Sunday, September 27, 2015

Religion Makes a Few Appearances in the 2015 Canadian Election

Unlike in the U.S., where American politicians are expected to talk about their faith, religion hardly comes up in Canadian elections. That’s certainly the case in this election; religion has hardly made an appearance. It has come up at least four noteworthy times, though.

it started with a report about two-year-old tweets from Thomas Mulcair’s senior aide Shawn Dearn. In one tweet, he told Pope Benedict to go “f*** himself” over the issue of gay marriage.

In a second tweet, he said: “Memo to CBC and all media. Stop calling the misogynist, homophobic, child-molesting Catholic church a ‘moral authority’. It’s not.”

Dearn, who is gay, quickly tweeted an apology, saying that "some tweets that pre-dated my current role were offensive and do not reflect my views."

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair defended him. "He felt very bad about it and I'm more than willing to move on from that," he said.

The episode prompted an anonymous tweeter to wonder why someone who urinated in “a customer’s cup”—former Conservative candidate Jerry Bance—was immediately dropped by that party, while someone who urinated “on a whole religion” was given a pass.

Then there was Michael Coren writing in the Toronto Star on September 8 that he will not be voting Conservative “because I am a Christian.”

Coren, best known as a provocative conservative journalist—including a stint on the Sun News Network—gave four reasons for why he won’t vote Conservative: The Party’s positions on the environment, care for the poor and marginalized, the pursuit of peace, and personal integrity.
“There used to be a fashion for Christians to attach ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ stickers to the back of their cars,” he wrote. 
“Not my sort of thing at all, but in that He repeatedly spoke up for the poor, criticized the wealthy, condemned the judgmental, welcomed the stranger and lauded the peacemaker, perhaps we have a few clues to the answer.”

On September 11 CBC Radio’s The Current had a panel discussion about religion and the election. One of the panelists was Darrel Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.

Asked if there was a strong connection between religion and voting, Bricker said that “core values as defined by religion find their way into every single issue . . . we find this in voting.”

He noted that while their surveys find that certain groups will vote certain ways—Evangelical Christians are more likely to vote Conservative,  and Muslims are more likely to vote Liberal—the strongest indicator of whether people vote at all is if they attend worship services regularly.

“When we take a look at who actually turns up and votes, people who have more of a religious background and who are more likely to participate in their churches are more likely to participate in communities and in politics,” he said.

People who dismiss religion and see voting as “more of a secular process are missing a key element,” he added.

As for why we don’t hear more about the role religion plays in voting, Bricker implicated the media.

“We have a pretty secular media, they don’t necessarily bring it up,” he said. “But when you take a look at the indicators of who participates in the political process, voters, religion is a pretty big marker for them.”

Finally, there’s the Syrian refugee crisis.

Stephen Harper has been criticized for not showing enough compassion for those fleeing war and hardship in Syria and other countries.

But Harper knows his base; as an Angus Reid survey found, Canadians who support the Conservative Party are less inclined than Liberal or NDP supporters to agree we should accept more refugees.

But the survey also showed that support for that position in the Conservative Party is not unanimous. The Party’s Christian supporters are at odds with other Conservatives on this issue.

While only 32 per cent of Conservative supporters think Canada should be more welcoming of refugees, 48 per cent of practicing Christians who support the Party—people who Angus Reid defines as those who go to church regularly—think Canada should be more open and accepting.

The same survey showed that 45 per cent of those who consider themselves practicing Christians support the Conservatives, compared to 25 per cent for the NDP and 20 per cent for the Liberals.

There are still a few weeks left in this election; I wonder if religion will make any more significant appearances?

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