BY ALISSA GOLOB
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I used to think they were so cool, fighting evil one day, dealing with their teenage drama the next. Not to mention they basically got to morph into transformers whenever they wanted. You can only imagine the nostalgia and enjoyment that came over me while I was sitting there last night, watching a movie that took me down memory lane, little knowing my own life would soon reflect the over-dramatization I was watching on the big screen as soon as I stepped out of the movie theatre.
When I got home, I checked my messages since I like to be a respectful citizen and turn off my phone during films. Like a nerd, I read every single one of the leadership candidate e-mails from all the campaigns, but I knew the minute I saw Brad Trost’s latest entitled “Vellacott: why I will NOT vote for Andrew Scheer”, I needed to get the aspirin out.
As I was reading through the different fallacies and exaggerated accusations Vellacott was making, I did a double take right in the middle. He actually called me out by name. At first I thought this slightly amusing given that I assume the majority of people reading the e-mail have no idea who I am. And then a wave of pensiveness came over me right before my phone started lighting up with calls and texts from people astonished at the figurative cannibalism happening before them.
After reading the e-mail a couple times over and speaking with colleagues and politicians, I decided the best way forward was to address a few important issues that pro-lifers are currently faced with in Canada, as exemplified by this e-mail.
As a side note, you have no idea how much I hate having to write this blog post. After these attacks were made on me and almost every single pro-life MP currently sitting in the House of Commons, which was e-mailed to the entire Conservative party as Brad’s official campaign email, a response was necessary. It doesn’t change the fact that it saddens me it had to happen in the first place.
1. RightNow was formed to do what CLC won’t
Throughout the e-mail, Vellacott repeatedly quotes either directly or indirectly the same talking points of Campaign Life Coalition and their attacks on Scheer. For those of you reading this not knowing the history, I used to work for CLC for 6 years (2010-2016) before leaving with a few of my colleagues to start a new political organization that was results-driven and solely focused on nominating and electing pro-life candidates.
No one knows the inner-workings of this organization more than I. For years I was their main media spokesman, their main public speaker, their main youth organizer for the March for Life, candlelight vigil, youth conference and youth banquet. I know how they talk and vet politicians, how they conduct their meetings, and the mentality of the main employees and decision-makers running the show. A couple weeks after I left, I was forced to write a blog entitled “Why I quit my job” because of the similar Vellacott-mud-slinging that CLC was engaging in about our organization with anyone who would listen. I said very little about them at the time because I believed that although organizations might disagree, we should all just focus on our work and be respected and supported based on our merits and successes and not gossip or in-fighting. That didn’t stop them from serving me and my business partner with a potential lawsuit trying to prove that I was a fiduciary employee and therefore had certain unwritten obligations to my former employer, like not creating a competing organization for at least a year. Looking back I feel honoured they were so worried about my future successes, but also saddened that the people who were my close friends, many of whom I considered family, were attacking me in this manner. Given the lack of legal evidence, the suit was dropped and we continued to grow. I quickly realized it was a mere scare-tactic to try and deter us from continuing rather than to actually force any legal action.
After working full-time in the pro-life movement outside of CLC for over a year now as the co-founder of a different political organization, I realized that my silence on certain issues is actually harming the movement, not helping it. Maurice’s e-mail showed me that.
Let me be clear. If it wasn’t for Campaign Life Coalition, I would not be in the movement today. They gave me my first job, and the opportunity to meet amazing pro-lifers across the country and for that, I thank them. But it stops there. For years I was stuck in a self-perpetuating organization with no political successes under their belt in the last two decades. They sell Christmas cakes to keep the lights on, and keep the lights on to sell Christmas cakes. Year after year after year, while all hell was breaking loose in Canada from a political pro-life standpoint. Not only did we lose half of our pro-life MP’s in the last election, we also saw the victories of both Premier Brian Gallant (who eliminated one of the last few abortion barriers in New Brunswick) and Premier Wade MacLauchlan (whose government brought abortion to Prince Edward Island for the first time since abortion was decriminalized). RU-486 was approved and is now being funded by some provincial governments. Justin Trudeau, the first Liberal leader who publicly disallowed pro-lifers from running for government was elected Prime Minister, and the list goes on.
Meanwhile, the organization that calls itself the “political arm of the pro-life movement”, was organizing ineffective mini-rallies against sex-education in Ontario, selling Easter lilies, organizing the Life Chain, and calling Trudeau names on the side. For years I tried to get them to focus on effective political engagement. I was even successful at getting employees with health care and political backgrounds hired to focus the organization. For the last two years of my employment, while I was trying to change and focus the organization, I was consistently told that regardless of what plans or strategies I put forward, “we have to do what we’ve always done and let God take care of the rest”.
