Skip to content

Liberal MP 'surprised' social conservative felt 'ambushed' by questions on abortion

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who invited a Tory backbencher onto his podcast says he's surprised the Conservative described feeling "ambushed" by queries about his long-standing and well-known opposition to abortion.
The Liberal MP who questioned Arnold Viersen, a Conservative backbencher well-known for his opposition to abortion, says he's surprised Viersen said he felt "ambushed" by his queries on his record. Viersen listens to a speaker during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, May 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who invited a Tory backbencher onto his podcast says he's surprised the Conservative described feeling "ambushed" by queries about his long-standing and well-known opposition to abortion.

Nate Erskine-Smith says he's less surprised, however, to see Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre distance himself from Alberta MP Arnold Viersen's comments.

"I think if he wants to win an election, views like that are anathema to most Canadians," he told reporters Wednesday.

During his appearance on Erskine-Smith's podcast, Viersen discussed his social-conservative views on issues like abortion and gay marriage, which he said he would vote against if given the opportunity.

"I hope for the day when abortion is unthinkable," Viersen told Erskine-Smith, as he touted his position as a proud social conservative in his party's caucus.

The two also talked about Viersen's opposition to the Liberals' legislation to legalize cannabis in 2018, for which Erskin-Smith was a major proponent.

But at the start of the episode, Erskine-Smith read a letter he received from Viersen after the interview, in which the MP said he felt "ambushed" by the questions.

After the episode came out, Poilievre issued a statement through his office to say Viersen's comments did not represent his or the party's views on either abortion or gay marriage, which he said a future Conservative government would not touch.

"As our party’s policy book, adopted by party members, has said for years, 'a Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion,'" Poilievre said in the statement.

"I will lead a small government that minds its own business, letting people make their own decisions about their love lives, their families, their bodies, their speech, their beliefs and their money."

The statement also said that cannabis would remain legal under a Conservative federal government.

It is unusual for Poilievre to issue a statement to media outlets in response to something one of his own MPs has said.

Shortly after the podcast episode went live, Viersen was quick to release a brief statement of his own on social media to clarify that his views are his alone, and do not reflect the position of Poilievre or the party.

Poilievre met Wednesday with his caucus for the first time since the issue emerged, providing MPs with the chance to address the matter in person, behind closed doors. It was expected that the leader himself would speak about the issue.

Since taking the helm, Poilievre has tried to keep Conservatives focused squarely on the issues the party sees as key to winning the next election: the economy, housing and the cost of living.

He has typically steered clear of topics like abortion and same-sex marriage, which have dogged the hopes of the party's past leaders.

"I think (Canadians) want to hear about their jobs and the economy," said Ontario MP Ben Lobb in response to questions about the podcast interview.

Viersen's comments follow attempts by the Liberal party to suggest Poilievre is willing to reopen the debate on abortion rights in Canada, and that the Conservative leader may use the override clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to roll back reproductive rights.

Poilievre's office has said he would only use the notwithstanding clause for criminal justice reforms.

While the party has long been aligned with social conservatives, many MPs and party insiders contend that sticking strictly to their economic message at a time when Canadians are anxious about their finances is crucial to defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

Poilievre first vowed not to reopen the abortion debate during the 2022 leadership contest, which saw him win a whopping first-ballot victory under the banner of "freedom."

While he has spent the years since attacking the Liberals on Trudeau's spending record, crime and the carbon price, Viersen has kept up his own advocacy on abortion.

For example, he was the lone Conservative MP to attend last month's annual anti-abortion "March for Life" rally on Parliament Hill.

The anti-abortion organization Right Now emailed supporters this week accusing Poilievre of declaring war against social conservatives. The organization has been active in the past few party leadership races and works to elect anti-abortion representatives to Parliament.

Heading into a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Erskine-Smith told reporters he was surprised by the sentiments in Viersen's letter, given the amount of advocacy the MP has done for what he calls the "pre-born."

Viersen's office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The MP has not attended the House of Commons in person since his podcast appearance, and was not seen entering the Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2024.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks