Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Conservative Maternal Health Plan and Abortion

Earlier this week, Harris-Decima released a poll asking Canadians how they felt about the government's maternal health plan for the developing world, which does not include funding for agencies that provide abortions. This initiative was supposed to be one of the Conservatives' attempt to woo women voters, the demographic in which they most need to gain traction. It was also supposed to be one of their planks at the upcoming G8 and G20 meetings.

Instead, this has backfired. Rather than focusing on what the plan does include, people are focusing on what it doesn't, and the wider implications of that position for the Conservative Party.

Yesterday, Le Devoir published an article in which students invited to ask questions to the Prime Minister in a run-up to the G8 and G20 meetings alleged that their questions, some of which included the topic of abortion, were re-written by the PMO's staff. This event was closely controlled and moderated by Senator Mike Duffy. The article's title, "Flagrant Case of Message Control in Ottawa", sums it up. The Conservatives seem to be losing control of the narrative, and this poll by Harris-Decima demonstrates why their position is problematic.

The question asked was "Do you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose a policy that would see Canada NOT fund agencies that provide abortion procedures in the developing world?"

The national result was that 58% of Canadians OPPOSED the government's current plan, compared to only 30% who support it. Only 9% "strongly support" it, compared to 29% who "strongly oppose" it.

Highest levels of support came in Alberta (33%), while the lowest results came in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, and the Prairies (26%).

Highest levels of opposition came in British Columbia (67%) and Atlantic Canada (65%).

This 30% is below the Tories' current support level, which means it could act as a dead-weight for them, dragging them down. That highest levels of opposition came in British Columbia, a definite electoral battleground, should be especially problematic.

By party, we find that not even within their own ranks do Conservatives have majority support on the issue.While 40% of Conservative voters support the government's plan not to include this funding, 48% oppose it. For all of the other parties, a strong majority of voters oppose this plan.

The highest level of opposition comes from New Democratic supporters, where only 23% are in favour of this plan and fully 70% are against it. If opposition is highest in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, this bodes well for the party, as these are two of the regions in which they need to do well.

Liberal supporters are less strongly against the plan, but still oppose it by a rate of 63%. Support is at 31%, while Bloc Québécois voters have a similar opinion, 29% in favour and 63% against.

Green voters, at 26% in favour and 67% against, are at a similar level as the NDP.

With this topic surely to be brought up at the G8 and G20 meetings, this issue will not go away any time soon. While I don't expect this to be a major factor in dragging down Conservative support in the near future, it is just one of many reasons why the Tories have been unable to move conclusively beyond 1 in 3 support in Canada.


  1. We must remember when Stephen Harper, brought forward this initiative, he was struggling in the polls. There was a Hugh backlash against prorogation, and he was trying to soften his image.

    Stephen Harper had never expressed any interest in the Maternal health of women in developing nations. he had never expressed any interest in women and children in developing nations.

    There are no background speeches, nor is there any written record of Harper, ever having any interest in this.

    It was a cynical attempt to try and sway voters.

    Yesterday Harper was at a tightly scripted event moderated by Mike Duffy. Duffy field all the questions, and he asked most of them.

    Harper refuses to asked the tough questions by real journalists and reporters. the event was just foolish, and more propaganda, on the part of Harper and Duffy.

    Harper says he was just trying to bring forward an initiative that was not controversial. Hence the initiative has no funding for safe abortions, or contraception.

    All other G8 nations have panned this initiative. Polls are starting to show that Canadians do not agree with it.

    The only thing controversial about this initiative was Harper's attempt to impose his beliefs, and morality onto others.

    The other controversial aspect, is trying to deny access to safe abortions, and contraception to some of the worlds poorest women, thus taking away their reproductive choices.

    Now that this initiative is blowing up in Harper's face, it is poetic justice.

    The whole initiative was a farce to begin with. it was poorly planned, and poorly thought out.

    Canadians are now seeing it for what it is, and no amount of Harper, and Duffy, propaganda is going to change that.

  2. The Liberals should have hired HD, to craft the wording of their motion on the subject.

    I'm convinced that if it had been worded in a similar way to the question of this poll, more then enough Tories would've broken ranks on it.

    It's a shame that the public is robbed of a chance to see who would vote how on the substance of this, all over a petty cheap-shot in the wording.

  3. It must also be noted that this initiative is based on ideology, and not sound policy.

    Harper is reversing Canada's long standing foreign policy on this issue.

    the Conservatives have also cut funding to planned parenthood. Harper does not agree with abortions, but he also does not agree with contraception. that makes 100% perfect sense.

    Harper has also failed in his attempts from stopping Rod Bruinooge from bringing forward his private members bill, to reopen the debate on abortion in Canada.

    When the Liberals were government, their pro life MP's were not allowed to dictate government policy.

    Both Chretien and Martin are Roman Catholics, but their own personal beliefs never entered into government policy.

    SSM, was introduced and legalized under a Liberal government. There was never any attempt to reopen the abortion debate under a Liberal government.

    Harper is letting his pro life MP's dictate policy. Harper is letting ideology trump sound policy.


  4. SSM, was introduced and legalized under a Liberal government.

    It was NOT. It was legalized by the Provincial Supreme Courts.

    When Martin put the Bill to the House 7 provinces and 1 territory had already ruled it legal under the Charter.

