Vol. 3, No. 2
to other articles
in this issue:
From the Editor: Disestablishing
Two Cheers for the Pilgrimage
What Really Happened in Uganda?
Go Down, Elian
Feeble Opinions On the House Chaplaincy
A Cardinal in Full
Mormon Women in the Real World
Peanuts for Christ
Right Arrives in Canada
by Dennis R.
On June 24, two evangelical Protestants garnered 80 percent of the vote in the first
round of a members-only election to lead the Canadian Alliance, Canadas
second-largest political party and the official parliamentary opposition to the ruling
Liberals. Alberta treasurer Stockwell Day, a sometime lay Pentecostal preacher, beat out
party founder Preston Manning, the son of a radio evangelist, by 44 percent to 36 percent,
with Tom Long, the choice of the Toronto business establishment, finishing a distant
In the July 8 runoff, Day, who had for months drawn support from the growing
"pro-family" movement in Canada, thrashed Manning 63 percent to 37 percent,
winning every province except Newfoundland. He will lead Canadas reinvigorated right
wing into the next national elections, which will be called sometime within the next year.
In short, a religious right has arrived in Canadian politics. And Canadian journalists
have found this very hard to swallowsomething like getting down a sacred cow. As National
Post senior columnist Roy MacGregor put it, "We expect this from the United
States, where God is not only in the Constitution and on every dollar, but is entered,
whether He wishes it or not, in every imaginable race for office
Let us all
thencandidates as well as mediapolitely decline to make Canadian politics any
more American than it already is."
Never mind that MacGregor seemed unaware that God is mentioned nowhere in the U.S.
Constitution but does get a nod in the preamble to Canadas. The formula
"religious right = un-Canadian" has become a point of national pride among many
Canadians, in keeping with the countrys image as the "kinder, gentler"
North American nation.
In fact, however, over the past decade "pro-family" evangelical Protestants
together with some sympathetic Roman Catholics and non-Christians have become increasingly
active in politics and public life as "social conservatives." Before
that, at the federal level such conservatives were just minority factions within the
relatively non-ideological Liberal and Progressive Conservative (Tory) parties. In
the provinces (where party politics operates with a high degree of independence from the
federal level), they were most strongly associated with Albertas populist Social
Credit party, a product of the Depression led first by William "Bible
Bill" Aberhart and later by Ernest Manning, both evangelical radio preachers.
In 1987 Ernest Mannings son Preston founded the federal Reform party. With a
strong base in the West, Reform collected support from assorted populists, libertarians,
and social conservatives. Whatever their differences, Reformers shared a frustration with
the federal Tories (derided as patrician establishmentarians insufficiently tuned in to
western Canada), and rode that wave to a dramatic breakthrough in the 1993
But Preston Manning, described by friend and foe alike as one of Canadas most
cerebral politicians, had long envisioned a grand reconciliation of Canadas
estranged conservative family. Indeed the electoral logic of reunion was obvious when the
1997 election essentially repeated the 1993 outcome: The Liberals were able to win a
parliamentary majority with about two-fifths of the popular vote, while Reformers and
Tories split a similar proportion of the popular vote evenly between them.
(Reformers won more seats because their support was geographically concentrated while Tory
support was diffuse.)
So to end self-destructive vote-splitting, Manning decided to try to "unite the
right" in a new party, the Alliance, and eventually succeeded in rounding up many
provincial Tories in Alberta and Ontario, though federal Tories remained aloof.
Canadians well knew Mannings evangelical background and beliefs, and that there
were harder-line social conservatives in Reform ranks. But the prospect of this crowd
actually winning power always seemed remote because of the partys apparently limited
regional base. Moreover, Manning was always keenly aware that most social conservative
views were in the minority, so he downplayed them in his rhetoric.
Indeed, he insisted on a discipline that, rhetoric aside, few political movements have
ever taken very seriously: putting their issues directly to the voters. As he
indicated at length in his 1992 book, The New Canada, social conservatives have a
place in his party to articulate their concerns, but on highly sensitive issues like
abortion and gay rights they would have to win a public majority first, determined by
referendum, before policy could change.
