Chris Selley: Does a recharged right include social conservatives?

Canadian social conservatives didn’t walk away from the era with a lot of swag. The Conservative government didn’t legalize prostitution, it fought assisted suicide in the courts and it declined to fund abortions in other countries. But here at home, Harper’s PMO was so frantic to keep anything abortion-related under wraps that it came as something of a shock — or a scandal, pick one — when MPs got to vote on studying the legal beginning of life.

This approach didn’t seem to cost the Tories too many so-con votes. But nor did it even slightly diminish their reputation in certain circles as rabid pro-lifers playing an extremely long con.

This year’s Manning Centre Networking Conference proposes “recharging the Canadian right.” It will be fascinating to watch Harper’s successor try to renew the party while maintaining the brand-new coalition of voters he built. Red Tories and so-cons alike could reasonably argue they are owed a cookie, after all. But the latter, if anything, may be easier to please.

“It doesn’t matter what political party you’re part of, there are certain issues that are by nature divisive, but that go to the heart of who people are,” said Mike Schouten, director of WeNeedaLAW.ca, an organization that campaigns for European-style legal limits on abortion after a certain number of weeks of pregnancy. “And as a leader of a party, you ought to allow your MPs to express themselves.”

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“That’s what we would be looking for in a leader,” he said at the Manning event, where he mans a booth. “The leader would allow those conversations to take place.”

When MPs voted on the beginning-of-life motion, the world did not end. Nor did it end, Schouten notes, when Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall introduced a private member’s bill this week that would make it a separate offence to cause the death of an unborn child. Of course that bill’s pro-life supporters hope it will chip away at ’s pro-choice monolith. But it’s also an idea that reasonable pro-choicers could get behind. People don’t always support things for the same reason.

A majority of Canadians tend to tell pollsters there ought to be some legal limits on abortion. Schouten hopes some day there will be, though he concedes it will be a long slog. In the meantime, all he’s asking for is political leaders who will consent to have parliamentarians discuss the matter. That doesn’t seem like a lot

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