    By the time the Bill passed that was up to 8 provinces with two more about to rule. All the Bill did was make uniform regulations for the whole country. SSM was legal long before the bill passed.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Interesting article, Eric.


    I doubt any Conservatives would have broken ranks. I've never even seen the Conservatives break ranks on any piece of legislation, ever.

  8. Volkov,

    I'm sure you know that that is not a factual statement (about the voting record), but I don't blame you for being a bit bitter about Iggys lack of communication and command, over his own caucus.

    You should check out the article Peter provided.

    "By their own admission, pro-choice Conservative MPs voted against the Liberal motion on the basis of its wording, not its intent. A number of pro-choice Liberals were also absent for the vote on their party’s motion."

    I didn't just pull the idea from thin air.

  9. AJR79,

    That's more saving face than anything else, that's obvious. Why would they break ranks just now, when they could've on so many other issues? Their voting records don't indicate any willingness to bend away from the party line.

    As for command and control, I'd take inept (but learning) Iggy, over authoritarian Steve.

  10. I am surprised that this poll is being discussed without reference to the similar one done by Harris-Decima two months ago.

    Harris-Decima's earlier poll found that Canadians were split on the funding of abortions abroad. What was critical was the difference in language used in both polls.

    Poll 1 asked if the maternal health plan should cover abortions, while poll 2 asked if it should not.

    This would suggest that framing has a huge effect on how this debate will play out.

  11. I think the difference is that the first question said "should we fund abortions" and the second asked "should we not fund agencies that provide abortions".

    The first was much more overt - give money for abortions. The second is far more nuanced and reasonable - if an agency provides the option, should they be funded?

    That's a huge difference in the question, and not just language. A lot of people are uncomfortable with abortions themselves but still believe that they should be an option for people.

  12. The abortion exclusion in the program isn't really meaningful, as many developing countries have socially conservative governments (or backward superstitious governments) who wouldn't accept the aid if it funded abortions.

    As such, this is largely a failure of marketing on the part of the government.

  13. Full disclosure: I fully support public funding for abortions, as abortions are a lesser drain on the economy than unwanted children are.

    The Fraser Institute published a study showing this during the 1990s.

  14. I have to agree with Volkov regarding the motion.

    The 'anti-American language' was a flimsey pretext. After the vote, an article came up in the G&M about the MP who drafted the consensus position. The conservative source, (unintentionally) made it obvious the MPs were looking for a way out.

  15. A Liberal on the subject of Coalitions:

    Note he says transparency is important otherwise the coalition is not legitimate!

  16. The opposition has not got a leg to stand on with regards to this issue. Their own motion was defeated by 3 of their own on this issue. had they voted with the motion-it would have created a tie-and the speaker would have been forced to vote. They have nothing now. The will of the House should be followed-should it not? Not to mention the crew that stayed away and refused to vote period. And if it was brought to the House again-the same thing would happen. it split the liberals.

  17. According to CPC caucus gossip the CPC was going to support the motion before someone in caucus suggested that the CPC could oppose the motion not because it was about abortion but because of the anti-American sentiment it contained. There was no need for the anti American paragraph(s). By adding this language the LPOC gave the CPC an easy out. Turns out many of their MP's voted against the motion or were deliberately absent.

    It was a stupid and unnecessary provaction by the Liberals that resulted in the bill being defeated.

  18. Re: Tommies
    "They have nothing now. The will of the House should be followed-should it not?"

    Heh. So I guess if there's another vote it'll go exactly the same way right? Even if the language that offended the CPC so much is removed? Even if the LPC actually whips their votes this time? (Or shows up)

    I think it's pretty clear that they can get a majority in the House behind it. So they'll probably try again. Certainly they'll campaign with it.

    While the media can make hay about small divisions in the opposition, it would make little sense for the government to try and claim that they're not responsible for their own policies because 2% of the opposition bench and your own entire caucus didn't vote to overturn it. So it's got political salience.

    Re: Earl
    That's pretty much what I heard. Some MPs used some 'offensive' language as an excuse to vote down something substantive.

    It's not like they discovered a hidden message in the bill's text. The problem before them was how to spin a way out of it. There never would have been a question about the bill and a reason for their caucus to be debating it otherwise because the text was already available to them. The idea that a section could be used as an excuse was not until someone suggested it.

    Regardless of the accuracy of my above thoughts, given the language they were objecting to, I would still call it a flimsy pretext.

  19. It was a stupid and unnecessary provaction by the Liberals that resulted in the bill being defeated.
    Another view is that it was deliberate, denying the CPC the opportunity to blame the opposition for anything, and thereby giving them more rope.

    At first I thought it was an oversight, that the CPC just wanted to boost funding for non controversial health activities in Africa. If there are groups that dared to mention the word abortion and even help women to obtain them, they would be unaffected. The bill might have allowed the CPC to spin it that way and use the bill's passage to appease the socon base that their hands are tied and wait for the majority.

    This way with the bill defeated, we see the new talking point "we won't fund foreign abortions" which plays very well to the socon base, but looks to everyone else as yet another anti-choice wedge.

  20. Earl - Given that, it might be in the CPC's best interests to reintroduce a very similar motion, lacking the anti-American content, and then vote for it.

    That would neatly shoot out the legs from under the social conservative stool.

  21. waiting for your analysis on EKOS...

    Will your seat projections be a CPC majority and a substanstial amount of Green seats?


COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.