Last month I reviewed Marci McDonald’s hideous book The Armageddon Factor. I chose to focus on the numerous errors throughout the book – author Denyse O’Leary has coined the term ‘marcis’ to describe “errors of fact that fact-checking would have prevented.” On TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken, McDonald pointed out that her critics have merely pointed out the factual errors in her screed and have not criticized her argument. She seems to be implying that despite getting her facts wrong, we should nonetheless take the arguments based on those facts seriously. So in the interest of being fair to an author who is not fair with her subject, I’ll engage her argument that Stephen Harper’s politics are influenced by fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants who want to get Canada ready for the End Times. McDonald strongly and repeatedly suggests that the Prime Minister shares their views.
It should be noted that those who know Harper, do not recognize the man described by McDonald. Former National Citizens Coalition vice president Gerry Nicholls wrote in the National Post: “I worked with Harper for five years (1997-2002) at the National Citizens Coalition. During all the time I knew him, he never displayed an ounce of zealotry. He never even talked about religion. He did, however, talk a lot about the intersection of religion and politics. And his views in those days would probably shock Marci McDonald.
“Harper did not have much affinity for social conservatives. He viewed them as ‘culturally isolated’ and a dwindling political force in Canada. That’s why he also believed a conservative political party would be successful only if it talked less about social and moral issues, and more about economic and fiscal issues. In other words, he was a libertarian.
“For their part, social conservatives didn’t like Harper much, either. Recall that during the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership race, they overwhelmingly supported Harper’s main rival, Stockwell Day.”
People of goodwill can disagree over whether Stephen Harper is or ever has been a social conservative, but it is clear that the pro-life movement in this country does not consider him one based on the defining issue of abortion. Not at any time as a Reform MP, head of the National Citizen’s Coalition, leader of the Canadian Alliance, or prime minister did he indicate he was pro-life. In the 2006 federal election The Interim gave him the best grade among the major party leaders, but a C isn’t very impressive and is hardly an endorsement of someone who is supposedly one of us. Since 1993, Campaign Life Coalition has rated him as “not pro-life” because he answered their questionnaire that year noting that on moral issues he would represent the views of his constituents and that having polled them he would not vote in favour of recriminalizing abortion. In the 2004 Conservative Party leadership, CLC did not endorse Harper – or anyone, in a race that included Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement.
As Nicholls, says Harper may not be a religious conservative but as a political animal he knows his base. I interviewed Harper in 1998 when he was the head of the NCC for a story on uniting the right and the place of social conservatives and he found them a risky part of the conservative coalition. I wrote at the time: “Former Reform MP and current National Citizens’ Coalition president Stephen Harper says if moral conservatives want to be part of a united right, the right should oblige. He suggests that their common ground might be to expose the social liberals’ claim to be morally neutral.
“That said, as a conservative strategist, Harper sees ‘moral issues as dangerous to any coalition.’ He argues that the moral plank is either so strong that it defines the party narrowly and excludes many voters, or too weak to attract social conservative voters.”
It’s not just the pro-life issue. On marriage, some social conservatives thought that Harper merely went through the motions of having a motion to re-open the same-sex ‘marriage’ issue in December 2007 and that he was playing politics and dealing from the bottom of the deck to ensure the issue just went away. As we reported at the time: “Stephen Harper never wanted to win the vote, anyway. He was only keeping his campaign promise, a sop to socially conservative voters, who are an important, but cheaply bought, part of the Conservative party’s base.”
Marci McDonald has said she just reports all the facts and lets people decide. That’s what journalists do, after all. But there has been plenty of evidence that many social conservatives either don’t trust Harper, don’t consider him one of their own, or are confused about his views on various moral issues. McDonald could have reported those facts, but doing so would have undermined her thesis that the Prime Minister is the Earthly saviour for Christian fundamentalists looking to recast Canada as a Christian nation welcoming to Jesus when he returns.