of Parliament Rachael Harder, an anti-abortionist, was reported by iPolitics to have approved $12,000 in federal funding grants to two pregnancy care centres that refuse to refer clients to abortion centres.
Defending his decision, Scheer said, “Harder is a very, very strong, hard working, dynamic young MP and a woman who was democratically elected by her constituents and who shares my positive vision for a government.”
Just what that vision is remains murky.
The following communiqué was sent in 2017 to members of RightNow, an anti-abortion group. The message summarized a meeting held with leadership hopeful Scheer.
“Andrew Scheer has said that the government will not introduce legislation on abortion. When leadership candidates (or even elected leaders) of political parties say that, it means the cabinet. Let’s say the Conservatives win 180 seats in the next federal election and of the 180 MPs, 30 of them are in cabinet. That means 150 other Conservative MPs would be allowed to introduce a private member’s bill on this. He also never said that he would whip his cabinet not to vote for pro-life motions or bills nor did he say he himself would not vote for them either.”
Scheer won the leadership by a vote of less than two per cent. His main opponent was pro-choice. To curry anti-abortion support, he bragged that he had always supported “pro-life” legislation.
In a corollary move last week, Scheer also promised to reopen the Office of Religious Freedoms in Canada, opened by Stephen Harper in 2013.
There is only one other country in the world that has such an office, the United States of America, a country that has been aggressively legislating to reduce access to safe abortions.
In a shocking report from Harvard Medical School, American women today are 50 per cent more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers.
Researchers report that the risk is also consistently three to four times higher for black women than white women, irrespective of income or education.
The death rate per 100,000 women has jumped from 17 to 26 in the past quarter century. Maternal mortality is still lower than in most of the world.
In developing countries, the ratio in 2015 was 239 deaths per 100,000 live births. The World Health Organization cites unsafe abortions as a key contributor.
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper blocked aid to international organizations that offered reproductive choices.
Why should Canadians shut up when women around the world die because they cannot access safe abortions?
Scheer tipped his hand in his anti-choice appointment to Status of Women chair. He would reverse women’s gains, on many fronts.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.