A Diverse Society? Reflections on a Tumultuous 2019 Federal Election

View of the Peace Tower, Parliament Hill, Ottawa Photo: Barry W. Bussey

The 2019 Federal Election has given Canada its first minority government since 2008. After winning only 157 seats in the House of Commons, the governing Liberals under Prime Minister Trudeau must now work closely with the opposition parties to remain in power. From my observation, the closest ideologically-aligned opposition party to the new government is the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Mr. Jagmeet Singh. The 24 NDP seats are enough to keep the government in power for as long as Mr. Singh and Mr. Trudeau can agree within the five-year constitutional mandate. Mr. Trudeau has also made it clear that he will not be entering into a formal coalition government with any other party but will work with the opposition on a case-by-case basis. One can understand the wisdom of that approach as the different opposition parties have different interests. For example, Conservatives would be interested in seeing pipelines built but not so much the NDP.

This new political reality has implications for the Christian charitable sector that maintains conservative moral views and practices. In 2018 we saw the government impose a “values test” on charities and small businesses that applied for funding to hire students in the summer. The 2018 Summer Jobs controversy[1] lit up the country’s editorial rooms in response to the audacious requirement that churches and religious charities were required to agree to government ideology on abortion and “Charter values.” Some 1500 religious charities were denied funding because they could not agree with the government. The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois supported the government. In fact, when Hamilton MP David Christopherson broke ranks with the NDP, he was punished by being removed as the vice-chair of the parliamentary procedure and House affairs committee. “You have the right to say anything you want about a law,” said Christopherson, “and that attestation took that right away. I cannot condone that.”[2] After the NDP caucus supported Christopherson, Mr. Singh reinstated him.[3]

That experience raises the legitimate worry that religious charities with traditional views on fundamental human life issues (like abortion, marriage and Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAiD) could face increasing pressure to comply with the new government’s “progressive” social ideology in order to participate in its programs. Such marginalization of these groups is a denial of the Canadian promise of diversity and inclusion.

The need for a national discussion on matters of conscience could not be more clear as a result of the 2019 federal election. We saw political attacks against those who were motivated by a religious conscience. Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party, was pilloried with questions from the media and others over his beliefs on marriage. Meanwhile, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, felt it necessary to backtrack and say she was “sorry” after admitting in an interview with CBC reporter Vassy Kapelos that her “personal hero” was Jesus Christ.[4] When asked why she apologized, May replied, “Because politicians in Canada should not put their religion on their sleeve. And I gave you my quick, honest answer. I didn’t self-edit.”

Self-edit.

That seems to be what is expected of religious people in Canada these days. Not only in politics but in daily life, including carrying out the work of religious charities, there is an underlying societal expectation to “self-edit”. Of course, to a degree, we have always had to “self-edit”. It is a part of maturity as a person: we no longer talk as a child. We are mindful to show “good manners” and not, as far as possible, offend another. However, what May’s and Sheer’s experiences suggest that we are in a societal milieu that is demanding that we must all think the same “progressive” thoughts on social policy. Failure to think the same as those in power ultimately leads to a denial of privilege – as was the case with the Canada Summer Jobs.

However, this form of self-editing is self-destructive. It denies basic integrity. One cannot be true to one’s identity when denying one’s religious self. It is indeed an odd thing to consider that while religious people are frequently told to keep their religious opinions to themselves, they are also hounded in public life to give their opinion on matters such as abortion or marriage. The goal of forcing a public revelation of personal religious views and practices seems to be to systematically deconstruct those views to show the person, or group, as being intolerant and unworthy to serve in public office or to operate in the public.

At CCCC’s we will continue to monitor government activity that seeks to force religious charities to be inauthentic. Such pressure limits the ability of charities to do the work they are tasked to do in making Canada a better country. As the Supreme Court of Canada said only 18 years ago, “The diversity of Canadian society is partly reflected in the multiple religious organizations that mark the societal landscape and this diversity of views should be respected.”[5] As the 2019 election fervour subsides, we need to remember that a diverse society includes those who are religious and contribute to our well-being.


[1] Barry W. Bussey, “The Canada Summer Jobs Debate and the Democratic Decline” (June 9, 2019) 91 S.C.L.R. (2d). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3401591 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3401591

[2] Brian Platt, “Pro-choice NDP MP breaks ranks on Summer Jobs vote, slams government for removing right to dissent,” National Post, March 20, 2018, https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/pro-choice-ndp-mp-breaks-ranks-on-summer-jobs-vote-slams-government-for-removing-right-to-dissent

[3] Maura Forrest, “NDP’s Singh backs down on punishing veteran MP who supported Tories’ Canada Summer Jobs motion,” National Post, March 27, 2018, https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/ndps-singh-backs-down-on-punishing-veteran-mp-who-supported-tories-canada-summer-jobs-motion

[4] Emily Haws & Vassy Kapelos, “‘I have to save the whole world’: Elizabeth May talks climate change, politics and personal heroes,” CBC, September 9, 2019,

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/powerandpolitics/power-lunch-green-elizabeth-may-1.5277007

[5] Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, [2001] 1 SCR 772, 2001 SCC 31 (CanLII), para 33, <http://canlii.ca/t/dmd#par33>, retrieved on 2019-10-25.

Thoughts on A Diverse Society? Reflections on a Tumultuous 2019 Federal Election

  1. Ken Corkum

    Hi Barry
    Always enlightening to read your comments. It will be interesting to watch and be part of Canadian/NL society.
    Ken

    Reply
  2. Iain Benson (Prof)

    Thank you Dr Bussey. Ironic you conclude from the first TWU decision: the second one, the notorious TWU #2, wouldn’t get to the same result. Genuine Diversity, in the “live and let live” sense of that, is not only under threat in Canada it is submerged under a sea of duplicitous pseudo-liberal rhetoric and practice. Maybe that is the only form of “liberal” left. Time then to leave “liberalism” behind.

    Reply

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