National Catholic Register


Religion Sidelined in Canadian Election



October 12-18, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/7/08 at 11:53 AM


OTTAWA — While Americans are steeped in the presidential election campaign, their northern neighbors will be voting in the coming week.

The Canadian federal election Oct. 14 will bring to an end a five-week campaign that offered little to religiously motivated voters, especially pro-family ones. (See: Palin Power Hits Canada, page 7.)

Indeed, while issues such as abortion and the protection of marriage are regular and important grist for the American presidential election mill — and gained new prominence with the nomination of evangelical pro-lifer Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate — the two topics have disappeared from the Canadian campaign trail.

This, in spite of the fact that polls continue to show that, in the case of abortion for example, the majority of Canadians do not support the status quo of a legal vacuum that leaves the practice completely unregulated.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper went as far as to say that he is ruling out reopening a debate over abortion law for a future Conservative government.

“I simply have no intention of ever making the abortion question a focus of my political career,” he said, according to a Sept. 29 article in The Globe and Mail. A Harper spokesman affirmed to the paper that Harper would prevent any of his cabinet members from supporting any private party member’s bills that could reopen the debate.

The result of ruling out substantive issues? “If you look at the current campaign being conducted, it’s all name calling,” said Ron Gray, leader of the pro-life Christian Heritage Party.

Gray, whose party attracted just 0.2% of the popular vote in the 2006 election, said, “All of the campaign ads up until now have been primarily attacking the character of the leaders. That’s what happens when you rule out so many issues.”

The paucity of values-related substance is no accident. The ruling Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister Harper, has veered leftward in an attempt to capture more moderate voters and win a majority government.

Faron Ellis, a political scientist at Alberta’s Lethbridge College, sees the move as an attempt by Harper to protect his party from attacks generated by his further-left rivals, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois, which fields candidates only in the province of Quebec, a crucial electoral battleground that also happens to be the home of the most voters in the country who don’t vote pro-family.

“Social conservatism was tagged [by Conservative strategists] as a key element that the party had to be inoculated against,” Ellis said.

Harper took same-sex “marriage,” which was legalized by Canada’s previous Liberal government in July 2005, off this year’s campaign table by staging a free vote in the House of Commons in late 2006. A majority of Members of Parliament voted against revisiting the previous Liberal government’s decision.

Said Harper, “I don’t see reopening this question in the future.”

Abortion was looking like it might emerge as an issue in this campaign after Conservative Member of Parliament Ken Epp introduced a private member’s bill to make it a separate offense to injure or kill a fetus while committing a violent crime against pregnant women.

But, when pro-abortionists said they feared the bill would open the door to the introduction of fetal rights and thereby threaten the current unrestricted right to abortion, Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson undercut the bill by announcing in late August he would introduce competing legislation to allow judges to take pregnancy into account only as an aggravating factor when sentencing criminals convicted of assault.

Government-sponsored bills have a far greater chance of becoming law than do private members’ bills.

The move left many socially conservative voters angry, but Harper suggested in a mid-September interview that they should not expect to “get everything [they] want.”

Said Harper, “We represent many interests, not just within the party, but as the government, the broad interests of the Canadian population.”

With no major party opposing abortion or same-sex “marriage,” Catholics must look to individual candidates’ positions for direction on how to vote.

“Catholics who cast a vote for a politician who supports abortion and same-sex ‘marriage’ commit moral evil, if a moral candidate is available,” wrote Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, in a letter to Catholic voters. “Advancing pro-abortion candidates and their aims is incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Speaking in a later interview, Father de Valk said he believes the main reason Canada’s major parties have concluded that pro-family issues are toxic is because the country’s political landscape changed dramatically during the decade-and-a-half rule of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a socially “progressive” Liberal who resigned from office in 1984.

“He was a baptized Catholic, but he didn’t think that Catholic moral teaching should have any effect on public life,” said Father de Valk.

Also impacting Canada’s current political climate, he said, is the fact that “Catholicism in Quebec has disastrously disappeared.”

Whereas in 1955, 80% percent of Quebeckers were active Catholics, in 2000, only 8% were, Father de Valk said, even though the large majority of the province’s population remains nominally Catholic.

In an indication of how far out of favor Catholicism has fallen in the province, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe publicly criticized the Conservatives for fielding a candidate, Nicole Charbonneau Barron, on the specific ground of her reported membership in Opus Dei.

Said Duceppe, whose left-leaning party has the most Quebec Members of Parliament in the current Canadian Parliament, “Those people certainly share an ideology, a narrow ideology, that doesn’t correspond at all to the modern times in Quebec.”

On the national stage, Barbara Kay, a pro-family columnist with the Toronto-based National Post newspaper, blames the lack of campaign focus on life and family issues on the fact Canada is generally more irreligious than the U.S.

And even Canadians who are churchgoers tend to be more liberal than their American counterparts, she added.

“One of our huge values is secularity,” said Kay, who is a member of the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism.

Given all this, Catholic voters face some difficult decisions.

The Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops admitted in its mid-September voters’ guide that “choices can be tough” for Catholics when a candidate or party holds “values that are not fully in line with Church teaching.”

The commission urged Catholic Canadians to vote, but to do so “with discernment,” paying special attention to Catholic moral and social teaching.

Specifically, the Canadian bishops directed the attention of Catholic voters to four areas: respect for the life and dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor, Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan and the environment.

“Catholics believe in the responsible use of freedom to promote human life and dignity at all stages, from conception to death, no matter the circumstances,” the bishops’ guide stressed.

Choosing life, the guide said, includes “protecting the right to life for even the smallest — the human embryo and the human fetus — who are members of the human family, and also offering assistance to pregnant women who are facing difficult situations.”

Terry O’Neill writes from

Vancouver, British Columbia.

Activist Priest Steps Down

MONTREAL — Canada’s political left lost a controversial clerical champion in early September after the Vatican ordered Father Raymond Gravel to choose between the priesthood and politics.

Father Gravel, a one-time homosexual prostitute who entered the priesthood in the 1980s, only to become an opponent of Church teachings on same-sex “marriage” and abortion, was elected to the House of Commons as a Bloc Quebecois Member of Parliament in a 2006 by-election after Bishop Gilles Lussier of Joliette granted him permission to run.

Later, Canadian Catholics registered complaints with the apostolic nuncio about Father Gravel’s pro-abortion comments in Parliament, including his support of abortionist Henry Morgentaler’s appointment to the Order of Canada.

The Vatican subsequently ordered Father Gravel to leave either politics or the priesthood. He announced in early September he had chosen not to run for reelection, telling the Montreal Gazette Sept. 3 that “the religious right” was responsible for the complaints that forced his departure from politics.

The Vatican’s instruction stems from Church teaching that priests should generally avoid entering politics, unless they do so to further the interests of the faith, Msgr. Roch Page of Ottawa’s Saint Paul University told the press.

One of the groups that contacted the Vatican about Father Gravel’s political activities was the Campaign Life Coalition.

In its February 2008 newsletter, the pro-life organization said Father Gravel’s political career clearly wasn’t advancing the Church’s interests.

Said Campaign Life, “Certainly, making speeches undermining the teachings of the Catholic Church on the sanctity of human life indicates that Father Gravel is not the man to defend the Church’s interests.” — Terry O’Neill