As Albert Einstein once said:
Which brings us to present day. One of the very first campaigns we worked on we successfully helped nominate and elect an underdog pro-life candidate that no one had ever heard of. Throughout our time continuously winning nominations and elections in the past year, we have seen and been told that CLC advises these campaigns not to work with us. Although these campaigns never listen because what we provide to them is invaluable, it is shocking to me that an organization whose goal is to pass life-saving legislation actually advises pro-life candidates not to use effective resources and volunteers that are being given to them because of hubris and pride.
All of the items listed above that CLC has done or focused on in the last few decades, have done nothing but cause unnecessary division in the pro-life movement (don’t even get me started on when We Need A Law was created and CLC had a meltdown about gestational legislation).
Don’t get me wrong. As a social reform movement, we are bound to make mistakes. The issue with CLC is that they refuse to learn from them. Learning from your failures and be willing to change for the better is the mark of a good organization. Not only does CLC continue to do the same things they did 30 years ago, they’ve also refused to acknowledge the failures they spearheaded resulting in a lack of any type of legislation in Canada. When we first started creating the RightNow business plan, my colleagues and I spoke to former CLC leaders who worked endlessly day and night on pro-life campaigns under the roof of that organization. I value the advice of these people not only because of their dedication and sacrifices they gave to the cause, but also because of their recognition that strategies needed to be changed and perfected. Which is why they too left CLC.
Why is it that our neighbours to the south are passing hundreds of pieces of legislation decreasing abortion numbers state by state, but here in Canada we can’t even get a motion to condemn sex-selective abortion passed in the House of Commons?
(See strategy and effectiveness of the pro-life group the Susan B Anthony list below)
Because Campaign Life Coalition, who has branded themselves as the political arm of the pro-life movement, has been up until the last few years, the only national organization pro-lifers could go to when determining a pro-life plan of action on these important political issues. And they have failed. Badly. They have wasted valuable volunteer time and millions of dollars in the last two decades and have very little to show for it.
Current prominent pro-life politicians refuse to work with them, their numbers are decreasing because their database is from the 1980’s and they are not replenishing. They attack, divide and react. When I teamed up with the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform for the #No2Trudeau campaign, we traveled across 9 different provinces and spoke in 22 locations to get the grassroots movement to campaign against Trudeau. I personally called through many of the provincial lists CLC had, quickly realizing that they were ineffective given how outdated and unkept they were. Many of their main employees are unfamiliar with how the parliamentary system works, and have never even volunteered on a political campaign before, let alone run one.
So pro-lifers are now faced with a choice. You can follow an organization who has failed at passing pro-life legislation in the last 30+ years and support their respective candidates who write e-mails and run their campaigns attacking fellow pro-lifers, or you can support change. Effectiveness. Strategy. And rejuvenation. At RightNow, we identify new pro-life supporters by door-knocking in between election cycles. We then create campaign teams that work on nominations that statistically increase that candidate’s chances of getting elected by selling memberships, calling through lists to increase support and getting out the vote. Things that CLC has never done on a large scale, nor will ever do. There’s a reason why 11 out of the 14 leadership candidates agreed to do recorded interviews with us on the abortion issue. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, which organization would you rather be a part of?
If you are tired of losing, tired of bombastic language and continuous verbal attacks with no effective action, then join us. But if you think the best way forward is to do what you’ve always done for the last 30 years and let God take care of the rest, then our organization isn’t for you.
Brad is CLC’s main candidate in the election, and they have more than likely convinced him that he has a chance of winning. Why else advise pro-lifers not to support a winnable pro-life candidate based on little fact?
Which brings me to my next point.
2. Brad vs. Andrew
In politics, there are two ways of doing things. You can either be strategic, or, you guessed it, un-strategic. Pro-lifers may want the same thing (for women and children to be saved from abortion), but vastly different ideas of how to get there. Most of the strategies bandied around are mere conjecture, unless they’re be backed with statistics and examples from other countries with similar political systems.
I understand the frustration of many pro-lifers. We are tired of politicians ignoring us, and saying they are pro-life but not doing anything to advance the cause once they are elected. I understand that. And I am with you on that.
I encourage pro-lifers not to misunderstand prudence, for being a non-pro-life stance, or “pro-abortion stance” as Campaign Life Coalition has wrongly labeled Andrew.
Let me give you an example.
In 2011, just 10 days before the federal election, Brad Trost made national headlines when he bragged to attendees at a pro-life dinner in Saskatchewan that he had defunded International Planned Parenthood.
The Planned Parenthood funding-cut revelation prompted a late-night press conference on the election campaign trail by Dimitri Soudas, the Conservative party’s chief spokesperson, who called reporters travelling with the Harper campaign to an impromptu scrum shortly after midnight Thursday in St. John’s.
There Harper went from changing his language and basically barring pro-life bills due to the enormous blowback Brad’s unexpected announcement created. No longer was he saying the government wouldn’t put forward legislation on this issue (while still allowing free votes and even voting for it in the past as Prime Minister), he now said that any bill brought forward from that point on “will be defeated as long as I’m Prime Minister”.
