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Former Chretien minister drops Liberal bid over Trudeau’s abortion policy

The Canadian Secretary of State for Europe and the Middle East, Honourable Gar Knutson, centre, adjusts an anti-personnel landmine helmet while standing between Jordanian troops in the Jordan Valley December 15, 2002.

MAJED JABER/REUTERS

A former minister in Jean Chrétien's government has pulled out of a Liberal nomination race because he says he can't follow Justin Trudeau's demand that Liberal MPs vote pro-choice on abortion.

Gar Knutson, a Liberal MP from 1993 to 2004, had worked on Justin Trudeau's leadership campaign and wanted to run for the Commons again in Ottawa-Orleans.

But he backed out last week, and posted a message on his website Wednesday that said Liberal Party officials raised concerns about his pro-life work in his local church and the pro-life statements he had made when he was a Liberal MP.

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Mr. Knutson, a junior foreign affairs minister from 2002 to 2004, said in that post that he sent his paperwork to be approved, or "greenlit," by the party 10 weeks ago, but he was still waiting, even though his opponents were approved in roughly four weeks.

"Five weeks ago I was called for a second interview, where I was advised that that the 'rapid response team' had concerns over my pro-life activities in my local Catholic Church as well as petitions I presented while a Member of Parliament," he wrote.

That leaves the unusual situation of the Liberal Party raising concerns about what an individual said when he was a Liberal MP, and what he did at church.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Knutson said he understood the questions about his church work came from a social media and Internet search.

A spokesman for the Liberal Party, Olivier Duchesneau, said Mr. Trudeau has made clear that candidates can hold pro-life views but must commit to voting pro-choice in the Commons.

"It's not surprising that the Party wants to make sure that nomination contestants clearly understand the Party's position. Again, their own views have nothing to do in the vetting process only the commitment to vote the Party's position," Mr. Duchesneau said.

Mr. Duchesneau declined to answer whether party officials had raised concerns about pro-life views expressed by Mr. Knutson in the Commons and at his church, however. He said the party does not comment on vetting for individuals who are not approved.

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But Mr. Knutson said he couldn't live with the new party rule: though he understands the need for party discipline, he said he can't vote against his conscience on the issue.

Mr. Trudeau declared May 7 that he would require new Liberal MPs to commit to voting pro-choice on abortion in the House of Commons.

But he said sitting MPs with pro-life views would be "grandfathered," and allowed an exception to the party line.

"We will not eject someone from the party for beliefs they have held for a long time, but the Liberal Party is a pro-choice party and going forward, all the new MPs and new candidates will be pro-choice," he told reporters then.

Mr. Knutson would have faced a tough fight in a hotly-contested nomination race in Ottawa-Orleans, where the contenders include a star candidate, retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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