Backbench Tory breaks ranks, vows aggressive stand against abortion

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost looks on at an all-candidate's forum at the University of Saskatchewan on April 21, 2011. (Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A Conservative backbencher is angry with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for funding an international aid group that provides abortion along with sexual and reproductive health services.

Brad Trost, the MP for Saskatoon–Humbolt, says on his parliamentary website that the Prime Minister’s Office will listen to members of the Conservative caucus who oppose abortion only when they take an aggressive stand. “We will apply this lesson,” he warns.

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It marks a rare moment of public dissent within Mr. Harper’s tightly controlled caucus.

Mr. Trost was reacting to a decision by International Development Minister Bev Oda on Sept. 22 to give the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) $6-million over three years.

The CBC had run a story earlier that day saying the money had been approved for countries where abortion is illegal. Ms. Oda’s office told reporters for other news outlets, including The Globe and Mail, that the CBC report was inaccurate.

Later in the day, however, Ms. Oda announced that the funding had been indeed approved. “After completing due diligence, the government decided to fund the portion of the [IPPF]proposal that met the government’s Muskoka Initiative [on maternal and child health]in five countries of focus: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania,” her spokesman said in an e-mail.

Mr. Trost says he received a call from the Prime Minister’s Office on the afternoon of the CBC report. “Apparently,” he writes, “six staffers in CIDA Minister Bev Oda's office had been working on a grant to fund IPPF – and one of them decided to leak the story to the CBC. Rather than deny the story, a decision was made to rush funding to IPPF to the tune of $6-million over three years.”

Mr. Trost says the PMO cannot square its repeated statement that Canada will not fund abortion internationally by dictating that the money will go only to countries that ban abortion. “Considering that promoting abortion internationally is central to the identity of IPPF, this sort of political hairsplitting only seems to make sense in the Ottawa bubble,” he writes.

According to Mr. Trost, Conservative MPs have been asking since 2006 to have IPPF defunded but they were ignored “because we asked politely – and behind closed doors.”

In 2009, when they became more aggressive and took their campaign public, “federal funding did stop for a time. Funds allocated to IPPF were considerably reduced. Furthermore, federal grants for IPPF also had more strings attached.”

But that only happened because pressure was applied, Mr. Trost writes. “The battle over the IPPF continues. Pro-life politicians have been taught a lesson.”

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