RightNow co-founder says group aims to elect 'enough pro-lifers' to pass 'much-needed legislation'
Anti-abortion group ranked Sask. Party leadership candidates, chose Ken Cheveldayoff as top pick
Until this week, many people in Saskatchewan had never heard of RightNow.
That all changed when the anti-abortion organization ranked the six contenders for leadership of the Saskatchewan Party — one of whom will be the province's next premier — based on their stance on abortion.
"I created this organization with my co-founder to focus on nominating and electing pro-life candidates across the country," RightNow's Toronto-based executive director and co-founder Alissa Golob said in an interview with CBC News Thursday.
While many have never heard of the group because it formed less than two years ago, Golob said, it claims to have influenced the last Conservative Party of Canada Leadership race, saying it helped sell thousands of party memberships.
"I do think they were a major force in the Conservative federal race in the spring," said Regina political scientist Jim Farney. "[Conservative candidate Brad] Trost got about double the vote that I expected him to."
Farney attributes that to the group's actions. However, he said it's unlikely RightNow currently has the power to influence something bigger than a leadership race.
"They can mobilize enough to be influential in leadership things or in nomination races. They're not a big enough group to make a difference in your average general election."
How does RightNow operate?
RightNow is funded by supporters and describes itself as a not-for-profit organization. It is not a registered charity.
It makes recommendations to supporters on who to vote for by ranking candidates in order of preference, and also helps people buy party memberships.
Golob said the group has supporters across the country.
"We have campaign teams and door knockers that go out daily and between election cycles to identify pro-life voters," she said.
"We have an obligation to our supporters in each province to let them know who the best, most supportable and ethical candidates are in their ridings, and to get them involved in electing them."
The group chooses its preferred candidates by first attempting to interview each candidate in the leadership race and asking questions about their stance on abortion and assisted death.
RightNow then ranks them based on their answers, voting records, policies, support in caucus and how likely it is they will win.
Cheveldayoff top Sask. Party choice: RightNow
This week, the group ranked the Sask. Party leadership contenders, naming Ken Cheveldayoff as its top pick.
Cheveldayoff was among the four leadership candidates who agreed to an interview with RightNow. Along with candidates Rob Clarke and Scott Moe, he expressed anti-abortion views. None of those candidates, though, said they would introduce legislation around the issue if elected leader.
Candidate Gordon Wyant told RightNow he is pro-choice. Candidates Tina Beaudry-Mellor and Alanna Koch did not reply to RightNow, but both women took to social media to say abortion was not a matter to be put up for political discussion.
NO. Full stop, NO. Women in this province are worried about jobs, about scaling up businesses, about kids education, interpersonal violence. We have had the conversation on reproductive rights. We are not going back. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/skpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#skpoli</a>—@tbeaudrymellor
Golob said it was "perfectly acceptable" for Cheveldayoff to tell reporters he would not personally bring forward anti-abortion legislation.
"We don't expect a singular politician or leader to shove through legislation that the majority of caucus doesn't support."
That's why RightNow is mobilizing to try and get as many anti-abortion politicians into office as possible, she said — "so that we do have enough pro-lifers within different governments to actually start passing much-needed legislation."
'Odd' to see group target province
Farney said abortion has historically been a federal issue because it was previously banned under the Criminal Code. When that ban was lifted decades ago, he says, it became a health issue. That means the discussion is likely to focus on abortion funding and how accessible it is.
The current federal government has been clear on its stance "that any province that decided to stop funding abortion or stop providing abortions through public hospitals would see a significant cut to its health-care grants," he said.
That's why he thinks it's unusual for a group like RightNow to focus on a provincial leadership race.
"It's a bit of an odd thing for a single-issue group to go after a jurisdiction that can't really do a lot for it."
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Golob said provinces are "unique and separate institutions" and "have total control over the health file of the province."
Furthermore, she said politicians can still try to make changes such as setting the age at which parental consent for an abortion is required.
Anti-abortion groups trying to remain relevant
Abortion is not a vote-defining issue in Canada as it is in the United States, said McGill University assistant professor Kelly Gordon, who has studied the strategies used by anti-abortion movements in Canada.
She said anti-abortion activists have realized political involvement garners public attention and raises the profile of the issue.
"For a lot of Canadians, they think this issue is sort of dead and done, and the [anti-abortion] movement is there to sort of remind them that it's not."
Anti-abortion advocates have changed their tactics to engage more people, she said.
"They're trying to present themselves and market the movement as being a much more pro-woman movement than it used to be," she said.
The groups do this by putting women at the forefront and presenting arguments about regret, psychological harm and sex-selection, rather than fetal rights, Gordon said.
RightNow co-founder Golob previously worked with the Campaign Life Coalition — one of the biggest anti-abortion movements in the country, said Gordon.
The group is considered the political arm of the anti-abortion movement, Gordon said, adding RightNow seems like an offshoot of that.
With files from Garth Materie, Stephanie Taylor