Monday, February 26, 2007

Harper and the Christian Right

This is another reason not to vote for Stephen Harper. Journalist Marci McDonald in November penned an article in The Walrus titled "Harper and the Theo-Cons". It outlined the relationship between the Christian Right and the Harper Government, including here a very prominent evangelist who helps pitch socially conservative policies:

Hagee’s assessment of Harper isn’t based on news clips alone. His Toronto host, not to mention his longtime Canadian major-domo, was Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, one of the most outspoken players in this country’s religious right wing. During the last election, as head of a handful of pro-family lobbies including the Defend Marriage Coalition, McVety emerged as a power to be reckoned with. He bought up the rights to unclaimed Liberal websites such as and stacked a handful of Conservative nomination contests in favour of evangelical candidates adamantly opposed to same-sex matrimony, a campaign he has vowed to repeat. As Harper navigates the tricky waters of minority rule?—?keeping the lid on any eruptions of rhetorical fervour from the rambunctious theo-cons in his caucus?—?it is noteworthy that he has continued to cultivate a man regarded as the lightning rod of the Christian right. Last spring, those around the prime minister drafted McVety to help sell the government’s contentious child-care policy, and on budget day he was the personal guest of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in the Commons’ vip gallery.
Despite mainstream opinion that Harper is simply pandering to the Christian right for electoral purposes, they think otherwise:

But McVety and others on the religious right are equally convinced that Harper is one of their own. “We’ve got a born-again prime minister,” trumpets David Mainse, the founder of Canada’spremier Christian talk show, 100 Huntley Street. They see him as an image-savvy evangelical who has been careful to keep his signals to them under the media radar, but they have no doubt his convictions run deep?—?so deep that only after he wins a majority will he dare translate the true colours of his faith into policies that could remake the fabric of the nation. If they’re right, it remains unclear whether those convictions would turn government into a kinder, gentler guarantor of social justice for all or transform the country into a stern, narrow-minded theocracy. And what would his evangelical worldview mean for international relations?
Apparently, social conservatism land you time with Harper that you wouldn't get if you were, say a premier:

While the Ottawa press corps has been preoccupied with Harper’s ability to keep the most blooper-prone Christians in his caucus buttoned up, he has quietly but determinedly nurtured a coalition of evangelicals, Catholics, and conservative Jews that brought him to power and that will put every effort into ensuring that he stays there. Last spring, when Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty could barely wangle an hour with him, Harper made time for dozens of faith groups, including a five-woman delegation from the Catholic Women’s League which hadn’t managed to snare a sit-down with any prime minister in twenty-four years. “Smile if you’re a so-con,” ran a headline in the Western Standard above a photo of the meeting. “Canada’s traditional Christian groups can’t say enough good things about the Tories’ social policies so far.
A familiar face to progressive opponents of the Haper conservatives (and to Rick Mercer) is responsible for reaching out to right-wing Christians.

Borrowing a page from Bush’s White House, which boasts a deputy responsible for “Christian outreach,” Harper has installed a point man for the religious right, among other groups, in his government, under the title “director of stakeholder relations.” But evangelical activists know that a more direct route to the prime minister is through his parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney. After the election, many in the Ottawa press corps were astonished when the Calgary loyalist who served as a critic in every recent Reform/Alliance shadow cabinet didn’t win a portfolio. But these days, Kenney may have more clout than any minister, playing emissary to groups with whom Harper doesn’t wish to leave prime ministerial fingerprints, above all on the religious right. Despite being a Catholic, Kenney is a regular on the evangelical circuit, turning up at so-con confabs and orchestrating discreet meetings with the boss. “?Jason,” says one Ottawa insider, “has a lot more influence than you might think.”
Preston Manning now runs a school, at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, teaching evnagelicals interested in entering politics on how to avoidn terrifying the populace with fire and brimstone speeches.

While Manning blames media hostility and intolerance for much of the fix in which evangel-icals find themselves today, he also concedes that some Christians bring on their own image woes. “Some of these faith-oriented people conduct themselves in such a way that they scare the hide off the secular,” he confided later. He counselled newly elected MPs to curb their zeal. “The preference is to ride into Parliament with a speech that will peel the paint off the ceiling,” he told them, “but you’ll set your cause back fifty years.” Much of his advice amounted to spin control: ditch the God talk and avoid the temptation to play holier-than-thou. “You have to advocate righteousness,” he said, “without appearing self-righteous.”
Right-wing Chrstians hope what many of us progressives fear, that his hypoethetical attainment of a majority government will unleash of torrent of social policies demanded by evangelicals. Be wary:

For many evangelicals, the real measure of Harper is not his first budget, with its crowd-pleasing bonanza of cash; it’s the one he brings down if and when he secures a majority. Will he answer the demand of some in the Christian right and ensure that a portion of the new daycare spaces he has promised to create are run by religious communities? More importantly, will he follow Bush’s lead and begin to dismantle the federal social safety net, turning the job of being one’s brother’s keeper over to faith-based do-gooders?
These are but a few excerpts from this lengthy article. I recommend that any progressive Canadian, or any concerned Canadian at all, read the article in full.