Because you don’t make an announcement like that on your own before the party, and you certainly don’t make an impromptu announcement like that 11 days before a major federal election.
All pro-lifers agree that International Planned Parenthood should be defunded, don’t get me wrong. But we have to ask ourselves, does this type of political showboating move our issues forward, or set us back even further? I applaud Brad for working to defund Planned Parenthood of course, and for doing so behind the scenes. But I do not applaud his “boldness” because it created an unnecessary firestorm that hurt the pro-life movement in the end.
Cut to Andrew Scheer.
Andrew was one of the youngest MP’s ever elected to Parliament, and the youngest Speaker of the House. He is a successful politician, who throughout his career has voted pro-life yes, but also spoken out on different pro-life issues, including when Morgentaler received the Order of Canada. He has shown that social conservative politicians do not need to remain backbencher politicians and can move ahead in politics while retaining their principles.
In Vellacott’s supporter e-mail, he repeatedly links him to Stephen Harper, which I find comedic. Scheer defied Harper and the party whip as Speaker of the House by ruling in favour of Mark Warawa’s right to speak on sex-selective abortion after his bill condemning the practice was deemed non-votable. Harper and the whip were trying to shut him down, and because of Andrew, he was allowed to move forward.
Andrew is now the only political candidate in the leadership race who is in the position of winning that says he is pro-life, and can back up that statement with his 10+ year-long career as a politician.
Vellacott wrongly states that as an activist, I am trying to elect a pro-life majority within the Conservative caucus. He is gravely mistaken. In any articles, interviews and presentations we have ever given, we continuously say we need to elect the majority of MP’s in the House of Commons (170 in fact) who hold the pro-life position. Not just in the Conservative Party.
He is also mistaken when he writes that “to be successful, bills need to be initiated by Government”. Just this past year, Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen’s bill C-243 on maternity benefits introduced to help pregnant women working in the trades passed in the House of Commons without the government support (because “government” only means cabinet ministers).
And once again he is mistaken when he writes that Andrew would not provide leadership from the top on these issues by receiving support from the government. Andrew time and again has said,
I’ve always voted in favour of pro-life legislation. I can assure you that I support the right to individual MP’s to speak out and introduce matters that are important to them….it’s important that the next leader of our party celebrates the tradition of having free votes on matters of conscience. I back up my words with real action, that I strengthen the role of backbench MP’s to speak up and represent their constituents and not have those rights curtailed by party leaders and party whips.”
Not only does Vellacott go after me, but worse, after all the pro-life MP’s who are supporting Andrew who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to bring up this issue in an effective and strategic way. He went so far as to call them “’fair weather’ social conservatives worried more about their own promotion” than about abortion.
Arnold Viersen, current chair of the Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus, Garnett Genuis, who was responsible for passing many amendments to Bill C-14 on physician-assisted suicide giving the bill greater safeguards, and Cathay Wagantall, who fought tooth and nail for unborn victims of crime and their mothers to receive justice by putting forward bill C-225, are just a few of the Scheer supporters who Vellacott has callously attacked.
In regards to not opening the abortion debate as a government (re: a piece of cabinet legislation), I understand the concern. Given that we have not been able to pass a pro-life piece of legislation for the last 40 years, this is a consideration on the present leadership candidates. If a pro-life prime minister introduces a piece of government legislation regulating abortion, he would allow the freedom of MPs to vote their conscience. While there may be an increase in pro-life MPs in the House, there is not a majority and the bill, historically has a good chance of being defeated. It would be the first time that a majority government piece of legislation was defeated in the House of Commons in decades. We cannot think of a more quick and swift way to ensure that government-backed pro-life legislation does not come up in the House for another 29 years (the last being Bill C-43 introduced by the Mulroney government in 1989 and defeated by a tied vote in the Senate on third reading in 1990).
As pro-lifers, we need to nominate and elect more pro-life MP’s in the House of Commons as well as a pro-life leader to appoint more pro-life senators before a bill of this gravity is introduced.
I will say it again. The pro-life movement is faced with a choice. Do we want to continue tilting at windmills and leave Andrew off our ballot, or do we want to win? Do we want to side with strategy and success, or do we want to side with malicious and unwarranted attacks and degradation?
Listening to and voting in-line with Brad Trost’s campaign e-mail attacking Andrew is the divisive type of politics that leads to the inability of the pro-life movement to make any type of advancement. Brad and Vellacott’s stance that everyone is your enemy except those who think and act exactly like them is hindering, not progressing the pro-life movement. Instead of working on the multiple nomination campaigns RightNow is currently involved in, I, along with my business partner, have had to spend last night and the better part of my day today writing this post and defending myself from attacks by people who are supposed to be on-side. This has got to end.
The pro-life movement is at a crossroads. For the sake of the unborn children affected by the successes and failures of the pro-life movement, I hope you choose wisely.