Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wedge issues

When Rod Bruinooge went public with his anti-choice crusade this week, my first suspicion was that the Cons were merely trying to change the channel from their Senate appointments while trying to set up a false image of moderation for Harper by temporarily highlighting their own more extreme elements. But it's now looking very much like the move was indeed a trap - at least if the Cons planned for this type of storyline in hopes of moving their caucus closer to majority territory:
Fate unclear for Liberals backing anti-abortion cause

OTTAWA -- Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is unwilling to say whether negative repercussions will befall members of his caucus who oppose legalized abortion...

Most of the Liberal MPs who survived the October election have previously voted against increased restrictions on the controversial procedure. But there is a small faction within the Liberal Party that has been openly supportive of laws that would curtail or ban abortions. Calls to several of those MPs were not returned yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ignatieff refused to say whether the new Liberal Leader will allow any of his members to continue to advocate openly for reduced access to publicly funded abortions.

"I don't think we are in a position to answer those questions today. I think they are speculative at this point," said Jill Fairbrother, adding that it is impossible to know if the committee mentioned by Mr. Bruinooge even exists and, if so, whether there are members from parties other than the Conservatives.
Now, it's understandable that Ignatieff doesn't want to jump the gun and send out any strong comments about abortion policy in general which he'll regret later.

But there's also some serious risk in trying to duck the issue as to how he'll deal with anti-abortion members of his caucus. It would seem likely that there are still at least a few paleo-Libs who might perceive a danger that their social views would limit their potential advancement within the party, making them far too likely to be open to Con entreaties to cross the floor. And an effort to bring all anti-abortion MPs under the Cons' tent based on that fear could well be enough to push Harper into a majority in the current Parliament.

Fortunately, Ignatieff doesn't have to look far for a template as to how to handle the situation:
Irene Mathyssen, an NDP MP from London, Ont., said she had not heard about the all-party committee and would be surprised if any of her fellow New Democrats were members.

"We are respectful of people within our caucus," she said, "but ultimately, when someone wishes to run for the NDP, they say they will support the grassroots. And our party policy, our grassroots, is [supportive of] a woman's right to choose."...

But no NDP MP would be expelled from caucus for holding anti-abortion views, Ms. Mathyssen said. "We have a policy where we talk things through," she said.
Naturally, the Libs may want to tweak exactly what their own grassroots position is. And starting with "no MP would be expelled" might not be enough if it's perceived that other punishments would be equally unacceptable within the Libs.

But whatever the Libs' precise message proves to be, the need to keep the Cons from splintering their caucus in advance of the impending confidence votes should be obvious. And hopefully Ignatieff will respond quickly to make sure that the Cons' attempts to divide and conquer prove to be nothing more than a waste of time.

Update: Kady has more, featuring this gem from the NDP's Karl Belanger:
(I)t is easy for Mr. Bruinooge to claim he has a secret club. I could also claim, for instance, that there is a secret club of Conservative MPs ready to support the coalition government.

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