How A Liberal Victory Was Ruined
“It’s the biggest pro-life campaign in Canadian history.” - Jonathon Van Maren
I first met Jonathon Van Maren when I did a bunch of shooting and editing of pro-life apologetics videos for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. That project was necessary, but not very broad. CCBR is mostly known for being broad. They take their message to the streets and campuses across the country using posters and trucks, thus forcing the general public to confront and consider the reality of abortion. Their tactics are controversial and bold, two vital ingredients missing from slacktivists in 2015.
2015 is also the year Canadians hold a federal election. The three main political parties have all attempted to reinvent themselves since 2011 and none is more reinvigorated than the Liberal Party of Canada. When Justin Trudeau was elected by members to replace Michael Ignatieff as leader of the party, it represented generational change. The old Liberal playbook was thrown out the window and a new wave Liberal policy book was built using all the trappings of modern progressive politically correct orthodoxy. One of the big changes reflected in this shift was the Liberal’s attitude toward abortion.
"The days when old men get to decide what a woman does with her body are long gone. Times have changed for the better.” - Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau embraces, most likely without much deep thinking, the standard progressive orthodoxy of abortion on demand. This is a standard progressive idea and they think it's the default position of any correct thinking individual. What he didn’t realize is that many centrist Liberals don’t automatically agree. Watch this exchange to get a sense of the disconnect between positions amongst party supporters. This change in policy caused a lot of party division and the issue continued for months.
But did the general public notice? Does the general public notice anything?
At this point the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and Campaign Life Coalition knew what they had to do.
“The goal is two fold...number one...we wanted to expose Justin Trudeau’s position on freedom of conscience because we genuinely believe that a lot of traditional Liberal voters are pro-life and they need to be alerted to the fact that the Liberals are not only not pro-life, but that they now disallow pro-life members from their caucus. Which is something most people are unaware of outside of the Ottawa bubble. Our target audience are the enormous numbers of Canadians who haven’t been exposed to abortion, who have no idea what’s going on and furthermore were not aware of the fact that if they vote Liberal they are de facto voting for the status quo.
The second goal was to show Canadian citizens the reality of abortion and what abortion does to the victims and we accomplished that to the tune of one million Canadians. So the goal was political and educational.” - Jonathon Van Maren
One million households received these anti-abortion flyers with this information on the back. Lot’s of earned media was produced, but most of the stories from the blitz resulted in “outrage at the images” angles like this one on Global television. Volunteers worked incredibly hard to reach their goal of delivering these brochures before the writ was dropped and third-party advertising laws dropped into place. They garnered even more earned media with Canada Post refusing to deliver the last of the bunch as the election started. Amongst all the media noise, the main purpose of the campaign was forgotten by reporters: criticising the Liberal position and informing the electorate about abortion.
“We get a lot of phone calls from people saying, ‘We never knew’. We had one lady who called us and said, ‘After I saw this, I won’t be voting for Justin Trudeau and neither will anyone else on my street after we talked together.’” - Jonathon Van Maren
The political angle isn’t just about ruining votes for the Liberals, however, it’s also about broadening the pro-life position.
“Traditionally 10% of the Liberal caucus has been pro-life. For example in 2010, when Bob Rae put forward his reproductive motion to perform abortions overseas...the reason that motion failed was because a bunch of pro-life Liberals voted with a bunch of pro-life Tories and that’s how it was defeated...We come by our opposition honestly, because it’s not just a campaign against the Liberals, it’s a campaign FOR the Liberals in terms of the fact they’ve always had a lot of great pro-life MP’s in the past and we want support for pre-born Canadians on both sides of the house. We don’t want all our eggs in one basket.” - Jonathon Van Maren
This goal may have to wait until the next Liberal leader takes over, since Trudeau has shown no willingness to compromise his hardline stance on abortion. In the meantime, the ridings that received these postcards may be deterred from voting Liberal this time around and with a tight three way race underway, it could prove to be devastating for the Liberals.
“I think we’ll have made an impact in certain ridings. Indo-Canadian neighbourhoods for example...Indo-Canadians are very, very pro-life. In other ridings where people are more entrenched Liberal, we’ve made them see abortion in a different light, hopefully made them consider their position, but we think our political impact there will be less.” - Jonathon Van Maren
Getting people to re-evaluate abortion in a different light has already been proven to work.
“We have internal polling that shows that people in the ridings that receive the postcards are tremendously impacted on the issue of abortion. We tested this project multiple times before we took it to this big of a scale. We delivered just shy of 500,000 postcards between 2012-2014. Pre and post campaign polling showed that 42.3% of people who received the postcards found their view of abortion had been negatively affected. Because of the success we saw on a small scale we were able to take it to the biggest scale that we were capable of with the resources we had at our disposal.” - Jonathon Van Maren
The abortion debate has been a long one, but with initiatives such as these we are looking at a strong pro-life push that will keep frustrating progressive expectations for sometime to come. The pro-life movement will long outlast any individual politician...including Justin Trudeau. Thanks to the No2Trudeau campaign that may be sooner, rather than later.
“I don’t understand where Justin Trudeau’s support comes from. He comes across as vacuous when he speaks. He distinguishes himself from other Liberal leaders. I don’t think he’s ready or ever will be. Picture him sitting across from Vladimir Putin...I shudder to think.” - Jonathon Van Maren