Greens clarify abortion stance after May says she wouldn't 'silence' MPs
TORONTO -- The Green Party says there is “zero chance” that any of its members would attempt to reopen the abortion debate in the House of Commons, issuing the clarification after leader Elizabeth May said she wouldn’t silence any Green MPs who felt compelled to bring the issue forward.
“It is the Green Party’s position that the abortion debate is closed in Canada. Any who disagree are not allowed to run,” the party said in a statement Monday.
But that’s different than what May said in a recent interview. In a CBC News clip that aired Monday, May – who openly supports the right for women to have access to safe, legal abortions -- was asked what she would do, hypothetically speaking, if a backbencher Green MP brought forward a private member’s bill in an attempt to reopen the abortion debate.
"I could talk to them. I could try to dissuade them. I could say it would be unfortunate ... but I don't have the power as leader of the Green Party to whip votes, nor do I have the power to silence an MP," May said.
"And frankly, I think that's a good thing because democracy will be healthier when constituents know that their MP works for them and not their party leader.”
Hours after the video went live, the Green Party issued a statement clarifying that, although the party’s leader does not have the power to whip votes, all Green MPs must endorse the party’s values, “including support of a woman’s right to choose.”
May later acknowledged that she “should never answer hypotheticals.” Regardless, she said the Green Party would never end up with an anti-abortion MP.
“It would never happen because we screen candidates in advance,” she told CTV News. “For instance, a Green Party candidate is not going to be in favour of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s too fundamental a breach with our policies. Similarly, a Green Party candidate or MP is never going to be saying we need to retreat on abortion rights because we simply wouldn’t have a candidate approved who was that strong opposed to a core value with the Green Party.”
But May did not back down from her comments about her role as leader, saying that her position “is not an elected dictator.” Instead, she suggested that the House of Commons needs more independent thinkers and fewer MPs who toe party lines.
”We’re (a party) that believes very strongly that backrooms of political parties are exerting far too much control over what goes on in the House of Commons and are turning Members of Parliament into people who check their brains at the door. It’s very anti-democratic.”
May has a long record of voting against anti-abortion measures. In 2012, she voted against a private member’s bill brought forward by a Conservative MP that sought to appoint a committee to study the Criminal Code’s definition of when human life begins.
May said she was “disturbed” by the motion and labelled it a “back-door attempt to re-open an abortion debate in Canada.”
The vote failed 203 to 91.
She has also advocated for greater access to abortions for women in New Brunswick after a Morgentaler clinic was closed in 2014.
In the past, Green candidates have been removed for opposing abortion and for anti-Semitic views – but such instances are “rare,” the party said.
- Sign up for our Capital Dispatch newsletter, delivered twice weekly to your inbox and every day during the election
Seemingly settled social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, were thrust into national conversation in late August when the Liberals revived a 2005 video in which Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says that “homosexual unions” don’t have the “inherent feature” of marriage because they cannot have children.
Scheer, a practising Catholic who voted against same-sex marriage and has gone on the record to personally oppose abortion, responded that a Conservative government will not reopen the debate on same-sex marriage.
Scheer accused the Liberals of trying to deflect from their own scandals, while his press secretary labelled the video a “desperation tactic from Justin Trudeau.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the video a "resurfacing of Andrew Scheer's disgusting prejudice against LGBTQI2S+ people."