Main Canada opposition leader says he will not reopen abortion debate, Trudeau skeptical

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s main opposition Conservatives, Andrew Scheer, brushed off accusations he harbored an extreme agenda, insisting on Thursday he would not reopen a debate on abortion if his party wins the October general election.

FILE PHOTO: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

Opinion polls show the Conservatives have a chance of defeating the left-leaning Liberals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been hit by a series of scandals over the past two years.

There are few restrictions on abortion in Canada and the right-of-center Conservatives have traditionally steered clear of the topic, fearing they could alienate progressive voters. Unlike in the United States, abortion has not been a major political issue in Canada.

In recent days, senior Liberals accused Scheer of secretly planning to allow members of parliament to offer proposals limiting abortion rights if the Conservatives win the Oct. 21 vote and also focused on a speech he gave in early 2005 opposing gay marriage.

“A Conservative government will not reopen these divisive social issues ... the Liberals are trying to distract from their record of failure, corruption and scandal,” Scheer told a televised news conference in Toronto.

Pressed specifically on abortion rights, he replied: “I will not reopen this debate and I will oppose measures or attempts to open this debate.”

Asked about his 2005 comments on gay marriage, Scheer said his thinking had evolved and noted that some Liberal legislators had opposed the measure at the time.

“This issue was settled long ago ... today it is the law of the land and I will always uphold that law,” he said. Gay marriage in Canada became legal in July 2005.

Trudeau, speaking later in the day, said a prime minister needed to vigorously defend the rights of all Canadians, in particular those who had been marginalized.

“It’s not enough to reluctantly support the law because it’s the law, especially when it comes to the rights of women and the LGBTQ communities,” he told a televised news conference in Surrey, British Columbia.

Trudeau - a self-avowed feminist - said every member of his party would unequivocally support women’s rights.

Scheer accused the Liberals of hiding plans to raise taxes and predicted more scandals if they retained power.

Earlier this month, Trudeau accepted a watchdog’s report that he had breached ethics rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, but he refused to apologize.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney