Anti-abortion group RightNow tries to shape outcome of B.C. Liberal leadership race

Its preferred candidate is Renee Merrifield, followed by Kevin Falcon and Ellis Ross

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      Who are the B.C. Liberals?

      Is it a party that welcomes social conservatives who want to restrict a woman's right to choose whether or not to have a child?

      Or is it a party that is unabashedly pro-choice on abortion?

      That's one of the issues at play in its current leadership race.

      One of Canada's more influential anti-abortion groups, RightNow, is encouraging its supporters to purchase a B.C. Liberal membership by December 17 to influence the vote for the next leader.

      RightNow explains on its website that the ballot needs to be ranked. And it has offered guidance to its supporters by ranking the contenders based on their answers in interviews that it conducted.

      Topping the list is Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield with a 63 percent rating.

      RightNow's second-favourite candidate is former finance minister Kevin Falcon at 50 percent.

      They're followed by Skeena MLA Ellis Ross (46 percent), former Vancouver–Mount Pleasant candidate Gavin Dew (29 percent), former B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Val Litwin (20 percent), and Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee (nine percent).

      Lee is the only B.C. Liberal leadership candidate who turned down the interview invitation from RightNow.

      RightNow was founded by Alissa Golob and Scott Hayward with a mission "to nominate and elect pro-life politicians by mobilizing Canadians on the ground level to vote at local nomination meetings".

      "It is only when we have a majority of pro-life politicians in our legislatures, that we’ll see pro-life legislation passed in our country," RightNow states on its website.

      It points out that each constituency in B.C. has 100 points in the voting for the next B.C. Liberal leader, regardless of how many party members actually live there.

      This opens up the opportunity for anti-abortionists to have a disproportionate impact on the leadership race if they can sign up a significant number of members in constituencies where the party is weak.

      That's because this would help them sway the contest in those areas, whereas this couldn't be done under a one member–one vote system.

      Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield is at the top of the chart on an anti-abortion group's list of preferred B.C. Liberal leadership candidates.
      Renee Merrifield

      Read Merrifield's responses 

      When asked about her stance on abortion and medical assistance in dying, Merrifield responded: "Life is precious. All life is precious. I am pro-woman, pro-baby, and pro-people."

      She added: "I believe that the pro-life label has sometimes been used to divide, or to stop the conversation, rather than to have a positive dialog and move the conversation forward. I have had three beautiful babies and grieved four others born before their time."

      Merrifield also stated in her interview that she "held the hand of a friend trying to choose between the baby in her womb who would not live outside of her, and would end her life carrying, and the three children that she already had".

      "I also believe that we need to give death more dignity in our society, and prolong life, rather than prolonging death," Merrifield stated. "While this does not include assisted suicide, it does respect those that wish to die, so that they can die peacefully, and without medical intervention."

      Merrifield was asked if she would allow the entire caucus, including cabinet, to vote their conscience on abortion and medical assistance in dying and to bring forward private member's bills on these issues.

      "I don't believe in whipped votes unless a matter of confidence," she replied. "All votes should be constituents and conscience led. I would not dissuade any member from bringing forward a bill, save only in an election year and if in a minority."

      Merrifield stated that she supports requiring parents to provide consent for any minor seeking an abortion. And she thinks hospices should be able to deliver services according to their belief and conscience. (Read her complete interview here.)

      If Kevin Falcon ever becomes premier, he's not going to interfere with Providence Health Care's refusal to provide medical assistance in dying at the new St. Paul's Hospital on False Creek Flats.
      Kevin Falcon

      Read Falcon's responses

      Falcon stated bluntly that if he were to become premier, he would support a woman's right to choice on abortion and support British Columbians' right to access medical assistance in dying.

      "Well I need to be quite candid here," he stated, "I will not be introducing any legislation related to those two items. I do know there is federal legislation that allows for practitioners and facilities to opt out of medically assisted dying services for reasons of conscience reasons and I support that legislation."

      Through this answer, Falcon telegraphed that he will not force Providence Health Care to allow medical assistance in dying or abortion at its facilities. The Catholic organization operates several health facilities, including St. Paul's Hospital.

      To date, the NDP government hasn't forced Providence Health Care to promise to offer medical assistance in dying at the new $2.2-billion St. Paul's Hospital being constructed on False Creek Flats. That's despite health-care services falling under provincial jurisdiction in the constitution.

      About $1.3 billion of the funding for the new hospital is coming from the B.C. government.

