"As long as I am prime minister we are not opening the abortion debate," Stephen Harper vowed on the eve of the last election. "The government will not bring forward any such legislation, and any such legislation that is brought forward will be defeated as long as I am prime minister."
That's as clear-cut a promise as anyone can make. Unfortunately, Ontario Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth didn't get the memo, and introduced a private member's motion this week to "review" if a human life begins at birth, as the law currently states. Woodworth freely admits this is a way to reopen the abortion debate.
It's an eerie echo of when Tory backbencher Candice Hoeppner's "private member's bill" almost succeeded in scrapping the long-gun registry. When is government policy not government policy? Surely one phone call from the prime minister would be the end of Woodworth's motion.
Failing that, the math is tricky if Harper wants to keeps his promise to Canadians. He can bank on the NDP opposing Woodworth en masse. But how many Liberals will join him after leader Bob Rae freed them to vote their conscience? Does Harper have the nerve to compel his MPs to vote against theirs?
As much as we like to see MPs exercise some autonomy, it's recklessly irresponsible for the Conservative government to let this troublesome motion move forward. If Harper is true to his word, this review is doomed to failure and will succeed only in dividing Canadians and distracting the nation from the real issues of the day.