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Faith and Politics: Party Leaders Respond
Faith Today asked: "What role do you think faith should play in developing public policy, and what is the place of religious institutions in contemporary Canadian society?"

Politicians are rarely asked about their faith or how faith impacts their politics. Faith Today invited all party leaders registered with Elections Canada to answer the same question [see "Responses from political parties without seats in the House of Commons who are registered with Elections Canada" at the end of this article]. We agreed to print their answers unedited if they stayed within our word limit.

Responses of the party leaders elected to the House of Commons

Liberal Party

The face of contemporary Canada is a mosaic of individuals from different linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds—a tapestry of diversity and vibrancy. Indeed, Canada is known for being home to a wide mix of religions, and the political structure in our country proudly supports religious pluralism as it strives to promote individual liberties and freedom of expression. Religious institutions are therefore valuable components of Canadian modern society.

Paul Martin
"I am an ardent believer in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and
, which recognizes the supremacy
of God in the preamble and enshrines
freedom of religion." Paul Martin

Those who choose to adopt Canada as their new home as well as those who have been established here for generations know they can be free to practice their religion, follow their faith and live as they want to live. The relationship between faith and public policy in Canada should therefore be a synergetic partnership—working together to improve our social tapestry for the greater good of all Canadians.

As Prime Minister and Canadian citizen, I am an ardent believer in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms—the heartbeat of our Constitution—which recognizes the supremacy of God in the preamble and enshrines freedom of religion, among other basic freedoms, of our highest law.

Since becoming Prime Minister in December 2003, I have had the opportunity to participate in many unique ceremonies pertaining to various faiths, such as His Holiness Pope John II's funeral in April 2005, the Chanukah Menorah Lighting Ceremony and the annual Diwali Celebrations. I have also met with various religious and community leaders during my tenure, including a unique gathering on the occasion of a visit to Ottawa by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a respected spiritual leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. During my meeting with the Dalai Lama at the home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, we discussed the issue of human rights, both in Canada and abroad.

Canada is also among the most successful multicultural societies in the world. Indeed, our country's success is in large part due to our rich and diverse cultural, linguistic and religious communities. As we make our way in this new century, our country stands apart for its multiculturalism—a truly enriching social characteristic in the image of the world of today and tomorrow.

Paul Martin
Prime Minister of Canada
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Conservative Party of Canada

Public policy is supposed to reflect democratic opinion, and public opinion is shaped by a wide variety of influences including personal philosophy, economic and social background, life experience and religious beliefs. It is perfectly legitimate for citizens and legislators to take into account their own deeply held faith convictions in developing public policy, provided that people remain open to the faith and philosophical perspectives of others.

"Those of different faiths and no
faith should seek areas of common
agreement based on their
different perspectives." Stephen Harper

In recent years, some politicians and commentators have asserted that in order to maintain the separation of church and state, legislators should not be influenced by religious belief. Leaving aside the fact that the separation of church and state is an American constitutional doctrine, not part of Canada's legal or political tradition, the notion of separation refers to the state not interfering in religious practice and treating all faith communities impartially. It does not mean that faith has no place in public life or the public square.

Canada is a multicultural and pluralistic society, but this does not mean that faith has to be excluded from public life, but rather that those of different faiths and no faith should seek areas of common agreement based on their different perspectives. On an issue like the definition of marriage, for example, citizens and legislators can certainly make reference to the fact that almost all faith communities—not only Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, but Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and native religions as well—consider marriage to be the union of a man and a woman, and to call for this moral consensus to be reflected in civil law.

The Conservative Party and caucus has people within it of many different faith backgrounds, and we welcome all of their contributions and their convictions in the development of public policy.

Religious institutions—churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, as well as parachurch organizations like faith-based charities—play a vital role in Canadian society. Churches and religious charities are active in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers and visiting prisoners. Church and faith-based schools educate hundreds of thousands of Canadian children. And charities like World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, or the Mennonite Central Committee help Canadians share with the developing world. A Conservative government would recognize the vital work done by religious institutions and ensure that religious charities are eligible to participate in government programs on the same basis as other charities and non-governmental organizations.

