New Liberal MPs will be expected to vote against any new restrictions on abortion access, Justin Trudeau says, a de facto warning shot to anti-abortion candidates considering a run for a party that has long included them.
Mr. Trudeau is pro-choice and the party has passed a resolution opposing any new restrictions on abortion access. On Wednesday, however, the Liberal Leader went further, saying that, despite his pledge for open nomination races, anti-abortion candidates will no longer be welcomed into the Liberal fold.
"I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills," Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday, a day before a major anti-abortion rally is set to take place on Parliament Hill. "… For me, it's a debate that has been settled for the vast majority of Canadians and we don't need to reopen that issue."
Current Liberal MPs – such as John McKay, who favours restrictions on abortion access and is nominated to run again – will be "grandfathered" into a party that is nonetheless "resolutely pro-choice," Mr. Trudeau added.
The Liberal and Conservative caucuses have included MPs on both side of the abortion issue, though Prime Minister Stephen Harper has regularly said he does not support reopening the debate, a position his spokesman repeated Wednesday.
Mr. McKay, a Toronto Liberal MP first elected in 1997, said it was too early to say how he would vote if the issue came up.
"I don't have to do anything. We'll worry about that when we get to it," said Mr. McKay, who said he is not the only Liberal MP who does not identify as pro-choice. "I think a pluralism of views is better than a mono-view, but the party made that decision."
Mr. McKay likened the issue to the party's position on marijuana legalization. "If you take the marijuana issue, those are the views of the party. You know, it's a shocking thing, but it is a democracy and democracy throws up some strange things at times," he said.
Mr. Trudeau's decree essentially shifts the Liberals closer to the NDP, whose leader, Thomas Mulcair, said all his MPs flatly oppose reopening the abortion debate.
"No NDP MP will ever vote against a woman's right to choose. For us, it's a fundamental question of principle. And frankly, I have difficulty seeing how you can have a two-tiered system in your caucus," he said, referring to Mr. Trudeau's grandfathering of current MPs.
Mr. Trudeau has pledged open nomination races, but has faced a series of questions that cast doubt on how open the races are. He's being sued for blocking a candidate in Toronto and is now essentially threatening to block anti-abortion candidates.
Ex-Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis – who considers the legal battle over, but personally favours more government social and adoption programs to deter pregnant women from abortions – criticized the move.
"My message to Mr. Trudeau would be if you do not want to revisit the abortion issue, say 'our party is not going to revisit the abortion issue.' But you can't bar people that have pro-life thinking from running," Mr. Karygiannis said in an interview. "… The party has to realize that you can't have a set of rules for older members of Parliament and another rule for younger members of Parliament."
Mr. Trudeau's statement was criticized as dictatorial by the Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion group spearheading the rally scheduled for Thursday, which typically draws thousands to Parliament Hill.
"What Trudeau's suggesting now is there won't be such a thing as your personal conscience, you'll do as your told," said Mary Ellen Douglas, a national organizer for the group. "… What [anti-abortion voters] really want is candidates in all parties. Now the NDP have shut that door, and it looks like Trudeau's doing the same."