Anti-abortion groups helping with UCP nominations, but candidates not talking

Two groups working to get anti-abortion United Conservative Party candidates nominated for next year’s provincial election, are not talking about who they are helping. The candidates are not talking either.

Voters should know where candidates stand on access to abortion and GSAs, activist says

UCP Leader Jason Kenney posed with members of his caucus and UCP candidates during a party retreat in Lethbridge last month. (United Conservative Party)

Two groups working to get anti-abortion United Conservative Party candidates nominated for next year's provincial election are not talking about who they are helping.

The candidates are not talking either. 

"We respect each candidate's privacy and don't publicize that information," said Alissa Golob, co-founder of RightNow, in an email to CBC News.

RightNow, a national political advocacy group, and The Wilberforce Project, formerly known as Alberta Pro-Life, are recruiting volunteers and encouraging their members to get involved in nominations to get anti-abortion candidates on the ballot for the spring campaign.

On Sept. 4, RightNow said on its Facebook page that it was getting involved in five candidate nominations over the subsequent three weeks.

Golob confirms her group's goal is to get politicians elected federally and provincially to pass "common-sense pieces of pro-life legislation that are supported by the majority of Canadians." 

"The legislative part is up to the legislators," she wrote. 

Catherine Gallagher, Alberta co-ordinator for RightNow, sent an email to volunteers asking for help with the nomination campaigns of anti-abortion candidates in Calgary.

"Can we count on you to give an hour or two of your time?" the email asks. "Every effort will help elect strong pro-life candidates who will be able to introduce and pass pro-life legislation.

"This is the best way you can help change the status quo on abortion in Canada."

Strategy working, anti-abortion group says  

The Wilberforce Project is also trying to help candidates win nominations. 

In a newsletter to members, political coordinator Cameron Wilson says several candidates have won their nominations thanks to the efforts of people with anti-abortion views voting in their ridings.

"We will have a number of ridings with pro-life candidates on the general election ballot because of your persistence," he wrote.

With more nominations underway, Wilson adds "there are still many more candidates who need your help."

He also asked members to let him know about anti-abortion candidates from any political party "so we can help that candidate get nominated and win their seat."

Stephanie Fennelly, executive director at The Wilberforce Project, acknowledges her group is identifying candidates who share its beliefs and are encouraging their members to get involved.

Fennelly wouldn't say what they are doing or what they hope to achieve if the candidates are elected to the legislature.

"It's an ongoing political operation and I don't want to discuss those details," she said.

Transparency needed, advocate says 

Kathy Dawson, a board member with the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, is concerned the effort to nominate anti-abortion candidates is happening quietly behind the scenes.

Anti-abortion advocates often share other socially conservative beliefs such as opposition to contraception and gay-straight alliances in schools, Dawson said.

Anti-abortion group RightNow has been asking its members to help get pro-life candidates win their nominations. (RightNow)

She said political candidates need to be clear about where they stand.

"I think the lack of transparency is huge because people have a right to know if the candidate that they're voting for is going to seek to undermine the rights of LGBT [people] and women," Dawson said.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney is personally against abortion but has said he won't bring in any legislative changes if he becomes premier.

UCP executive director Janice Harrington said Kenney has not made any promises to anti-abortion groups to cut access should he become premier next year. 

"The UCP is a big-tent party with diverse views. We don't determine who can and can't be involved in the party," Harrington wrote in an email to CBC News. 

"From the very beginning of his first leadership run, Jason has been clear that he won't be reopening [the abortion] debate. This was reiterated in the spring." 

'Too busy' to comment 

CBC reached out to UCP candidates who appear to have received help from one of the groups or have Facebook connections with anti-abortion activists.

In emails obtained by CBC News, Gallagher was seeking volunteers to help knock on doors for two UCP candidates in Calgary, Michael Kim and Connor Staus.

Kim, running for the nomination in Calgary-Varsity, did not respond to requests for comment when reached at his Calgary business or through his Facebook page.

Staus, who lost the nomination in Calgary-Foothills to former PC MLA Jason Luan, works in the constituency office of Calgary Conservative MP Tom Kmiec.

When CBC contacted him, Staus said he didn't want to comment because he was at work and said he was too busy to answer questions when he wasn't in the office.

Two nominated UCP candidates have connections to anti-abortion activists through their Facebook accounts — Hannah Presakarchuk in Edmonton-Rutherford, and Michaela Glasgo in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

Presakarchuk, an Edmonton nurse originally from Grande Prairie, performed with her sister at a benefit for the Pregnancy Care Centre in her hometown in July.

Staff at pregnancy care centres counsel women against having abortions.

Presakarchuk is Facebook friends with Wilson, Fennelly and Golob, as well as Scott Hayward, the other founder of RightNow, and Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the anti-abortion group Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Glasgo has worked as the constituency assistant for UCP Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes.

She acknowledged her anti-abortion views at a public all-candidates debate on July 10 prior to her nomination. Glasgo told attendees her beliefs had been the subject of an article by Press Progress, a left-leaning advocacy web site. 

"They attacked me because I have been openly pro-life," Glasgo said. "I'm not ashamed of that and I think the best thing I could do with you, as constituents, is be honest and open and transparent about my views and how I want to represent you."

'Onward and upwards'

Golob is pictured canvassing with Glasgo on the candidate's Facebook page. When Glasgo won the nomination, Golob posted the news release on Facebook and added four heart emojis in the comment field.

Dan Williams, a former UCP staff member who won the party's nomination in Peace River, was endorsed on Facebook by The Wilberforce Project.

Williams was also congratulated by Golob, who said Williams "absolutely smashed his nomination tonight."

"Onward and upwards," she wrote.

However, Williams did not want to talk to CBC News when contacted through his Facebook page.

"I'm sorry I can't speak to you right now," Williams wrote. "I'm busy with my job and getting settled after my wedding."

Joseph Schow, the UCP candidate for Cardston-Siksika, also didn't respond to requests for comment.

While Schow was running for the federal Conservative nomination for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner in 2016, a race he eventually lost, his candidacy was promoted by RightNow.  

Schow said at the time that he favoured a "foot-in-the-door" tactic to get abortion laws through incremental change.

The Wilberforce Project encouraged its members to vote on anti-abortion and parental right policies in surveys that would determine what policies would be discussed at the UCP convention last May.

The convention ended its policy session before delegates could discuss a resolution to defund abortion, but a majority of UCP members passed a resolution supporting a requirement for parents to consent to invasive medical procedures, like abortion, on minors.