Nevertheless, on the occasions Manning did inject social conservative concerns into
public discourse he met swift media condemnation. For example, in a major speech shortly
after Canadian Thanksgiving last October he gave thanks for a "Christian heritage and
the religious liberty which allows each one of us to turn toward God or away from Him, and
to be responsible for our own moral choices." He also suggested defining the rights
of the fetus (though only in the context of new reproductive technologies), upholding
traditional definitions of family and spouse (though he also endorsed registered domestic
partnerships not defined by conjugality), and limiting "judge-made law"
(especially with respect to things like child pornography, possession of which a court had
recently ruled to be a constitutional right).
In American political discourse such comments would be unremarkable. But Canada is not
Kansas. Denouncing Manning for expressing "rigid, sometimes hateful social
views," Ottawa Citizen columnist Susan Riley called the speech
"militantly heterosexual," "chilling," "redolent of the values of
the American religious right," and "a return to political fundamentalism."
If Manning was bad, Day was worse. A former Christian school administrator, he was the
only candidate to advocate that all religious schools in Ontario be funded. (Unlike most
provinces, Ontario provides no subsidy for religious schools other than the Catholic
schools, whose funding is constitutionally protected.) Day also has a record of social
conservative advocacy as a member of Albertas Tory government. For example, he was
part of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to end taxpayer-funded abortions in the
Though very similar to Manning in religious and ideological terms, Day is a fresher
face on the national sceneyouthfully telegenic, passably bilingual, witty to the
point of glibness (he once invoked family values by reference to Canadas "two
founding genders"), and with a record of implementing conservative fiscal policies
and working with all conservative factions. University of Calgary political scientist Tom
Flanagan, an authority on conservative politics and sometime Reform insider, told the Toronto
Sun that Day has the potential to become "a kind of Canadian Ronald Reagan."
What journalists focused most of their attention on, however, was Days
relationship to the religious right, which appeared to be somewhat closer than
Mannings. Especially early in the campaign, they grilled Day on his religious and
social beliefs. He in turn charged the news media with anti-evangelical bias, asking why
politicians of other faiths never get the third degree. When the journalists refused to
back off, he used an April 28 speech to blast "our self-appointed Canadian elites,
the chattering classes" for their assumption that his style of conservatism is
"beyond the pale," and "somehow equated with being un-Canadian." And
to libertarian conservatives like Tom Long, Day had this to say: "Make no mistake,
contemporary social liberalism is not libertarian, it is not about leaving people alone.
It is about using the power of the state to promote certain social values and to undermine
others. This is why the formula of fiscally conservative/socially liberal will not work in
the long run
Political discourse itself is essentially a series of moral
questions." (Click here to read the full
text of the speech).
On the campaign trail Day tried to neutralize the controversy over his social
conservatism by emphasizing his commitment to referendums and insisting that although
social conservative issues would be allowed on his radar screen, fiscal conservatism was
his primary concern. But moral and religious issues continued to dominate coverage,
especially after an incident in late May highlighted social conservatism as a potential
wedge issue between Day and Long. An ad hoc group of religious right activists had
"outed" some gay members of Longs staff on a web site. When Long, who
advertised himself as a fiscal conservative/social liberal, responded with charges
of intolerance, Day chose to walk a tightrope, condemning the "outing" but not
the supporters social conservative views.
The Canadian media were clearly unprepared for so much religion in their politics. As
the Toronto Stars Salem Alaton put it last year in an article on the upcoming
American elections, "[E]vangelicals will be prominent in the jockeying to seize the
[and] the contrast with Canadian society remains striking."
Even as late as last March, Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons could write,
"American politics is utterly different from our own, as the religious quarrel now
dominating the Republican leadership campaign makes plain."
If the we-are-different-from-Americans sentiment is a mainstay of Canadian national
identity (witness the wild popularity of Molson beers "Joe Canada" TV
commercial, in which "Joe" delivers a rant touting Canadas distinctiveness
from and superiority to the United States), when it comes to religion, no specter haunts
Canada as much as American "fundamentalism." In covering the Alliance, story
after story used the word "fundamentalist," effectively tagging both Manning and
Day as un-Canadian.
