April 12, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — To witness the career of Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is to think of Kitty Muggeridge’s acerbic comment about TV broadcaster David Frost: “He rose without a trace.” In O’Toole’s case, if the polls are any indication, the end of his brief leadership career will come at the hands of voters — those who have heard of him don’t find much to like.
As I noted in a column on Monday, this is probably due to a combination of a discernable lack of conviction, the absence of any charisma, and a commitment to running a campaign consisting of stern, paternal rebukes to the Conservative base rather than presenting a muscular alternative to the current inhabitant of the prime minister’s cottage. Erin O’Toole ran as “True Blue.” Those of us still watching are wondering: “True Who?”
When O’Toole does make a pronouncement, it is to remind everyone that he is not a social conservative, in case anyone suspected that he was. Responding to Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall’s Bill C-233, the “Sex-selective Abortion act,” O’Toole told a press conference: “As you know I’m pro-choice, and I will be voting against this private member’s bill. I will always as prime minister defend the rights — the human rights — of all Canadians to make this decision for themselves. I’ve been crystal clear on that and will be as prime minister.”
Erin O’Toole believes that it is a “human right” to abort a baby girl in the womb specifically because she is a baby girl and will thus vote against a law that would make it a criminal offence for a medical practitioner to abort a baby just because she is a girl.
But worse than that, if O’Toole was looking for an issue that unites Canadians — more than 90% of them oppose the practice — and highlight the Conservative Party as a big tent, he just missed an opportunity to do so.
I understand the counter-argument to this. If Erin O’Toole endorsed the Sex-selective Abortion Act, the Red Tory conventional wisdom goes, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will make the next election all about O’Toole’s hidden agenda and insist that the Conservatives want to journey back in time to the bad old 1960s, before Trudeau the Elder began to set things right. Thus, smacking down the so-cons is the only way for O’Toole to free himself from this framing and run on the things he wants to run on — which he will be sure to share with us momentarily.
The problem is that anyone with a vague awareness of how Canadian politics works knows this isn’t the case. The media is already demanding to know if O’Toole will whip his shadow cabinet on the vote, and the Liberals are already happily highlighting the backbench proposal as evidence that the Conservatives are insufficiently supportive of feticide. Andrew Scheer huffed and puffed as far away from the abortion debate as he could get, and when he lost, the media and the Red Tories promptly announced that his pro-life views were why he lost.
It is true that voting for pro-life bills will hurt a Conservative leader — only if he refuses to go on the offensive and accepts the Liberal framing of abortion. If O’Toole accepts that aborting baby girls because they are baby girls is a human right — which he does — then of course he’s going to get destroyed on this issue.
But if he perhaps pointed out that sex-based discrimination — especially the lethal sort — is abhorrent, as is the Liberal dedication to female feticide, he might score some points with the overwhelming majority of Canadians who happen to hold that view.
In the meantime, here’s how this is going to go: O’Toole will vote against the bill, as will most of his shadow cabinet. He will allow a free vote for fear of alienating the base even further, although there will be plenty of backroom encouragement to vote against it. Then, when he loses the upcoming election to Trudeau, the commentariat and the Red Tories will come out and announce that True Blue O’Toole lost because he refused to terminate the so-cons entirely and that it’s time for a leader who owns his own abortion clinic or something.
O’Toole can swear up and down that he loves abortion and deeply disapproves of his colleagues who deeply disapprove of abortion, but unless he takes measures that will split the party, the narrative won’t change.
Until we have a leader who understands common ground, coalitional politics, and the testicular fortitude of attacking your enemies where they are weak, the abortion issue will be a millstone around the necks of weak men. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it will take someone with both courage and conviction to change the status quo. In the meantime, Justin Trudeau could not be happier.