These charitable endeavours in the name of faith benefit all of society. But churches and faith-based organizations are more than charities. They are animated by deep convictions about the nature of God and our moral obligations towards God and each other. Government must respect these convictions and not attempt to interfere in the free public expression of religious belief. Sadly, freedom of religion has come under attack in recent years in cases ranging from religious organizations being expected to rent facilities for same-sex marriages to pastors being threatened with human rights charges for expressing their religious beliefs. A Conservative government will be vigilant to ensure that freedom of religion is protected in Canada.

Stephen Harper
Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

New Democratic Party

The NDP has a long history of developing public policy on the basis of the faith-informed perspectives of those who actively support the NDP or who, out of their faith perspective, support certain policies put forward by the NDP. In a context where the public face of religion in the media tends to be focused on the religious right, it is important to remember that there has always been, and continues to be, a religious left in Canada, a religious left which has had a significant and beneficial formative influence on modern Canada. Medicare is a good example.

"There will always be a role for
Christians, and for people of other
faiths, to speak out of their prophetic
traditions." Jack Layton

It is also important to remember that there is much common ground to be found and to be developed between the religious left and the religious right. A recent breakfast briefing for MPs, dealing with global poverty and sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, conveyed messages, analysis and policy positions that would not have sounded out of place at an event sponsored by the United Church of Canada, or for that matter the NDP.

The challenge for Canadians who want to practise a politics that is faithful to their understanding of God, of their Scriptures and of their own faith tradition, is how to do this appropriately in the secular, pluralistic and multi-faith society that Canada has become. For Christians this is particularly challenging, because this needs to be done in a way that preserves the right of Christians to bring their values into the public square while respecting the fact that in a post-Christendom context no policy can be officially adopted or rejected for explicitly Christian reasons, as might have been the case in a previous era.

Another challenge for people of faith is to learn how to talk to each other and about each other in a way that is respectful of the faithfulness and integrity of those with whom there is disagreement on certain issues. Respect for faith-informed perspectives in public discourse will be easier to attain from others if those informed by faith show respect for each other.

Tommy Douglas was fond of using Christ's teaching about the Sabbath, that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man, as a starting point for making the analogous case that man was not made for the economy—the economy is, or should be, made for man.

This is still an instructive analogy. We live in a world that increasingly subordinates human well-being, and the integrity of creation, to the global profit strategies of multi-national corporations. This is done in the overall context of a world that worships the marketplace and its values. Uncritical materialism and selfishness are significantly exalted by the amoral competitiveness of a global capitalism that regards the peoples of the world as potential sources of cheap labour rather than as children of God. Furthermore, the market ethic eventually corrupts individual morals, as everything and everybody becomes a means to an end, and self-interest trumps solidarity.

There will always be a role for Christians, and for people of other faiths, to speak out of their prophetic traditions, challenging the rulers of their day to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, and to measure their political choices not in terms of how they help the rich and already powerful, but how they help the hungry, the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized and the environment that future generations will have to live in.

The prophetic voice may not always be welcome in public policy debates, but it is essential that its role be defended as one of the important ways that the spirit speaks to us in human history.

Jack Layton
Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
Bill Blaikie
Deputy Leader of the NDP

Bloc Québécois

Au nom de monsieur Gilles Duceppe, député de Laurier–Sainte-Marie et chef du Bloc Québécois, nous accusons réception de votre courriel du 18 novembre dernier. Nous apprécions le fait que vous ayez pris le temps de communiquer avec nous. Par ailleurs, nous sommes persuadés que vous reconnaîtrez avec nous que la foi et la religion entrent dans le domaine des affaires privées et qu'il appartient à chaque personne de décider de sa conduite à cet égard. Vous comprendrez donc que nous ne répondrons pas à la question que vous nous avez soumise. Nous vous remercions à l'avance pour votre compréhension. Soyez assuré que le Bloc Québécois continuera d'adopter une attitude responsable et d'agir en toute situation dans le respect du peuple canadien. Nous vous prions de recevoir, Monsieur, nos salutations distinguées.

