To thine own self be true

Randy Simms
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I was running in a municipal election several years ago when a late-night phone call disturbed my sleep. It was a potential voter who wanted to ask me a few questions. Despite the lateness of the hour, I was willing to talk — a vote is a vote after all.

The man wanted to know my views on abortion. Was I pro-life or pro-choice? By the tone of his voice I could tell he was anti-abortion. I smiled. This was going to be easy. Like any budding politician, I was simply going to dodge the question.

“Well sir,” I said, “abortion and the laws governing abortions are mostly federal in nature. It is totally outside the jurisdiction of the council, so if you were to elect me, my beliefs in this regard would have no importance at all.”

But he was not so easily dismissed. He was considering voting for me but really wanted to know if I was pro-life or pro-choice, as if one can be defined in such simple terms.

“Look sir,” I said, “it doesn’t matter. I will never have to deal with this kind of issue as a member of council. It is not something a local government would deal with.”

“You’re wrong about that,” he said. “If an application comes before council to open an abortion clinic in our community, how would you vote?”

There was silence on my end of the phone for what seemed like an eternity. How to answer? If I say I’m pro-life, I get his vote; if I tell him I’m pro-choice, that vote will be gone. Politicians hate to lose votes. My mind was in a whirl. Why not say what he wants you to say, I thought. Who does it hurt? The upside is I get the vote, and unless an application for an abortion clinic suddenly appears, I’m in the clear.

I couldn’t do it.

“Well sir,” I said, “if an application for an abortion clinic showed up, and if the city bylaws and regulations are met, then I would vote to approve it.”

I could feel his anger; could hear it in his breathing.

“I happen to be pro-choice,” I told him, “but even if I were a pro-life person I would follow the law as I understand it, and if the application met the regulations I would vote to approve it.”

He never said another word, just quietly hung up the phone. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get his vote.

It can be hard to hold to your beliefs when you put yourself out there for public office, especially if those beliefs fly in the face of the law. Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman found out this week that holding controversial views as a public person gets a lot more press than those of a private citizen.

It’s one of many new things he’s learning as he prepares for the province’s top job.

Coleman was clearly blindsided by the whole abortion story. His views and actions have become fodder for the clamouring masses on social media.

Since the “revelation” of his pro-life position he’s had to try and get out in front of a firestorm from those who oppose his views as well as those who support them. In the past week he has repeatedly said his personal beliefs will not affect how he runs the province.

“That’s not me,” he said, “and I don’t intend to impose my views on people.”

So, how should we judge Frank Coleman? Should we judge him on this?

I say no. Coleman didn’t shy away from the issue and didn’t back down on his beliefs.

He spoke his mind, and even though I oppose his point of view, I think it says a lot about his character, as a man and as a leader.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at

rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

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