OTTAWA - A candidate for the Conservative leadership says it's time for Canada to have a free and open debate about sex-selective abortion — an announcement that has raised concerns that it could reopen old party divisions.
Pierre Lemieux, a former Ontario Tory MP, said in a statement Sunday that under his leadership the Conservative platform will include a pledge to take action against sex-selective abortion. As prime minister, he said he would work to end the practice.
"I believe it is wrong to end a pregnancy based solely on the belief that a baby girl is worth less than a baby boy," Lemieux, one of the lower profile hopefuls in the 14-candidate race, said in a new campaign video.
"As a father of four daughters, this issue is particularly close to my heart and I stand with those Canadians who have serious concerns about gender-selective abortion...
"I believe that politicians should have the courage to debate these issues in an open and respectful way."
Lemieux urged people who believe in a respectful debate on this type of issue to donate to his campaign.
The issue of sex-selective abortion has stirred up controversy within the Conservative party in the past.
In 2013, about 20 Tory MPs were infuriated when fellow MP Mark Warawa's motion condemning sex-selective abortion was blocked. The dispute eventually led MP Brent Rathgeber to quit the Conservative caucus.
Conservative strategist Michele Austin notes that while Lemieux's position is consistent with his social-conservative views, she says she believes it's a strategy for him to get noticed. She fears his announcement could open old wounds within the party.
"I think that a lot of people will be disappointed that he's going to go this hard and this fast on the issue of abortions — this early," said Austin, a senior adviser with Summa Strategies.
"There's a crowded field and everybody's trying to get votes. So, from a strategic point of view we shouldn't be surprised about it, but I think that a lot of Conservatives are going to be disappointed if this hijacks the agenda."
Austin said that Lemieux isn't the only leadership candidate who supports this position. However, so far she said the others have chosen either a "big-tent" approach or to raise the issue in a different way, at a different time.
"The joy under the Rona Ambrose leadership is that there hasn't been any great divides in these kinds of social conservative issues and we've enjoyed this quiet time of rebuilding, where everybody is free to pursue their interests and their own beliefs," she said Sunday.
"It's an exciting time to be in the party."
Some studies have suggested that sex-selective abortion could be an issue in Canada.
In April, research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that Indian-born women in Canada with two or more children had been giving birth to more baby boys than expected. The researchers suggested abortions related to sex selection may have been a major reason.
Lemieux served as MP in the rural, eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell from 2006 until he was defeated in last year's election.