Gilles Duceppe

Marie Bourgeois
Coordonnatrice de la correspondence

On behalf of Mr. Gilles Duceppe, Member of Parliament for Laurier–Sainte-Marie and leader of the Bloc Québécois, we acknowledge receipt of your e-mail dated November 18. We appreciate that you have taken the time to contact us. However, we believe you will concur that matters of faith and religion enter into the realm of private affairs and that consequently, decisions regarding them rest with the individual. You will understand, then, that we will not respond to the question you have submitted to us. We thank you in advance for your understanding. Rest assured that the Bloc Québécois will continue to adopt a responsible attitude and to act in every situation in the interests of the Canadian people.

Kind regards,

Marie Bourgeois
Correspondence Coordinator

Responses from political parties without seats in the House of Commons who are registered with Elections Canada

Christian Heritage Party

Mark Steyn notes that those who stole taxpayers' money in the sponsorship scandal were probably aware that what they were doing was illegal.

"From the supremacy of God derive
the transcendent, immutable standards
needed to justly govern every aspect
of society." Ron Gray

"That's not the problem," he writes. "It's that they no longer know what's right and wrong."

Our social, political and economic systems depend upon mutual trust; and trust depends upon a common standard of right and wrong. In the postmodern world, the four institutions that exert the most influence on us—governments, courts, media and the public education establishment—have lost that moral compass.

The benchmark of right and wrong must be transcendent (higher than the mind of man could produce) and immutable (unchanging); it must be God-given.

Both church and state are ordained by God, and they are separate; but they are also interdependent: the task of the state is to maintain order so the church can do its work; among the duties of the church is to be a conscience to the nation … because God has given the church access to the mind of Christ.

The Preamble to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares. "Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law." There is no doubt whatever that this refers to the God of the Bible, whose inspired words are carved into the very stones of Parliament.

The Bible is thus the foundation of our systems of government and jurisprudence. Democracy as we know it has a pedigree that goes back to Magna Carta. The heart of that document is the principle that there is a higher law—found in the Bible—which even the Crown must obey. As each case came before the Monarch's court and was adjudicated according to Biblical standards of justice and compassion, a body of precedents—the English Common Law—was built up.

William Blackstone, whose Commentaries on the English Common Law was for 200 years the textbook of every law school in the English-speaking world, wrote that "no enactment of man can be considered law unless it accords with the law of God."

Those who would dismiss the counsels of the Almighty because they are not "modern" (or postmodern) stumble into chronological chauvinism. And under that malign influence, we descend into barbarism. As Georges Santayana wrote, "Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

But those who have the humility to acknowledge the wisdom and authority of God's revelation hold the key to a brighter, more peaceful, more prosperous future.

But what about those who don't believe?

The short answer is that their unbelief cannot invalidate revealed truth; yet they must also be respected as image-bearers of the living God.

In the last census, 79 percent of Canadians identified themselves as Christians; 16 percent as atheist or agnostic (i.e., Secular Materialists); and only five percent comprised all the minority faiths, with none over two percent.

Secular Materialists utterly dominate the four key institutions listed above: government, courts, media and education. The only people with the numerical potential to resist this Secularist juggernaut—which seeks to drive all people of faith out of the public square—are the Christians. We should be a bulwark, defending the religious liberties and intellectual freedom of all.

But we cannot defend anyone or anything if we compromise the core; for then we, ourselves, become de facto Secularists. We must rely on the power and goodness of God, not on our own strength or cleverness.

From the supremacy of God derive the transcendent, immutable standards needed to justly govern every aspect of society.

Ronald O. Gray
National Leader
Christian Heritage Party of Canada

Progressive Canadian Party

I make this comment personally and not on behalf of the party—the party is a secular institution which subscribes to the separation of church and state. That does not mean it separates morality from politics.

"I think that having an
election which takes away
people from the celebration of
the birth of Christ is an abomination
and should be condemned by
all who profess the faith." Jim Love

We would not, for instance, as a party, support an MP who had lied or cheated. For example, if a person in our party were to have signed an undertaking to do something and then done the opposite, we would say that offends our sense of morality. That would keep Mr. Mackay from candidacy. Or if, as in the case of Mr. Harper, a leader heads a party which does not pay it's legitimate debts to punish those who disagree with it, we would find that offensive to our sense of morality. That is the position of the secular party.

