CANADA

Ms. McTeer’s big win

May 23 1988
CANADA

Ms. McTeer’s big win

May 23 1988

Ms. McTeer’s big win

Frank and Margaret Mountain drive home a message. Painted on the North Gower, Ont., couple’s station wagon is the slogan “Abortion kills babies.” Mountain, a schoolteacher, and his wife, who is a homemaker looking after the couple’s five children, have used their last three cars to declare their anti-abortion sentiments. This spring the Mountains, and hundreds of other Ottawa-area opponents of abortion, took their cause into the federal political arena. After signing up as Conservatives, they helped dermatologist and anti-abortion activist André Lafrance in his drive to prevent Maureen McTeer—the wife of External Affairs Minister Joe Clark—from winning the Tory nomination in the new Ottawa-region riding of Carleton-Gloucester. Their campaign failed when McTeer handily won the nomination last week with 60 per cent of the vote over Lafrance and another candidate. But undeterred by the defeat, anti-abortion groups such as Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition served notice that they will mount similar efforts in other ridings in the coming months as nominations are held across the country for the next federal election.

Their campaign could, like those of similar U.S. lobby groups, intensify the role of. candidates interested in only one issue. That is a relatively new

phenomenon in Canadian politics—and a prospect that worries some political observers. With Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government considering ways of replacing the abortion law that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in January, anti-abortion groups have begun mailing letters to supporters urging them to join political parties and attend party nomination meetings in their ridings. Said Conservative strategist David Small: “The nomination system is so narrowly based—our riding associations average 100 members—that it is exceptionally vulnerable to single-issue candidates.”

The battle between Lafrance and McTeer—who says that abortion decisions should be a matter between women and their doctors—pitted elements of the party establishment against a loosely-knit coalition of antiabortionist activists. McTeer’s slick campaign was directed by a team of seasoned organizers headed by Robert Valcov, chief of staff to Jean Charest, federal minister of state for youth, fitness and amateur sport. While McTeer and her backers crisscrossed the riding in the weeks leading up to the nomination, her husband contacted local Tories to ask for their support. When McTeer, 36, took her seat in the stands of Ottawa’s Civic Centre for the nomination meeting, she was joined by Clark and eight other Tory MPs. For

their part, the anti-abortion forces mustered about 25 volunteers, but most of the new recruits had no previous political experience. Despite McTeer’s easy l,306-to-688-vote victory over Lafrance —a third contender, lawyer Philip Brazeau, received 180 votes—anti-abortionists said that they were encouraged by their showing. Declared Lafrance, who was not a Conservative party member until midApril when he decided to run against McTeer: “We did very well considering the small number of volunteers we had and the short length of time we spent campaigning.” According to Paul Dodds, a director of Campaign Life, anti-abortion groups in some ridings have networks of up to 1,000 committed members ready to support chosen candidates.

Many special-interest groups have favored that tactic at the nomination stage because it is easier to control a party meeting than the population of a riding in the subsequent general election. Candidates in all three parties win nominations by signing up new members to the local riding association, then ensuring that those members show up at the nomination meeting to vote for them. The anti-abortion forces are gambling that Conservative and Liberal nomination contests could prove vulnerable to pressure from their organizations. Most of the 208 sitting Tory incumbents are expected to win renomination, and anti-abortionists see little hope of nominating candidates within the avowedly prochoice New Democratic Party. But John McDermid, a Conservative MP from Ontario, predicted that candidates relying heavily on the support of anti-abortionists could skew many party nominations in contested Tory or Liberal nominations. For their part, senior Liberal organizers said they had yet to see signs of any anti-abortion recruiting drives.

The anti-abortion forces have already claimed a victory. In April antiabortionists helped Jake Spoor, a Vernon, B.C., real estate salesman and a committed anti-abortionist, to win the Tory nomination in the new riding of Okanagan-Shuswap over six rivals. Last week in Vancouver, Mulroney said that before drafting new abortion legislation, his government planned to introduce a resolution on the issue in Parliament. Other Tories suggested that the resolution, which could be introduced during the next two weeks, would set out a range of options on abortion and allow MPs to choose one in a free vote. That process seemed certain to intensify the anti-abortionists’ efforts to intervene in the political process, and contenders in future nomination battles may not find it as easy as McTeer did to fend them off. □