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Winnipeg Free Press, Friday, June 3rd, 2005

Christians capturing Tory party

by Frances Russell

Christian. Jew. Muslim. Hindu. Buddhist. Agnostic. Atheist.

Under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all have equal right to sit at the table of political power. But only if they respect democratic pluralism and the rights of others to hold different beliefs and values.

What worries a clear majority of Canadians is a peculiarly American strain of Christianity that clamours for its own religious freedom and rights, but squelches them for others.

It seeks political power for the express purpose of remaking the nation in its own rigid and authoritarian image.

It has taken over the Republican Party. Unless aware Americans act soon, the U.S. risks becoming a right-wing Christian theocracy along the lines of the fundamentalist Islamic states it most fears.

President George W. Bush's administration has now moved on one of the last major outposts of critical journalism, the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. The administration has stacked its board with appointees determined to stamp out that deadly American crime, "liberalism". To do so, it's trampling balance, too.

Canadians are acutely aware of this. Like witnesses to a fatal crash, they watch, appalled, as the Christian Right seizes ever-greater control over political debate and thought in the Great Republic.

It sends chills up the spine.

This destruction of everything liberal democracy is supposed to stand for is a key reason Stephen Harper's Conservatives are sliding in the polls even as the Liberals plumb new depths of ethical and possibly criminal misbehaviour.

Last week, the Globe and Mail carried several articles on the Christian Right's successful capture of at least eight Conservative nominations in B.C., Ontario and Atlantic Canada. These candidates all have ties to the U.S. evangelical Christian movements now commanding the heights of the Republican Party. Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers talk glibly about openness and caring. But what they are really about is enforcing discrimination and patriarchy.

In the lead-up to last March's Conservative convention, Craig Chandler, a prominent evangelical Christian and social conservative, publicly urged Mr. Harper to follow the Bush Republicans.

"The re-election of U.S. President George W. Bush is a testament to the political activity and clout of evangelical Christians," Mr. Chandler, a prominent Conservative, said. "President Bush did not waver in his unequivocal support of social conservative positions. He was clearly pro-life and in favour of traditional marriage. He was not ashamed to proclaim his born-again Christianity in the public forum."

Mr. Chandler also reminded Mr. Harper that it was social conservatives who had "organized to ensure he defeated Belinda Stronach, a well-known liberal who has successfully infiltrated the Conservative Party."

The week before the evangelicals' nominations were reported, Ms Stronach switched to the Liberals, turning her erstwhile love interest, Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay, into an instant media darling deserving of enormous public sympathy.

"Poor Peter" was shown with a too-new shovel and a too-clean white shirt, digging potatoes in his father's potato patch. "At least dogs are loyal," the sad-eyed MP said, sitting beside his border collie.

Ask David Orchard about real loyalty. And real betrayal. He thinks Mr. MacKay betrayed Canada by subsuming the Progressive Conservatives into a U.S. Republican-style party.

Contacted by phone at his Saskatchewan farm, he wouldn't comment on Mr. MacKay's lovelorn state. "I want to talk about the bigger issues."

Mr. Orchard was the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership contender who put his rival, Mr. MacKay, over the top on the strength of the latter's "firm handshake...and his oral and written promises" not to merge the PCs with the Canadian Alliance.

For Mr. Orchard, the bigger issue is that Mr. MacKay betrayed the Canadian people by denying them a second centrist, Big Tent, governing party.

"Does this man have no memory of his firm handshake with me, of his oral and written promises to build the PC party as a viable alternative and not to merge it with the Canadian Alliance?" Mr. Orchard asked. "So that betrayal led to the destruction of Canada's oldest political party. It led to a denial of a moderate alternative to the voters of Canada. I don't think we've yet come to grips with the magnitude of what's happened in giving the great party that founded Canada away to the Canadian Alliance."

Today, he said, "Mr. Harper and the group around him, including University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan and others, are in complete control and determined to integrate us deeper into the U.S...

"The last election showed us that the votes just weren't there for Mr. Harper," Mr. Orchard continued. "As night follows day, there's got to be a reappraisal unless the party simply wants to stay in the wilderness forever."

As more Christian absolutists capture Conservative nominations, the party's choice between wilderness or reappraisal becomes stark.


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