But let me speak as a Christian, for a moment. And I stress that I speak personally in this regard. I think that having an election which takes away people from the celebration of the birth of Christ is an abomination and should be condemned by all who profess the faith. We even suspend wars for this holiday, but have these "three wise men" been able to put aside their politics and petty bickering to allow Canadians the quiet contemplation of the miracle of Christ's birth?

I hope that all fellow Christians will let our message be heard loud and clear to Mr. Harper, Mr. Martin, Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe. Render unto Caesar—but render your outrage!

I would be equally outraged if this election were being held during Ramadan or Channukah. So I hope my outrage will be shared by all communities of faith.

I hope that addresses your need for a statement. I look forward to your spirited defense of morality and the sanctity of the Christmas celebration.

On behalf of Tracy Parsons
Leader Progressive Canadian (PC) Party
Jim Love
Progressive Canadian (PC) Party

Canadian Action Party

Canadian Action Party is one of the most grassroots Federal Parties in Canada. Respect for body, mind and spirit of our people is paramount.

"Sound, just social policy gives
freedom to pursue religious ideals,
faith, compassion, prosperity,
education and an atmosphere
of peace." Connie Fogal

All freedoms including religious are under threat by the current wave of liberty stripping legislation. Public policy is the instrument to allow true freedom of expression, be it religious or political, artistic or opinion. All policy in an independent, democratic nation must respect the fundamental rights of the citizenry to be free to choose religion for themselves. The current legislation is threatening the very core of the nation's freedom. We will repeal all legislation, which is more conducive to a police state than a free just society.

We will uphold our Canadian Charter of Rights, which protects all Canadians from discrimination on the basis of religion. We will repeal all laws, which prevent or restrict freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of choice.

Each human being is dependant upon society, the environment and the infrastructure system. Our sound social policy will free the people from corporate slavery, lack of healthcare, poverty, homelessness and hunger.

The principles of a just society are the foundation of all social policy. Sound, just social policy gives freedom to pursue religious ideals, faith, compassion, prosperity, education and an atmosphere of peace.

Canada is a multicultural nation and has opened its doors to all peoples. Our nation was developed by primarily European influence, with a variety of religious backgrounds, but has always benefited by our attitude of tolerance and acceptance of our differences. Education leads to awareness and acceptance. Ignorance creates very narrow views and fear of our fellow human beings. Government, although not bound by religious ideology, shares a very significant role in creating an atmosphere where all people can co-habit in peace.

There must be a separation of Church and State in order to allow religion to serve its members and for government to serve all faiths. If one religion were to have significant impact on the government in a democratic nation, then the ideals of the given religion would be imposed on all the nation through the government. That could lead to situations like we see in Iran today, where the government is run by the religious sector. As our population grows and people embrace various religions, we could find that the electorate voted for a religious ideology that the majority of the population preferred but which denied others the right to freedom of religion.

The measure of greatness in a nation is not based on Gross National Product, nor the number of corporate elites, or the profits shown on a balance sheet. The true measure of greatness is the manner in which the nation cares for its most vulnerable and dependant, such as the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor. Canada is a very wealthy nation, although burdened with a very real but unnecessary national debt, due to the mismanagement of our public purse by several governments. If we do not remedy this tremendous burden on the backs of Canadians, we will become further and further enslaved to the corporate owned banks.

Many religions oppose usury and some outright ban any form of interest.

CAP is the only party that respects those principles.

Most religions teach that man cannot serve two masters. Most religions including Christianity recognize that enslaving a people, is contrary to the laws of God. The people of Canada will not be capable of serving each other, or care for the planet or feed their children if we continue to seek profit first policy.

Connie Fogal
Canadian Action Party / Parti Action Canadienne

The following party leaders chose not to respond to Faith Today's offer

Mr. Jim Harris
Leader, Green Party

Ms. Sandra L. Smith
Leader, Marxist-Leninist Party

Mr. Blair T. Longley
Leader, Marijuana Party

Mr. Miguel Figueroa
Leader, Communist Party

Mr. Jean-Serge Brisson
Leader, Libertarian Party

Originally published in part in Faith Today, January/February 2006.


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Faith and the Values Debate

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