“On abortion, we’re never going to see a black and white, yes or no question. My job as your MP is to fight for incremental changes. … It’s called the foot-in-the-door tactic.” — Joseph Schow

On a day when there’s serious talk in the United States that women’s right to reproductive freedom may not just be restricted, but soon all but eliminated, it’s scary to think the social conservative movement is working effectively behind the scenes in Canada to achieve the same goal.

With one more judge appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Donald Trump, “the court would most likely gut its current abortion standards and allow legislatures to enact restrictions that would make access to abortion practically impossible in hostile states,” wrote Yale Law professor Reva Siegel in the New York Times yesterday, as our American neighbours contemplate the unfolding nightmare south of the 49th Parallel.

Here in Canada, have no doubt that Canadian social conservative politicians would very much like to do the same thing.

Now, if you were to suggest on social media that this applies to Jason Kenney, the lifelong social conservative and anti-abortion campaigner who now leads Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party, you would be met with howls of protest from his supporters. They would shout he’s promised to change nothing on the abortion rights file and you’re just a scaremongering supporter of the Alberta NDP.

But is this really scaremongering?

In the past few hours, 2016 comments made by Joseph Schow, the successful candidate for the UCP nomination in the deep-south Alberta riding of Cardston-Siksika, have resurfaced that show this is the goal of at least some other UCPers, and what the strategy is for achieving it.

By way of background, the new Cardston-Siksika electoral district includes most of the current Little Bow Riding, and part of the existing Cardston-Taber-Warner district. Blogger Dave Cournoyer, the only Alberta writer who pays attention to the important technical electoral details that are habitually ignored by our neglectful mainstream media, calls it the heart of Alberta’s Bible Belt. Given the location of the town of Cardston in the riding, site of the first Mormon Temple outside the borders of the United States, the Book of Mormon Belt might be more like it.

It’s located in a region where social conservative values may be more the norm than the exception, where child vaccinations are resisted by unusually large numbers of parents, and which includes a few out-of-the-way spots where plural marriage is discreetly practiced. So it is undeniably an electoral district in which social conservative notions are closer to the mainstream than almost anywhere else in Canada.

Schow’s comments were made when he was vying for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in the 2016 Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner federal by-election that was eventually won by Glen Motz, now the riding’s MP.

There were six candidates for the nomination and every one of them demonstrated their anti-abortion credentials at a public forum in Medicine Hat on June 15 that year.

That was where Schow, a married father of two and former Tory staffer in Ottawa during Kenney’s time there, made the comment quoted at the top of this post. His official biography highlights “promoting religious freedom in Canada” as a special interest, as well as his role as an “activist fighting for the values he was brought up with while living in Southern Alberta.” Ah-hem!

Now, a caveat. We are depending on a story in the Medicine Hat News that is incredibly sloppy — rife with spelling errors, incorrectly transcribed words, and misplaced quotation marks, which I have taken a risk and tried to correct. Still, the intent and meaning of Schow’s words are quite clear despite these technical difficulties.

“Our party is about conscience rights,” he told the meeting. “On abortion, we’re never going to see a black and white, yes or no question. My job as your MP is to fight for incremental changes such as (restrictions on) sex-selective abortions, then on late-term abortions.” The explanatory phrase in brackets is the reporter’s. “It’s called a ‘foot-in-the-door tactic’.”

Schow’s comment is not exactly news. Anyone concerned with women’s reproductive rights knows this is how the social conservative right plots to achieve its unpopular and dangerous goals. What’s interesting is that he felt confident enough among his supporters to say so aloud.

Schow, 34, whom I imagine Kenney knew well in Ottawa, was clearly the leader’s choice for this riding, where it is likely the UCP candidate will win regardless of his views on this or other topics. (And where, by the way, the Conservative candidate will likely always be a he.)

The party will do its best to divert our attention in the rest of the province if the topic comes up. If it does anyway you can count on it we will be given the same bland assurances not to worry, that nothing can change. But you can be equally assured Schow’s views and his preferred strategy will remain the same.

In a congratulatory Tweet, Kenney said of the new UCP candidate, “Joseph is a smart, principled young Albertan, part of a new generation of leadership who will work hard to get Alberta on track.”

He’s also a guy who knows how to get a foot in the door to incrementally restrict the reproductive rights of all women, whether or not they share his beliefs.

We don’t know what he thinks about the rights of our LGBTQ+ fellow citizens, but it might be worth asking him about that sometime too, if the opportunity ever arises.

Not all conservatives are social conservatives, of course. But if the success of President Trump in the United States is any guide, many economic conservatives are willing to sacrifice almost any principle if having a social conservative in office is what it takes for them to win. Presumably, they assume they can carve out exceptions for themselves and their own families.

Naturally, at the provincial level, the foot-in-the-door strategy is more likely to come through tactics such as delisting medical services — citing the cost, not the desire to control women’s bodies, of course. But it will come nevertheless, a bit at a time, just as it did in the United States, if we entrust our governments to them.

This is how it started in the United States, and this is how they intend to see it start in Canada too.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Flickr/progressohio

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...