In fact, the two are evangelicals, not fundamentalists. Nor is this a minor quibble,
since evangelicals are much more accommodating than their theologically and
socially militant fundamentalist cousins. On April 1 Brian Stiller, former president of
the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told the Toronto Globe and Mail the same
thing hes been telling journalists for years: "Fundamentalist is a
deeply insulting label for many evangelicals. You wouldnt call a gay a
fag or a black a nigger. You call people what they call
Editorials and columns were rife with judgments about what was "too American"
or "un-Canadian." Referring to Days politics, an April 1 Globe and Mail
editorial concluded, "Its all very un-Canadian." A Guelph Mercury
editorial May 13 called social conservative policies "imports from the American
Christian Right." Social conservatives, opined the Toronto Suns Linda
Williamson May 28, were forcing a division that was "decidedly un-Canadian in its
For their part, most U.S. media outlets seemed oblivious to the emergence of this new
Canadian version of religious politics. Only a few papersmost notably, the New
York Times, Miami Herald, and Grand Forks Heralddemonstrated
sustained attention to the Alliance story, while a smattering of other papers showed light
interest, among them the Washington Post, Buffalo News, St. Paul Pioneer
Press, Washington Times, Boston Globe, and Daytona Beach News-Journal.
But, astonishingly, only two storiesfriendly accounts of the new Canadian right by
the New York Timess James Brooke April 26 and by the Boston Globes
Colin Nickerson July 10dealt at any length with the feature of the story that
dominated Canadian news for months, the rise of religious conservatives. (Oddly, Brooke
did not so much as mention Days social conservatism in his extended report on the
In addition to seeing social conservatism as an unwanted U.S. import, many Canadian
journalists treated it on its face as an illegitimate intrusion of religion into public
life. Eric Volmers of the Cambridge (Ont.) Reporter wrote of religious right
activists "forcing their own socially conservative agendas into legislation."
CBC TVs Keith Boag asked a guest, "Do you think [Day] has a tendency toward
imposing his views?" In Macleans, Bruce Wallace faulted Day for not
convincingly putting up "a wall" between his fiscal and his social conservatism.
"How, who, and when a man worships is his own business," wrote the Calgary
Heralds Catherine Ford. "How, who, and when a politician lets that
interfere with public policy is another matter." If either evangelical candidate
someday became prime minister, Toronto Sun columnist Christina Blizzard wrote, it was worth asking "would we have a
theocracy?" By far the most widely noted of the editorials in this vein was
"Leave Your Prayer Book at Home, Stockwell," a column by the Globe and Mails
Jeffrey Simpson. "That Mr. Day has strong religious beliefs is fine; that he brings
them into the public domain is not. At least not in this secular country
has been drawn between the
private world of religion and the public world of
Day responded to Simpson directly in his April 28 "elites" speech: "I do
not seek, nor do other persons of faith I know seek to impose their spiritual beliefs on
but [I] am opposed to any suggestion that citizens separate themselves
from their beliefs in order to participate in the government of their state." Day
found an otherwise unlikely ally in Gerald Vandezande, dean of Canadas liberal
evangelical activists and highly regarded in ecumenical circles. In an April 18 op-ed in
Canadas national evangelical newspaper ChristianWeek, Vandezande
challenged Simpsons argument that anyone should or even can "park" their
There was an element of wishful thinking to the journalistic assessments. In the May 28
Toronto Sun Linda Williamson was sure that the Alliance would "never, ever be
more than a (slightly scary) novelty fringe party" if it did not jettison social
conservatives. Ottawa Citizen columnist Susan Riley contended, "Ontarians, who
have long mistrusted Reforms social agenda, will see through Days charming
urbanity in a minuteright through to his red neck."
