Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Will Michael Ignatieff's abortion gambit work?

Michael Ignatieff chooses his words carefully, never, ever saying, "abortion."

Instead, he speaks of "safe terminations" and warns against "botched procedures" and "women dying in misery."

In cautioning the Harper government against playing " ideological games" with women's reproductive health, as the Liberal Leader did this week, an Ignatieff official said his boss was simply addressing an issue of public policy.

Story continues below advertisement

However, if this reignites the abortion debate, provoking social Conservatives in Stephen Harper's caucus to react, so be it, the official said.

As crass as it sounds, there is a potential side benefit for the Liberals in stirring this up.

Harper Conservatives know this. The question this time is: Will they take the bait?

Earlier this week, Mr. Ignatieff, surrounded by female Liberal MPs, held a press scrum, expressing his concerns about the Prime Minister's pledge to make maternal health a priority of this summer's G8 summit in Muskoka.

Noting that former U.S. president George W. Bush banned federal funding to international groups that performed abortions or provided information about abortion, Mr. Ignatieff said: "We don't want us to go that way. We want to make sure that women have access to all the contraceptive methods available to control their fertility."

Women's reproductive rights have proved to be a good issue for the Liberals in the past.

It has also pushed the Harper Conservatives off message. The issue dogged them in the 2004 election campaign, when Mr. Harper, then opposition leader, said he would not introduce legislation amending the abortion law but that Conservative MPs had a right to their own beliefs, leaving the door open for private member's bills. This also led to concerns among the electorate that Mr. Harper had a hidden agenda.

Story continues below advertisement

By the 2008 election campaign, Mr. Harper left no light between his views and that of his caucus, saying he did not intend to reopen the abortion debate and that his cabinet ministers would be instructed not to support any private member's bills that would.

So what are the Ignatieff Liberals up to - a little rattling of the cage?

"Listen, I'm not going to tell you that there was no thought at all given to the fact that some of their people will come out," the Ignatieff official said. "… Are some of them going to be reacting? I have no doubt that they will."

However, he said, that was "certainly not our main goal."

Frank Graves of the polling company EKOS Research Associates said putting down markers, as Mr. Ignatieff did, is "not a bad idea if your political strategy is to try to say, 'Okay, we have different visions of Canada.'"

"Maybe [Mr. Ignatieff]wants to remind Canada that the visions and ideology of the group which is currently running the country is incoherent in some cases with the dominant values and interests of the rest of the country," Mr. Graves said.

Story continues below advertisement

For example, he said, the consensus among women in Canada is for complete freedom of access to abortion. The latest polls are showing that Liberals are leading slightly among female voters.

Dimitri Pantazopoulos of Praxicus Public Strategies, who has polled for the Harper Conservatives, said that although the Ignatieff statements were designed to "take the Conservatives off message," he doesn't believe it will work. The Conservatives, he said, have shown "considerable discipline and focus in the past few years."

And he is critical of the Liberals' approach, which, he said, is "largely based on old perceptions of the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, not the new reality."

"I think the Liberals are looking back to the old playbook for ideas. These attacks were successful in 2004 and less so in 2006. But the public has moved on."

(Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Report an error
About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.