Doorstep Postings: What the abortion debate is exposing about politics in Ontario

This is the 16th in a series of opinion columns on the 2022 Ontario provincial election, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

When Canadians are gripped by a stateside abortion panic, and everyone rushes to declare that they are pro-choice for the millionth time (as well they should), nobody in the mass media—not even once—stops to ask a rabbi what they think about abortion. 

You would think that someone, somewhere, would’ve tried talking to a Jewish (or Muslim, or Hindu, etc.) religious leader in Canada, if only just for novelty’s sake.

But that would imply that there’s some sort of discussion to be had, something to be learned that you didn’t know before. 

The abortion debate in Canada, such as it is, is a mostly risk-free opportunity to engage in some good-old-fashioned tribalism—and, in the process, expose some fairly glaring flaws in the comforting stories we tell ourselves. 

First on this list of home truths is a Doorstep Postings favourite that we’ve previously covered in columns—the idea that as Canadians, we’re hopelessly blown about by prevailing winds in countries that are bigger and stronger than we are, and where the people are less concerned about being caring, decent, and looking out for one another.

The bloodthirsty Americans, engaged in yet another of their civil wars, have threatened our fragile consensus. Right-wing politicians, drunk on Fox News disinformation, are cosplaying as Republicans while Liberals cosplay as Democrats.

Despite not being able to name a single Justice on our Supreme Court, Canadians are convinced that what’s going on down there could happen here, on the say-so of creatures like Doug Ford. Press hard enough and you might even hear someone assert that were it not for dark influences from beyond our borders, there would be no abortion debate in Canada. 

Then we have the notion that Canadians are somehow less tribal than those other, less-evolved folks.

Here’s a fun game I like to play that you can try out on your non-Jewish friends: if one of them is puzzled or horrified by the level of vitriol and anger on display when Israel-Palestine comes up, all you have to do is utter the magic word “abortion” and watch their reactions. 

But there is one story we tell ourselves about our politics that is most relevant to the election at hand, where it seems like all three major parties are running safe frontrunner campaigns: that we don’t want our politics to be dominated by divisive issues. 

Unlike the other two fairy tales I spoke of before, this one doesn’t fall apart at a second glance. It’s entirely true that Ontarians hate turbulence of any sort in their politics. But this is the simple, pshat explanation.

The drash, the deeper meaning, is a little darker: Ontarians don’t like division because they don’t like having to defend their views to others who disagree. Pro-life and pro-choice Ontarians alike are in a permanent state of shock that the other side exists at all, given the self-evident rightness of their position.  

Pick any such third-rail issue in Canadian politics and you’ll see the same thing. A select few commentators, many of whom look the same and sound the same, repeating the same talking points your parents heard. Private money in health care is bad. Crown corporations and provincial assets can’t be sold for love or money. More nuclear energy will lead to three-eyed fish on our plates. Don’t touch public schools. Don’t touch the CBC. Don’t raise or lower taxes, don’t do anything that upsets Quebec, sex is an intensely private matter, and identity politics will mean the death of us all.  

And the more Canadians limit the range of acceptable domestic opinions, the easier it is for those big, scary, foreign interests to exploit our politics from abroad. Politics abhors a vacuum, you see.   

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.