The media, meanwhile wring their hands
over the rise of the ‘religious right’

By Paul Tuns
The Interim

The ascendancy of Stockwell Day in Canadian politics has focused attention on the role of pro-life and pro-family organizations and citizens in the political arena, leading the political Left to worry about the rise of a so-called Religious Right in Canada.

Maclean’s Sept. 11 cover story, “New Might on the Right: How social conservatives are changing Canada” is a case in point. It used several key constituency nomination battles to illustrate how social conservatives are trying to assert their influence. The Toronto Star has followed more closely than usual similar battles in the Toronto area.

The media harp on the fact individuals formally and informally connected with pro-life and pro-family groups are actively involved in the nominations, and in some cases, are candidates themselves. For all the uproar, there is just a handful of challenges by social conservatives to sitting pro-abortion, anti-family Alliance MPs. (Many of the contests have little to do with differences over social policy and are a matter of former Manning loyalists being challenged by Day loyalists or challenges against MPs who were skeptical of Reform’s transformation as the Canadian Alliance.)

Really, only two sitting Alliance MPs, Keith Martin and Val Meredith, both from B.C., faced stiff challenges and both won them. The other race the media focused on was the challenge of socially “moderate” Alberta MLA Jocelyn Burgener against the more conservative Rob Anders in Calgary West. Anders had enlisted the help of social conservatives against Burgener after she made abortion and homosexuality a wedge issue.

Peter Stock, national affairs director for the Canada Family Action Coalition, told The Interimthat the left-wing media care less about the individual constituency contests than they do about trying to paint Day as an extremist on social issues. “Maclean’s is a left-wing magazine with an agenda,” he said.

Stock said the media in general are doing Jean Chretien’s work by uncritically echoing the prime minister’s claim that the Alliance is “backward” and “dangerous” because of Day’s social conservatism. Yet Day, unlike Chretien, has remained out of each riding’s nomination process, saying he trusts riding members to pick the best candidate.

Meredith, who represents South Surrey-White Rock-Langley, said she has expressed her concern about the influence of social conservatives within the party to Day. The Starquotes her saying, “I told Stock the party was allowing itself to be controlled or usurped by special-interest groups.” Of course, if social conservatives did control the party, she would not have defeated Blaine Marynuik in early September.

Former CA leadership candidate Keith Martin has also worried about “the single-issue zealots” he sees “capturing” the party.

But Stock said CFAC is concerned with a whole list of issues from abortion and homosexuality to pornography, the licensing of religious TV and radio stations, citizens’ initiatives, family taxation and national sovereignty.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim that despite the importance of other issues, abortion and euthanasia must be considered “disqualifying issues” for anti-life candidates. He said there is no comparison, for example, between taxes or government spending and the sanctity of human life.

Hughes said the Canadian Alliance is not officially pro-life, although there are many good MPs and candidates. But he added the prominence of traditional values within the party compared to the Liberals, Tories and NDP scares the mainstream media.

He said the media’s attempt to scare the public may backfire, considering Chretien’s promise to fight the next campaign on values. “A lot of people are concerned about what’s happening in our society,” he said. “Polls show more Canadians are pro-life, and as they learn the truth about abortion and the humanity of the child in the womb, support for pro-abortion politicians will decline.”

Both CLC and CFAC are non-partisan and are encouraging members to get involved in the nominations of each party, yet there is no uproar about the influence of social conservatives within the other parties.

Stock also points to the involvement of non-Christians, including Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and Sikhs who are also concerned with moral issues. He said he wants social conservatives “to get involved in every party nomination so as many people as possible can influence the decision.” He said the best scenario would be for social conservatives to work to get all major party nominees in a riding to be pro-life and pro-family so voters can decide among acceptable candidates on other issues that they may personally consider important.

Hughes said social conservative must get involved and that the next election is the most promising opportunity for pro-life leadership in Parliament is some time. But he warned that social conservatives can’t worry about what the media says about them, that they must become informed and get out and support pro-life candidates by raising the abortion issue at candidates’ meetings and with their friends and family to stress the importance of life issues on election day.

Stock said social conservatives must actively support candidates by helping to put up signs and canvassing door-to-door. “This election will say if Canadians are opposed to child pornography, if they want to protect the family,” he said. “We need a change from the anti-family policies of the Liberals.”