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Erin O’Toole is not pro-choice

It was not a surprise to the pro-choice movement that Erin O’Toole won the Conservative leadership race.

It was not a surprise to the pro-choice movement that Erin O’Toole won the Conservative leadership race.

Since 2018, anti-choice groups in Canada have almost single-handedly assured the party leadership wins of three men who went on to become provincial premiers — Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Scott Moe – and two federal Conservative party leaders — Andrew Scheer and now Erin O’Toole. As a result, O’Toole owes big debts to these groups.

Still, the mainstream media declared O’Toole’s victory an “upset” and seemed surprised at the strong showing of the two extreme social conservative candidates Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan. But this happened because two anti-choice groups — Campaign Life Coalition and RightNow — simply repeated what they did before: they corralled thousands of new and old members for the Conservative party and instructed them to put Sloan and Lewis at the top of their ballots in the party’s ranked-ballot leadership contest.

RightNow even predicted a narrow victory for Lewis. Together, the two candidates got 35 per cent of the votes on the first ballot. But when Sloan and Lewis dropped off the first and third ballots respectively, most of their next-ranked votes went to O’Toole, who had courted social conservatives, while Peter MacKay alienated them.

O’Toole explicitly asked social conservatives to make him their second or third choice on the ranked ballot. He reassured them that if elected, he would allow free votes on private member bills to restrict abortion, including letting his cabinet vote in favour of them. This means that a majority Conservative government could successfully pass an anti-abortion law.

Although O’Toole claims to be pro-choice, his voting record and statements are mostly consistent with anti-choice aims. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada designated him as anti-choice in 2016 because he voted in favour of Bill C-225. This bill would have given legal personhood to fetuses as separate victims of crime when a pregnant person is attacked.

O’Toole says it was a “public safety” bill but that’s a whitewash — the bill was introduced by an anti-choice MP and supported only by anti-choice and religious groups as a vehicle to transfer rights from pregnant people to fetuses. Similar laws in many U.S. states are used primarily against pregnant women for alleged harm to their fetuses.

During the campaign, O’Toole made the following socially conservative promises to the anti-choice movement and in his platform:

He would cancel funding for safe abortion abroad. (This funding under the Trudeau government is saving lives).

He would allow health-care workers to abandon patients for personal reasons via the practice of so-called “conscientious objection.” This impacts mostly reproductive health care and medical assistance in dying. (Patients would get no referral and have no legal recourse because objectors would face no consequences for refusing care regardless of harm to patients.)

He would not expand the grounds for medical assistance in dying to mature minors and people with mental health conditions. (He also generally opposes the right to medical assistance in dying (MAiD) and has consistently voted against legalizing it. However, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the previous criminal law as a violation of Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and the Trudeau government did not go far enough to protect these rights with its Bill C-14.)

He would change eligibility for the Canada Summer Jobs program “by making it clear that religion or religious belief will not be a criterion.” (This would allow applicants to discriminate in hiring students and use the funding to violate human rights. Anti-choice groups would be allowed to apply for government funding.)

He would eliminate the Court Challenges program. (This program gives members of disadvantaged groups financial help to access the courts to secure their Charter rights).

Now that social conservatives have handed O’Toole his victory, they expect payback. Will he deliver? Or, as a piece in The Conservative Woman puts it, is he “a Christian In Name Only, making the right noises to gain CPC leadership?” In other words, will O’Toole backtrack to give himself a better chance of winning a future federal election?

Some are convinced he must…

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