Abortion surfaces as election issue

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day came under pressure on Tuesday to explain discrepancies between the party's position on abortion referendums and a policy manual for candidates.

Alliance candidates' briefing books reveal the party would hold referendums on abortion or capital punishment if three per cent of voters signed petitions.

But Day said the three per cent figure is just an idea, not a party policy.

"Personally, I think three per cent is a little low but it's not up to me to make that decision," Day said, adding a referendum would happen only after public consultations.

Direct questions about the possibility of an Alliance government changing abortion laws appeared to surprise Day on Monday.

He retreated from his previous stance that Canadians would decide issues such as abortion, saying "the polls are very clear, people won't even ask for that."

Day's backpedalling got him in trouble with his political opponents and with his pro-life, pro-family supporters.

"I don't know how he thinks he got elected as leader of the Canadian Alliance party," Jim Hughes, president of the Campaign Life Coalition said.

"He wouldn't even be there if it weren't for the grassroots, pro-life, pro-family Canadians that voted for him."

Tory Leader Joe Clark sees a hidden agenda in Day's position. "People like Stockwell Day, if they don't like the law, should have the courage to say so.

"They should not hide out behind referenda and keep changing their position as to whether they're going to hold them or not hold them."

"It's cowardly. I think it shows that he has absolutely no understanding on the issues of reproductive choices," NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said.

Liberal Leader Jean Chrtien addressed the nasty turn that the federal election campaign has taken this week.

Chrtien said on Monday that his rivals are on the offensive because "after more than two weeks, they're going nowhere."

The Liberal leader predicted the mud-slinging will get worse. "They don't talk any more about the platform. Now they're moving to name-calling, character assassination," he said of his opponents.

At a Toronto news conference on Tuesday, Day took issue with Chrtien's allegations that he's left his agenda of respect for personal attacks.

"For (Chrtien) to appear as if he were emotionally disturbed by this and say it's personal, I'm sorry but pointing to the record, it's not personal, it's a matter of fact," Day said. "As the leader of the Opposition, it's my job to do this."

Chrtien promised to stay above the fray Monday but then criticized Day's stand on gun control, saying Day rushed out to buy a handgun on the same day the gun control law was passed in the Commons.

Chrtien got the date wrong, and his assistants later clarified Day bought the gun in 1994, when the legislation was introduced.

Away from the mudslinging, Joe Clark failed to drum up much interest in a campaign event in Victoriaville, Que. He received exactly one phone call during his half-hour on a radio talk show Tuesday morning.

A woman asked what the Tories would do about her taxes, and Clark answered his party would raise the basic personal income tax exemption.

Meanwhile, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said he will go after Chrtien during the leaders' debates in French on Wednesday and English on Thursday about cuts to employment insurance.

The federal election will be held Nov. 27.