      "You may choose to receive medical assistance in dying in your own home, a clinic, or a facility outside Providence Health Care," Providence Health Care states in a pamphlet.

      Falcon suggested that the B.C. NDP government may have violated the opt-out provision in federal legislation when it cut off funding for Delta Hospice Society for refusing to provide medical assistance in dying to its patients.

      He noted that he has always supported caucus members voting according to their conscience on abortion or assisted suicide. (Falcon's entire interview is available here.)

      Michael Lee is the only B.C. Liberal leadership candidate who spurned RightNow's request for an interview in 2021.

      What the others said

      The third-highest-ranking leadership candidate, Ellis Ross, told RightNow that he's pro-choice.

      "I have some concerns with the notion of assisted suicide, including how we ensure there are proper protections in place to ensure the true wishes of those concerned are being carried out," Ross said.

      In addition, Ross expressed a concern "about how the NDP engages in far-left identity politics to pit British Columbians against each other or 'cancel' those whose opinions they don't like—including people with pro-life views".

      "Regardless of my personal views, I have no intention of bringing forward legislation on the topic of abortion or assisted suicide," Ross declared.

      He said that he won't dissuade caucus members from bringing forward private member's bills that are important to them (when asked about abortion and assisted suicide). (Read Ross's entire interview here.)

      Dew told RightNow that he's pro-choice.

      When asked about private member's bills on abortion and medical assistance in dying, he stated "ensuring individual caucus members have the freedom to follow their conscience on issues of personal importance has always been important to keeping our big tent party united".

      He also said that conscience rights can and should be protected for individual health-care professionals.

      "I would not support forcing people to provide abortion or MAID in violation of their deeply held personal beliefs," Dew said.

      (Read Dew's entire interview here.)

      None of the B.C. Liberal leadership candidates is concerned that St. Paul's Hospital patients must ask for a transfer to gain access to their constitutional right to medical assistance in dying.
      Charlie Smith

      Litwin supports allowing caucus members to vote their conscience on abortion and medical assistance in dying. But he has no legislation planned in this regard.

      "When it comes to matters of life and health, we have three major crises: first is COVID-19...second is the opioid crisis, and the third is the climate crisis: all three cause unnecessary loss of life," Litwin said.

      When asked about requiring parental or guardian consent for a minor seeking an abortion, Litwin also declared that he won't change the status quo. (Read his entire interview here.)

      In 2017, Lee earned the highest marks in RightNow's rating of B.C. Liberal leadership candidates after saying he supported freedom-of-conscience for backbenchers and cabinet ministers on abortion.

      At that time, Lee also expressed a desire for all medical procedures involving minors to have parental involvement. He also favoured a reduction in "sex-selective and late-term abortions".

      "My parents met in Hong Kong in high school, where they both attended Catholic high school and from that background they enrolled me in the independent Catholic boys' school, Vancouver College, from grades one to twelve," Lee told RightNow in 2017. "My parents have a very strong work ethic; my father owned and operated pharmacies on the east side of Vancouver and my mother was a community health nurse.

      "I grew up working in those pharmacies on weekends and attended church with my parents on Sundays," Lee continued. "I also learned a lot about love and compassion, and certainly service, by attending Vancouver College."

      His campaign subsequently declared that he does not believe in imposing his views on others and would not introduce legislation on abortion were he to become the premier.

      Moreover, Lee's campaign stated that he doesn't think parental involvement should be mandatory in a minor's decision on whether or not to have an abortion.

      Justin Trudeau and his entire federal Liberal caucus are unequivocally pro-choice.
      Adam Scotti/PMO

      Trudeau stands apart from B.C. Liberals on abortion

      In contrast to B.C. Liberal leadership candidates, Justin Trudeau requires MPs in his federal Liberal caucus to support a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion.

      The B.C. NDP is also adamantly pro-choice on abortion. However, it has demonstrated an inconsistent approach on medical assistance in dying when one compares Health Minister Adrian Dix's approach to the Delta Hospice Society to that of Providence Health Care.

      In 2017, RightNow claimed to have sold thousands of memberships in the Conservative leadership campaign, which was won narrowly by Andrew Scheer.

      "Andrew is a leader we are excited to work with because of his voting record, positive pro-life policies and his goal to unite the party and accept that social conservatives need to be part of the conversation," Hayward said in a news release at the time.

      Two years later, the Conservatives lost the federal election under Scheer's leadership. That came about in part because of his inability to give a clear answer on abortion in the French-language leaders' debate.