Well, let's get one thing straight. This is not, contra National Post writer John Ivison, the Liberals' problem. It is the government's; as of this moment, the Harper Tories have a maternal health plan that does not include family planning measures, and this summer they will attempt to foist it upon the other seven members the G8. Given the U.K. and American response thus far, the odds are very much tilted against their finding success.
Here's where MP Keith Martin's "fix", first reported last week in The Mark, comes in:
Mr. Martin appears to have found the solution. He said Stephen Harper should embrace the World Health Organization’s position of supporting women’s access to safe abortions in those countries where it is legal. Yet he recognized many members of the Conservative government have their own opinions that have to be respected. He suggested Mr. Harper could square his opposition to abortion while still implementing a maternal health plan by proposing each G8 country take the lead on one of the treatments.
“For example, Canada could be the lead nation on training healthcare workers and micronutrients, another country could focus on providing medications, another on access to family planning and safe abortions etc. This would enable Mr. Harper to move forward with an effective plan of action while being sensitive to the views on abortion of some of his members,” he said.
This, as I wrote at the time, is the solution employed by the George Bush II administration under similar circumstances--ie under similar pressures from its own political right flank.
Aside from problems of implementation--another state would have to come forward and offer to pay for third world abortions, which may not be so easy given the domestic political pressures within various G8 countries--there is a larger issue at stake: contra Ivison, and with all due respect to Mr. Martin, Martin's Fix is not a commonsense solution or a reasonable compromise. It constitutes an accounting gimmick, a butt covering exercise.
The G8's situation today might be visualized as follows: everyone throws their maternal care money into one big pot, and it is spent willy-nilly on the various "treatments" Martin specifies. Under the Martin proposal, each country would throw its money into one of several little pots, labelled "medications" or "family planning" or etc., and their money would be spent just on that one medical option.
Well, for one thing, how is it possible to ensure that, once the money have been turned over to the G8, it remains in its particular pot? How is it possible to determine if, for example, a dollar from Canada has wound up paying for a box of condoms in Kinshasa? It seems to me that it isn't. And, more importantly, in the end Canada's initiative still winds up paying for abortions in foreign lands, despite Harper's insistence that it not do so. Martin's plan, that is, simply provides a fig-leaf for a government climb-down.
Now, for progressives like myself, that's fine. Canadian policy as practised by several government's, both Tory and Liberal, does not change. The problem for Harper will come from his own political base, from the true believers for whom abortion is a make or break issue.
Will they allow themselves to be fooled by Martin's gimmick, which essentially gives them nothing?