This assumption that Canadians in general and Ontarians in particular would have no
part of social conservatism was widely expressed. A Toronto Star editorial
explained that Days "insistence" on speaking out on issues of social
conservatism revealed that he "is either unaware or unconcerned that his Bible-belt
morality doesnt transplant well." CTVs Lloyd Robertson asked
fellow journalist Craig Oliver, "Will the people of Ontario be able to set aside
[Days] apparent social agenda and listen to what he has to say on other
fronts?" Replied Oliver, "That is the issue."
Notwithstanding these assessments, the first round of the Alliance leadership election
saw Day beat both Manning and Long in Ontario (an upset, especially since Ontario is
Longs home province); and in the runoff 70 percent of Ontarios Alliance voters
went for Day despite Longs endorsement of Manning. These results were surely music
to the ears of the Toronto Suns Lorrie Goldstein, who before the
elections complained that "what have been mistaken for Ontario values in
the often condescending media coverage of the Canadian Alliance, are actually the liberal
values that many hold dear
in the media."
If the Canadian news media were behind the curve of evangelical politics, it is in part
a reflection of the relatively short shrift they have given religionespecially of
the evangelical variety. To be sure, in some respects religion coverage has edged
forwardfor example, the multifaith channel Vision TV now leavens the broadcast
media. But it is still the case that only a handful of Canadian newspapers employ
full-time religion writers. And in religion-and-media scholar Joyce Smiths study of
religion coverage by 20 Canadian newspapers in 1999 (www.geocities.com/faithmedia/), less
than five percent of references to religious groups were to evangelical Protestants.
Likewise, Canadas more tightly controlled media environment blunts awareness of
social and religious conservatives. For example, Canadas broadcasting authorities
regulate so-called "abusive comment" in a way many Americans would consider a
blatant violation of free speech. (Citing Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who is carried on many
Canadian stations, for her critical comments on homosexuality, the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council recently noted, "In Canada, we respect freedom of speech but do not
worship it.") In addition, until very recently, television evangelists were not
permitted to own stations, and the few that have now been approved are required to provide
time to other faiths.
But even after social conservatism became an obvious force to be reckoned with in
national politics, the news media made little effort to ascertain the true dimensions of
its potential support. An exception that proved the rule was Brian Laghis piece in
the March 29 Globe and Mail, which quoted University of Calgary political scientist
Roger Gibbinss estimate that at least 30 percent of the voting population holds
Days views. This is a minority easily large enough to be a major factor on the
right, yet Laghi himself could still conclude: "Mr. Days key problem is his
reputation as a social conservative." In fact, some of Days positions were not
even in the minority. The Ottawa Citizens Bob Harvey, Canadas best
known religion reporter, cited polls showing strong support in Ontario and nationally for
extending school funding to all religious schools.
For journalists interested in academic research on social conservatives and
evangelicals in Canada, an increasing amount is available. In the 1990s several
scholars John G. Stackhouse, Jr. of Regent College in Vancouver, Mark Noll of
Wheaton College in Illinois, and the late George Rawlyk of Queens University in
Ontario, among othersled a small renaissance in the study of Canadas religious
conservatives. Public opinion data is now much improved as well. Besides periodic surveys
by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, Rawlyk spearheaded two large Angus
Reid surveys of religion in Canada in 1993 and 1996.
The research shows that Canadian evangelicals are likely to be conservative on moral
issues and increasingly likely to be politically mobilized, but (contrary to some
stereotypes) not right-wing on economics, race, or immigration. In the 1996 poll they
exhibited above-average support for the Reform party (though their partisan preferences
continued to be more diverse than in America). More broadly, social conservatives were a
large minority (about one-third) not only in Alberta, but also in Ontario and the nation
as a whole. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, it is not so much that social
conservatives are politically over-mobilized in Alberta as that they are undermobilized in
other parts of Canada.
On May 27 the Globe and Mails John Ibbitson wrote that the Alliance would
have trouble beating the rap that had dogged the Reform partythat the religious
right had exercised "a disproportionate influence." The question that the
Canadian media have yet to face, and which will not go away, is what amount of social
conservative influence would be proportionate in a united Canadian right? After the
recent elections the answer is: a lot more than most Canadians thought.