By John-Henry Westen

TORONTO, January 9, 2006 ( – Finding out where candidates stand on issues of importance is a defining characteristic of elections. While questionnaires are sometimes a hassle for candidates to fill out, they serve a vital role in communicating to interested voters the position of the candidates thus aiding the votersÂin making an informedÂvoting decision. They can give that added boost many voters need to get out to the polls and support the candidate who best represents them.

Growing numbers of Conservative Party candidates in Northern Ontario, South Western Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area, Alberta and British Columbia are refusing to answer questionnaires put out by pro-life, and pro-family groups, and some are refusing to answer any questionnaires at all. While some Liberal and NDP candidates have also refused to answer questionnaires, Conservative candidates are unique in blaming their refusal on policy or directives from Conservative Party headquarters.Â received what one candidate claimed to be a copy of a directive or memo from Conservative Party headquarters stating that “Candidates are asked not to sign written ‘pledges’ of any kind during the election period.”

However, in an interview, Conservative Party Press Office spokesman ‘Jennifer’ told that there is no such policy or directive from headquarters. Pro-life groups “have already received questionnaire responses from MPs and other candidates”, explained the spokesman, “so (a policy against responses) is obviously not the case.”

Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), which has been putting out pro-life questionnaires for over 25 years during elections, told that so far almost 200 MPs and candidates from all parties have turned in completed questionnaires or responded in some other form to the questionnaire. Of that total only 72 Conservative candidates, from the party that has emphasized democratic accountability and openness, have responded so far.

Some Conservative candidates are rejecting repeated requests from local voters and insisting they cannot answer the questionnaires because of party decrees. Responding to a request to fill out a pro-life questionnaire by Campaign Life Coalition, Conservative candidate Blaine Calkins, running in the Alberta riding of Wetaskiwin, said, “Conservative Party policy is that we do not respond to surveys or questionnaires of any kind.”

Charges that the Conservative Party is clamping down on open support for social conservative issues is also coming from candidates in eastern Canada. The Halifax Chronicle Herald reported last week that the Conservative Party ordered two Halifax-area candidates not to talk to reporters about their attendance at a meeting with clergy opposed to homosexual ‘marriage’.Â

Paula Henderson, a campaign volunteer for Conservative Candidate Rakesh Khosla in Halifax West, responded to a Herald reporter asking about the meeting, “We’ve been told by Ottawa that we don’t talk about that . . . That’s a dropped subject.” The paper also reports that Paul Francis, the Conservative candidate for Sackville-Eastern Shore, also attended the meeting and he too refused to comment. “We’re actually referring all inquiries on that meeting to (Tory spokesman) Rob Batherson,” Jeff Alexander, communications director for Mr. Francis told the Herald.

Again in that case, a spokesman from the party denied the charges. Conservative spokesman Rob Batherson told the Herald, “Candidates are free and clear to comment on any subject they feel fit to do so.” Local voters have expressed dismayÂthat these candidates are showing so little spine andÂputting party requests to clam up ahead of their obligations to be open to local voters who elect them and who they are running toÂrepresent in Ottawa.

In other ridings, the surpising reluctance of candidates who were previously understood to be quite open to publicly state their positions has CLC leaders assuming they tooÂhave caved in to party advisorsÂrather than place their constituents as their first priority. BC Surrey North candidate Dave Matta, for example,Âpreviously understood to be pro-life, has so far refused repeated requests forÂhis exact postion on the issues inÂthe CLC questionnaire. Matta has only responded with a brief comment in a letter claiming that he is “pro-life” while providing no evidence for the claim. CLC empahisizes that in the past many candidates who have merely claimed to be “pro-life”Âhave turned outÂto be anything but.

In Newmarket-Aurora, Conservative candidate Lois Brown, attempting to defeat her nemesis Belinda Stronach, is astonishingly making the same error that may have led to her defeat when Belinda, now a Liberal, narrowly won the Conservative nomination against Brown. At that time, Brown, who is thought to be a social conservative, refused to sign the CLC questionnaire leaving the pro-life organization helpless to muster its sigificant membership in the riding to help her. Now Brown, despite repeated promises that she would send in the current election questionnaire has once again failed to do so. CLC is therefore in the same position of not being able to assist her in what is expected to be another tight race. In Scarborough Centre, Conservative candidate Roxanne James has since November repeatedly promised to submit the CLC questionnaire but has so far still failed to do so.

CLC National President Jim Hughes told, “If this is true, and the party is dictating this, then it’s a bonehead move on their part and it puts the lie to what they’ve been claiming regarding transparency.” Hughes added, “they’re leaving themselves open to charges of a hidden agenda again.ÂIt remains to be seen whether the Conservative brain trust will totally clarify ths situation before it becomes a major last minute election gaffe.”

Sure enough, the hidden agenda line is already being used.ÂIncumbent Liberal candidate Geoff Regan in Halifax West said to the Herald, “The fact that they’re telling their candidates not to talk about this is incredible. . . . The Conservatives are muzzling their candidates. How many others are there with an agenda they don’t want to talk about?”

See also Special Report
  Answers to Campaign Life Coalition Election Questionnaire Vital For Informed Voting