• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Evangelicals and the Canadian Election

Just finished talking about the election on Monday with friends Angus Reid and Janet Epp Buckingham on Drew Marshall‘s radio show. A few thoughts now as we anticipate a new government:

  1. It is unhelpful analytically to apply the current brand labels of the Conservative and Liberal parties to other categories, such as “conservative religion” or “liberal economics.” It’s not even helpful politically when one considers how the Liberal party in British Columbia, for example, is far more conservative than the party at the national level. And Mr. Trudeau’s party has decided on some issues to outflank Mr. Mulcair’s party on the economic or social left. Better to refer to the Blue, Red, Orange, and Green parties and then take each one as it actually is, according to its actual statements and actions.

  2. “Evangelicals” is a name Angus Reid finds unhelpful in his polling because pollsters often get into trouble distinguishing between how people identify themselves (“I’m an evangelical” or “I’m born again”) and how they actually think and behave. Better, he says, to talk about “churchgoing” or “practicing” Christians…who actually show up in the polls as a definite group…which is a point I’ve made for some time about North American evangelicals as well. So let’s use that category for the rest of this post.

  3. Churchgoing Christians have been aligned with the Blue party for a decade or so…but the significant migration of such voters came in the wake of former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s decision to force Parliament to vote on same-sex marriage and to compel his party to fall into line on his preferred policy. No discussion of intermediate options was countenanced (e.g., civil unions or registered domestic partnerships) and cabinet had to vote along the party line. The Orange party went one better/worse and insisted that the entire caucus vote one way. That left the Blue party as not only the only party with significant opposition, but the only party significantly open to dissent. Now that we’ve had considerable experience, however, with the way PM Harper runs his show, we can wonder about the “dissent” part on a variety of issues, even as we can wonder about the wisdom of Mr Trudeau in allowing no pro-life Liberals even to stand as candidates. Practicing Christians, who tend to be against same-sex marriage and abortion thus find it difficult to attach to either party…and they don’t find a happier haven in the Orange or Green parties, either.

  4. The main issues for most people, however, are not same-sex marriage or abortion. And if Mr Harper really wants to live or die on the hill of The Economy, he’s going to be in trouble. The apparent economic health and stability over the last decade or so, for which the Blue party wants to take credit, has been built largely on the backs of the 99 per cent. Most middle-class people have experienced a net loss in spending power, real wages, job stability, and the like. And it’s not like the Blue party has been especially concerned with those many, many Canadians who are below the middle class. Nope: all those nice macro numbers need to be penetrated, and when one digs deeper, one finds (as a million journalists have pointed out by now) a startling concentration and increase of wealth among the one per cent, and even more among the one-per-cent-of-the-one-per-cent.

  5. Christianity, furthermore, really doesn’t encourage its devotees to put first one’s own economic wealth and security. This might come as a surprise to those who think Mr Harper is an “evangelical,” but anyone who knows very much about the history of both evangelical and Catholic social doctrine knows that both kinds of observant Christianity have worked tirelessly for the poor; to produce jobs for the willing; to pay for the adequate training and equipping of the soldiers, rescuers, and police officers we send into harm’s way; and to prevent oppression of the weak by the strong. “Small government” is not, furthermore, characteristic of either evangelical or Catholic politics: fair government, honest government, compassionate government, competent government—well, now you’re talking. (And you’re not talking about the Prime Minister’s friend Mayor Ford when you talk that way.)

  6. Voting on Monday, then, cannot be for the leader or party that represents churchgoing Canadian Christians, because none of them do. None of them come anywhere close. Instead, the onus is on those of us who belong to that cohort to do our homework and figure out who is likely to do the most good and least harm. To ascertain who will likely do what he says he will do on this or that issue, and who is most likely to be flexible/pragmatic on that issue if faced with significant reason to compromise.  To discern what the country needs (not just what I want) for the next few years (not forever and ever). To make, that is, a truly political decision.