A Conservative MP asking constituents about their perspectives on abortion says he wants to learn where they stand on an issue he expects to keep surfacing in the new session of Parliament.
But Garnett Genuis says he has “no plans” to put forward a private member’s bill or motion based on the information gleaned from a survey his office included in a mailer sent to every household in his riding last month.
Genuis, who represents the Alberta riding of Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan, faced some online blowback to the questionnaire, as first reported by the Sherwood Park News. He took to Facebook this week to express hope that the controversy would spur more responses.
The survey notes that the “issue of abortion was bought up a number of times” during the fall election campaign, though all major parties ruled out pursuing legislation on the issue. It asks constituents what best describes their view on the matter. Among the four options is one stating “abortion should never be allowed” and another referencing possible restrictions, “such as a ban on abortion in the final three months of pregnancy.” (Late-term abortions are extremely rare in Canada).
The questionnaire also asked constituents to share their views on possible Alberta separation, decriminalizing hard drugs, and the top issues on which they’d like to see Parliament focus.
Genuis told HuffPost Canada that he tries to “ask meaningful questions to my constituents about the issues of the day.” While he has in the past sought feedback on economic or environmental issues, Genuis said the questions posed this time are “reflective of things that I saw being discussed in the election, in the aftermath of the election.”
During the campaign, Tory Leader Andrew Scheer was repeatedly pushed by political rivals to clarify his personal views on reproductive rights, including during a key French-language debate. Scheer told reporters at the time that while he is “pro-life,” a government led by him would not re-open the abortion debate.
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Scheer announced in December that he will step down as his party’s leader. Those who join the race to replace him will undoubtedly be asked about their own views on abortion.
Peter MacKay, a former minister expected to run for the Tory leadership, famously said in October that questions about Scheer’s social conservative views, including reproductive rights, were a “stinking albatross” for the party.
Asked why he would seek out opinions on an issue that appeared to dog Tories during the last campaign, Genuis, who also personally opposes abortion, noted the matter is already being discussed in Parliament.
In question period last month, NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen called on Health Minister Patty Hajdu to do more to stop the potential closure of the only private abortion clinic in Fredericton, N.B.
“On this side, our party and our leader have been extremely clear that all Canadian women have the right to receive consistent access to reproductive health services that include abortion,” Hajdu said.
Genuis said it’s “not outside the realm of possibility” the NDP could table an opposition day motion on the matter after the House of Commons resumes sitting on Jan. 27.
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“Certainly there are times where… talking about an issue may not be a priority for us but we’re going to be asked about it and we need to be ready for that,” Genuis said. “And part of having a level of readiness for conversations that others may initiate is to ask my constituents.”
‘Good thing’ to ask tough questions, MP says
Genuis said the survey questions on national unity were spurred by a “growing number” of calls to his office from people who say they are getting behind the push for Alberta’s separation from Canada.
“And I kind of want to know: is this a real reflection of what a lot of people are thinking or is this just want some people are thinking,” he said.
The questionnaire isn’t about “framing” future proposals, he said.
“But if another party were to put forward a motion that was designed to create a wedge, which sometimes they do, then it would allow me to go back to say, ‘OK, what did my constituents have to say on this topic?’”
Genuis told HuffPost it is a “good thing” for MPs to gauge how those in their riding feel about issues, even if they are difficult and contentious.
And he appears to be taking criticism in stride.
Genuis also took to Facebook to share a photo of a survey that was returned by someone who framed the questions about abortion as “bullshit” and questions about Alberta separation as “gaslighting.”
“Alas, this would count as a spoiled ballot,” Genuis wrote.