Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In The Walrus: Is the Religious Right Taking Over Stephen Harper's Government?

Canadian conservatism is riven with factions. There are neo-cons, paleo-cons, (lots of red Tories, but mostly not in Harper’s party), and there are also the theo-cons. In a stunning piece of investigative journalism, the cover story in the October issue of The Walrus, Marci McDonald shines the spotlight on the rising presence of the theo-cons in Ottawa---the personalities and institutions of the religious right, and their influence in the Harper government.

Once upon a time, Canadian conservatism was dominated by the Toryism of John A. Macdonald, with its nationalism, its belief in the use of the state to build a trans-continental Canada, and its conviction that too close a connection to the United States would mean the extinction of Canada. In the takeover of the remnants of the once great party of Macdonald by Stephen Harper and the Canadian Alliance in December 2003, a new party was constructed, and we are discovering its attributes as the months pass. Never has there been a government as tightly controlled from the top as this one, as intent as this one is to manage its message with great deliberation.

On childcare, the recent Middle East war, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, softwood lumber and gun control, we have seen the Harper government proceed with its agenda and we have seen it react to sudden developments over which it has no control. A picture has been emerging of what the basic values of Harperism amount to.

But much of the truth about the Harper government remains in a kind of black box for most Canadians. There is much we still don’t know and much the government wants to keep us from knowing, at least for the time being.

That’s why McDonald’s article on the influence the religious right has at the very centre of the government and on what the theo-cons are preparing for us for the days following a Harper majority, is so important.

Those who thought that Stephen Harper was merely a market neo-con who wants to dismantle the social state in Canada, are in for a shock. He’s all that, of course, but there’s much more. McDonald discusses Harper’s theological outlook. The prime minister prefers the company of men of the cloth who loathe the right to abortion, and who believe that there is moral degradation everywhere in our secular society. More important than his own outlook, which is his private business as long as it does not impinge on public policy, is the rapid growth of a muscular theo-con presence in Ottawa. Well funded institutes, such as the Institute of Marriage and Family (with an operating budget of $500,000), are springing up around town, ready to dispense their wisdom to policy makers.

The vital question is how much influence the theo-cons would have with a Harper majority government. How far would such political-religious forces push us toward the dismantling of public institutions in favour of faith based initiatives?

McDonald’s article is so good, such an example of a journalism that shows us through the facts rather than telling us through editorializing, that I have no hesitation in suggesting that you break out the $5.95 you’ll need to read it.


Walks With Coffee said...

Actually no... Steve Harper is an atheist. His party is religous right but he has no such values... neither religous-right or religous-left. He only cares about power and mammon.

SUZANNE said...

We can't pass the most rudimentary fetal rights legislation, and you're saying the Harper government is dominated by theocons? Are you in the dark about how Harper squashed the unborn victims of crime bill?

Give me a break. We can't even get a partial birth abortion policy on the books.

This is just fear mongering.

Walks With Coffee said...


Steve Harper grew up amongst gentle religious-right people of noble character but does not share their religious beliefs. His familiarity with such people makes him knowledgeable enough to know how to use them for political gain.

Accordingly, Steve Harper surrounds himself with the religious-right because he is familiar with them and understands how to manipulate them to political advantage. But, he cares nothing for their issues. Neither does he care for any religious-left issue born out of "love thy neighbour" such as healthcare, welfare, public education, etc. Harper is in politics for power - his power.

You guys need to understand your political opponent better. Attacking a man for being religious when he is not will never work.

More seriously, attacking religion via politics is both foolish and inappropriate. People of all faiths are in politics and in all parties. [Just so happens, Steve Harper is not one of them... although his party has a large group of religious right in it.] Attacking and manipulating religion from the political pulpit is as wrong as attacking and manipulating politics from the religious pulpit.

Kuri said...

I'm looking forward to this issue, having enjoyed Ms. MacDonald's articles in the past.

Knowing that they lost the gay marriage issue, I wouldn't be surprised of the theo-con faction of the Cons would turn their attention against women again, and especially against reproductive freedom.

It's definately something to watch out for.

Harrap said...

The Walras does have some great articles!

I remember reading this great article on the NDP by a certain former leader of the Waffle Movement ;)

James Laxer said...

Thanks for that.

Matt said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. This issue of the Walrus was worth it for this article alone.

To walks with coffee: who knows if Harper is actually religious or not(you say he's an atheist but you don't say how you know). As far as I know he's Christian & Missionary Alliance. Whether he is actually religious or not is beside the point, since certainly Harper's Conservative Party is indeed the party of choice for the religious right.

As an atheist, I'm frankly insulted - since you seem to imply that his caring only about power is an atheist trait.

Dave said...

The question is, what is the best way to fight the religious right in Canada? Maybe check out the tactics of the American Left and try doing the exact opposite?

As for whether or not Steve-O is could anyone but he himself possibly know? All we know is that he is a self-stated Christian. Obviously there is nothing wrong with that... What should be watched for is any tendency to pander to extremists, whatever their stripe. So far I haven't noticed any major moves on Harper's part that indicate he is anything but a socially moderate, fiscally conservative geek. Whoops, I added that geek part by mistake. And then I left it in.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how to understand the Walrus anymore. I used to love it until I read an article in it about something that I am an expert on. It was a packet of lies. Now I don't know if I can believe anything I read in it. That isn't to say that anything in it isn't true, only that we should all be very careful about what we read, as the editors let at least one pile of doo-doo get past their quality control.