Paying the price for being pro-life

  • October 10, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - A retired Liberal MP who resigned from his party over its position on same-sex marriage says pro-life politicians in Ottawa pay a political price for their outspoken views.

Pat O’Brien, a former parliamentary secretary for the minister of international trade, represented the London-Fanshawe riding in Parliament from 1993 until 2005. That’s when he quit the Liberal Party and sat as an independent MP because he opposed the Liberal’s support of legalizing same sex marriage.
“When you show some independence in a political party, you pay a price,” O’Brien told an audience of about 200 people Oct. 2 at an international pro-life conference in Toronto hosted by Campaign Life Coalition.

Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes called O’Brien “a gutsy politician who wouldn’t take crap from anybody.”

Hughes also said O’Brien and recently retired Liberal MP Tom Wappel, both of whom opposed the same-sex marriage legislation, stood up to their party leadership and “brought the conscience of the Liberal Party to Parliament Hill.”

O’Brien, now a political consultant for Campaign Life Coalition, said there is a carrot-and-stick system at play in Ottawa where politicians can get promoted if they tow the party line. He told the story of one candidate from a major party who was discouraged from answering pro-life surveys in writing. According to O’Brien, the North Bay candidate — who privately told O’Brien he was pro-life — refused to answer the questionnaire. O’Brien said that this was a sign of pressure from the party brass to conform.

But the former MP cautioned that candidates have to balance the pressure from the party leadership with their efforts to win a seat in Ottawa and said he would be voting for this candidate anyway since he holds the strongest views on life issues like opposing abortion, even if the candidate doesn’t want to commit to it in writing yet.

O’Brien said Wappel is another example of the political slippery slope of pro-life issues in Ottawa.

“People who couldn’t carry (Wappel’s) briefcase were appointed to cabinet,” O’Brien told the audience. “He paid a price for the leadership he showed, but he can retire with his head held high and his conscience clear.”

Wappel was first elected to the House of Commons in 1988 and is retiring from politics this year. The Toronto MP, called the “dean of the pro-lifers” on Parliament Hill, agrees that not supporting a woman’s right to choose abortion has its political costs.

“There are certain prices to pay in all walks of life for the stands that you take and you have to decide whether you are prepared to pay those prices,” Wappel told The Register.

“You’re ostracized, sometimes you’re not elevated to the positions you think you should be elevated to, but that works in all walks of life.”

Wappel said he’s never been pressured by any leader of the Liberal Party or the Prime Minister’s Office to vote one way or another, but that “it was clearly intimated by others that if I played ball, I could go higher.”

Marc Roy, spokesperson for the Liberal Party, told The Register during a telephone interview from Ottawa that “Each prime minister has their own criteria. There’s no standard. It depends on each individual.” Roy would not confirm or deny that being pro-life can be a political liability for a sitting Liberal MP and said he was unable to provide further comments.

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