David Frum

04.06.13

Stephen Harper is Respecting Voter Wishes by Not Reopening the Abortion Debate

Mike Ridewood/Getty Images ()

My National Post column defends Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for holding to his pledge not to reopen the abortion debate:

The Canadian media are consistently pro-choice — and what they consistently “choose” is to find any possible stick to whack Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government.

In any other context, the issue of sex-selective abortion would be a double media taboo: taboo to Canadian feminists, because they reject any restriction on abortion; and taboo to multiculturalists, because sex-selective abortion is a practice most evidenced in immigrant communities.

But if the issue of sex-selective abortion can be used by the media to attack the Harper government, then suddenly all taboos fall away.

Suddenly, the air is full of editorials and columns lauding Conservative MP Mark Warawa, who recently angered Mr. Harper and other party leaders by seeking to put forward a Parliamentary motion denouncing the practice of sex-selective abortion. Media voices urge “open debate” on the issue, the more ferocious, the better.

Here is the (stalwartly pro-choice) Toronto Star, tut-tutting on March 29: “Parliament is weakened as an institution when MPs are stifled. Harper has proven to be a notorious control freak, suppressing dissent at every turn.”

At other times, the outspoken MP Mark Warawa might expect negative publicity. So long as he is aligned against Prime Minister Harper, however, Warawa finds himself cast as Canada’s very own “village Hampden, that with dauntless breast the little tyrant of his fields withstood.”

The Star again: “His [Warawa’s] refusal to sing from the PMO song sheet sparked a mini-rebellion that spoke volumes about the frustration and impotence many feel.”

That last quoted statement is undoubtedly true, if you understand the “many” to be code for “the editorial board of the Toronto Star.”

Yet there is a serious principle at stake in the Warawa mutiny — even if many of those who write so enthusiastically about the dissident MP fail to recognize what the principle is.

Parliament is the place where governments are made and held to account. But held to account for what?

In April 2011, Stephen Harper made a commitment to the Canadian people: “As long as I’m prime minister we are not reopening the abortion debate.” Maybe that was an appropriate pledge, maybe not. Maybe that pledge caused some people to vote for him who otherwise wouldn’t, or again maybe not. But Prime Minister Harper gave his word, and having given that word, he won a majority government.

Is it really an offence against democracy for a government to enforce its own commitments upon its own MPs?

Some envision Parliament as the country’s great talk emporium, a place where representatives of the people should have a platform to talk about any subject, at any time. But 21st century Canadians hardly lack for forums for open discussion. If an individual feels passionately about abortion and wants to convince Canadians of the need for new restrictions, there are a plethora of media over which that individual can make his or her case.

Read it all at the National Post.