05.15.2010 11:13 AM

Harper, God and cynicism

I’m about to give a speech to 200 pumped-up Alberta Liberals, so I don’t have time to opine about this issue at length. But let’s just say that Susan Delacourt’s take on Stephen Harper and the Almighty is the same as mine.

I go to church more than Stephen Harper does. If you are only an occasional church-goer, you are also a lot more diligent about your faith than the Conservative Prime Minister.

Confused? Don’t be. I’m not suggesting that Marci McDonald’s thesis – that the Canadian Christian Right is getting a lot cockier, and a lot more aggressive, in its efforts to smash down the wall between Church and State – is wrong. If anything, she’s understating things.

What I am saying is this: the abortion-related machinations of the Harper PMO – or the top guy, at least – is all about politics, not faith. It’s about throwing a bone to a well-funded, well-organized conservative lobby. That may be good strategy, but – as Susan suggests – it isn’t very honest.

It’s the most despicable kind of cynicism, in fact.


  1. wilson says:

    ‘It’s the most despicable kind of cynicism, in fact.’

    So it was a cynical move on the part of Liberal MPs to vote down a Liberal motion on funding 3rd world abortions?
    Is it cynical for Harper to ‘allow’ what in the House, is a majority , have their say?

    Senator Ruth warned yah. Don’t wake up the sleeping giant.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I have ALWAYS felt that Harper is not in the least bit religious, or about as much as a Christmas-Easter Anglican is — but that he is using the Alliance Church (Preston Manning’s church) as a ladder to the top, and that he’s using the people in the Evangelical movement to get him up there. It’s been known for a long time that Laureen is not religious – so that doesn’t fit with your typical religious, right-wing “Evangelical Alliance family” type.

    Motivated by the right things, the Evangelicals will raise the money needed, and I think that money is what’s funded Harper’s rise. Of course he’s a cynic – he’s a cynic about everything, including religion, and he uses religion just as easily as he’ll use an MP.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    And in Wilson’s post – we have an example here of dishonesty, and maybe total confusion. That’s what happens when you blindly follow a cynic.

  4. AmandaM says:

    A little over a year ago, I would’ve told you that I was *this close* to thinking about voting for these guys. I liked their stand on Arctic Sovereignty, on Afghanistan and the Canadian Forces (foreign policy being an important part of what I think defines a federal government in Canada), and even to some extent on stimulus and a handful of other domestic issues. I am a great big, bleeding heart, capital “L” Liberal, and I just couldn’t see my way clear to voting for a man in my riding who I have never heard from, who is a member of a party with a leader who can’t see HIS way clear to finding himself a personality or traction on any issues; Except, now, for an issue on parliamentary rules that only people who actually understand the ins and outs of parliament can understand. Let’s just say it’s certainly not a wedge issue, or more to the point, an issue that is going to get into a householder.

    I was *this close* to simply allowing my mind to ponder under what conditions would I cross the aisle and betray my party. Had the LPC (including the MPs and the Office of the Leader of the Opposition) done enough to shake my life-long faith in the Natural Governing Party? It began with the Prime Minister Chretien/Minister Martin debacle, and I never could get behind Prime Minister Martin. He had no interest in working with Premier McGuinty, despite being fully aware of the role Ontario plays in Confederation, and dashed the hopes of many who finally had a longed-for Liberal Ontario/Liberal Canada. It didn’t live up to hopes, and Prime Minister Martin began a sorry history of not being able to get traction on any issue – the very thing which is poisoning the party now, and which is a clear sign of a leader who is a compromise, rather than someone the party faithful really wanted to lead us. Prime Minister Martin, followed by Mr. Dion, and now Mr. Ignatieff. I feel like the only time the party actually got together in all this time was when Mr. Graham was interim leader. Did they shake my faith with horrifying incompetence, ridiculous attempts to grab power and a total inability to communicate on issues? Absolutely. This is not the party I felt drawn to as a newly-aware teenager. This is not the party of Prime Ministers Trudeau and Chretien.

