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CanadaPutting the R-word in politics: How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election

08:40  14 september  2019
08:40  14 september  2019 Source:   nationalpost.com

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Share this story. Putting the R - word in politics : How religion has In the strategic context of the election , Conservative leader Andrew Scheer talks about religion the way Neither wants to talk much about it for themselves, only for the other guy, so it has raised tricky questions Canadians as a

Putting the R - word in politics : How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election . “And the bulk of the party is not particularly preoccupied so much by social issues . But in closely fought elections they need that portion of the electorate that believes strongly in a set of fairly

Putting the R-word in politics: How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election© Candace Elliott/Reuters; Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia; Chris Helgren/Reuters; Chris Helgren/Reuters As parties trade smears of their rival leaders and candidates’ religiosity, and tout their own faiths, religion is emerging as a prominent theme of this election.

In the strategic context of the election, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer talks about religion the way teenagers talk about sex with their parents, reluctantly, downplaying his personal enthusiasm.

Whereas Liberal leader Justin Trudeau talks about religion the way parents talk about sex with their teenagers, awkwardly, downplaying his personal experience.

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As parties trade smears of their rival leaders and candidates’ religiosity, and tout their own faiths, religion is emerging as a prominent theme of this election.

Old comments by Scheer and Trudeau on abortion and gay marriage, and how elected public service can be reconciled with personal morality, are being weaponized to paint the one as a fundamentalist and the other as a hypocrite.

Neither wants to talk much about it for themselves, only for the other guy, so it has raised tricky questions Canadians as a whole do not usually dwell on.

How does a Sikh candidate tying his turban in a campaign ad play in Quebec, where a new law would not let him do it as a school teacher?

Can a Liberal imam who became globally famous for preaching tolerance and sensitivity even toward anti-Muslim spree killer Alexandre Bissonette, then pursued interfaith activism with Jews, survive as a candidate if he has previously made what his own party called “insensitive” comments about Israel and Palestine?

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Putting the R - word in politics : How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election . In the controversial context of an election , the best thing to say about religion is nothing, but nicely. This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

How can a Catholic like Justin Trudeau endorse laws that morally conflict with Vatican doctrine? Must a Catholic like Andrew Scheer pursue only laws that do not? Who will benefit most from this circular philosophical chin-scratching, in a country where seven of the last nine Prime Ministers have been similarly compromised as Catholics, and still seemed to get on with it, democratically?

When CBC journalist Vassy Kapelos asked Green Party leader Elizabeth May who is her personal hero, what did she say?

Putting the R-word in politics: How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

She had just named the late Flora MacDonald, a Progressive Conservative, as her political hero. This was not an obviously partisan choice, so it set the stage for a showstopper of an endorsement. Would it be Greta Thunberg, whose crossing of the ocean testified to the redemptive power of youth? Or Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring launched an environmental movement? Maybe David Suzuki, whose television shows inspired it with wondrous science?

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Putting the R - word in politics : How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election . In the controversial context of an election , the best thing to say about religion is nothing, but nicely. So the present campaign is unusual for Canada.

Putting the R - word in politics : How religion has become the sleeper issue of the 2019 election . In the controversial context of an election , the best thing to say about religion is nothing, but nicely. So the present campaign is unusual for Canada.

Nope. It was Jesus Christ, making His first big federal campaign appearance since Conservative MP Wai Young in 2015 compared the Harper government’s controversial anti-terrorism reforms to Jesus’s Galilean ministry because both “served and acted to always do the right thing, not the most popular thing.”

“I rely on his advice a lot,” May said. But she apologized “because politicians in Canada should not put their religion on their sleeve, and I gave you my quick, honest answer. I didn’t self-edit.”

Canadians dodge religion. This is polite. It takes effort. It involves balance, deference, sensitivity, compromise, diversity — all things Canadians profess to value. In the controversial context of an election, the best thing to say about religion is nothing, but nicely.

So the present campaign is unusual for Canada. Another sign is that the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto is soon to host what it calls its “first ever” all-party debate, moderated by political journalist Don Newman, with remarks and prayer led by Cardinal Thomas Collins.

All this changes the pitch of the political conversation. It hands the mic to those whom Canada’s no-religion rule typically quiets: the louder holy rollers themselves, and those who would call them all out as deranged supernaturalists seeking to oppress Canadians with sharia, popery, or media manipulation.

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“The politicians have been selling hope for thousands of years, the priests have been selling hope. And it is strange that after such a long time, they are still doing business. “By the word religion I do not mean the present dogmatic and theological superstitions which are in the hands of the people.

The emphasis is doubly odd given the catastrophic failure in the last election of a desperate Conservative demonization play against Muslims, which involved both a ban on wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and a hotline to report what were memorably euphemized as “barbaric cultural practices.”

It did about as much good for the Tories as you can reasonably expect from throwing a dead cat on the table, as this radical topic-changing strategy is famously known (credited to Lynton Crosby, the Australian right wing strategist who worked for the Harper Tories in 2015, from a 2013 newspaper column by Boris Johnson, now prime minister of the United Kingdom).

Thus it became the best recent evidence that demography, such as age and gender, does not win Canadian elections. The electoral predictive power of religion is especially weak, vote wise. The 2015 Conservatives were right about the distribution of sentiment in the population, said Harold Clarke, Ashbel Smith Professor of economics, political and policy sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and co-author of the new book Absent Mandate: Strategies and Choices in Canadian Elections, with Jane Jenson, Lawrence LeDuc and Jon H. Pammett. “The problem was the issue just didn’t resonate.”

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Sometimes there are strategically important pockets of the electorate for whom religion drives votes, but on the national scale, religion drowns as a political issue.

“That’s been the statistical story for a long time,” Clarke said.

For example John Tory, now mayor of Toronto, tried a religious pitch when he was leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives in 2007. He proposed to publicly fund faith-based schools of all religions, not just Catholics, only to get skunked at the polling stations. It was a rare Canadian election that was almost entirely about a religious issue, and it went exceptionally poorly for the leader who brought it up.

“This is why (Canadian politicians) don’t talk about it,” said Clarke. “Or if they do, they do it like Justin: ‘I have my own beliefs but I would never let them interfere with my duties to all Canadians’,” he added, paraphrasing Trudeau.

What does win elections, according to the analysis presented in Absent Mandate, is leader image, large scale concerns like health and economy, and a volatile and fickle sort of partisanship.

Religion can impose itself on leader image, and rivals can try to encourage that, but it frequently fails to stick.

Stephen Harper, for example, survived attacks about his own supposed evangelical fervour and desire to recriminalize abortion. By the time he had a shot at a majority, after the 2008 financial crisis in the 2011 vote, none of the popular theocratic nightmares had come true. So even against the Harvard human rights scholar Michael Ignatieff, Harper could plausibly paint himself as the smartest guy in the room, quite obviously more policy wonk than police monk. It worked. Religion had nothing to do with it.

As Clarke described Canadian voters in general: “We don’t go there.”

• Email: jbrean@nationalpost.com | Twitter: josephbrean

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