    And so, one turns to other options. The NDP is too silly to be serious about anything, although I have the utmost of respect for Mr. Mulcair. Green is a lovely idea, but it’s a wasted vote when the Leader can’t get elected to the House. The only other option is the Tories, and so the question must be asked – are they REALLY that bad? I don’t particularly like Prime Minister Harper as human being, but I don’t really believe in the general maliciousness of humans (See? LIBERAL!), and I do believe for the most part, he thinks that what he does is what is best for this country. His Ministers have not been impressive, obviously, but I have found myself nodding in agreement when foreign policy issues have been at the forefront. I believe in our mission in Afghanistan for many reasons, and I believe in protecting our sovereignty in the Arctic. I believe in our relationship with Israel, I thought that appointing Ambassador Doer in Washington was brilliant, and on other foreign policy issues, I thought this government was going mostly in the right direction.

    Until now. This issue of denying abortions to women in developing countries is a way to start the debate here in Canada, after Prime Minister Harper said he would not – that abortion in Canada is established and he wasn’t going to be pro-active in opening the issue. Women everywhere have a right to choose to do what they want with their own bodies, particularly with reproductive concerns. It never occurred to me that Canada would be a country to implement a gag rule and would not provide funding to those who provide abortions. Removing funding from this essential health care service and from Pride festivals (Toronto may be relatively well-funded, but other places are not, and it’s no more acceptable to stop providing Pride funding than it would be to stop providing funding to a jazz festival because the Prime Minister doesn’t like people who play the trumpet) is not acceptable. Telling women to “shut the fuck up” was so revealing about who this man is and what his party stands for. And they are in government and as such, so very dangerous.

    We are not that. We are, simply, not that country. And I will never, ever consider changing my vote again, and I will come back to my party and love it so much as to make sure I do all I can to ensure it gets to its fighting weight for the next round. We are not Prime Minister Harper’s Canada. We never will be.

    • Melody says:

      Amanda, I don’t agree with your conclusions, however I appreciate the thought you put into your response. It seems like 98% of the comments on blogs and newspapers are partisan pot shots. Your post was a refreshing break.

    • JStanton says:

      a good, synopsis, by and large, of my own feelings. Mr. Harper is either quite complicated or quite simple; I’m not yet sure which. Either way, he is neither a force for positive change, nor someone who can see the positive aspects of the status quo.

      My daughter’s insight, when viewing Mr. Harper take his Sunday constitutional along a lane not far from his home, that he looked “mean”, is something that has rung true ever since. There is something mean about him. He is mean to those that don’t align with his view or ambitions. He is mean even to his colleagues.

      What is clear is that most folks don’t fully understand what drives him. Apparently its not ideology or faith or philanthropy. The only things left are money, ego and sex. I’m guessing the latter is not a factor, and that he will be able to squeeze money from folks to make a comfortable living for the rest of his career, )albeit not on the scale of his much maligned predecessor).

      Which leaves us with the matter of his, perhaps, long bruised ego. I think Mr. Harper has a deep and terrible anger inside of him that causes him to behave in ways that most folks would be ashamed of. I think it causes him to do things that serve self indulgence, rather than the benefit of Canada and Canadians.

      This means that he cannot be bested through rational debate, but only by the persuasive influence upon the electorate by one whose motives are more pure, more sincere and irreproachable; one who can communicate these virtues in a manner understood and appreciated by everyman. Oh, what a dilemma!

  5. Sandra says:

    As I understand it, former PM’s – Mulroney, Chretien, Martin went to church more regularly than Harper, BUT, they did so privately and quietly.

    They did not use religious groups for power.

  6. Riff says:

    Everyone is missing the point, including Marci McDonald.
    Harper is a moderate Evangelical Christian as is made clear by his biographer Mackay.
    He has chosen not to practice his faith as diligently as he would like because of the the political fall-out. That is the fear of a voter backlash.
    Harper held tight to this position up until very recently.
    An impatient man on a mission to transform Canada and Canadians into a ‘values’ and fiscal conservative society, Harper now understands that he has no choice but to be more open about his faith because it is the road, he and his advisors believe, to his much prized majority. There are four millions Evangelical Christian organizations in Canada and it is now clear that over 70% of them favour the Conservative Party and expect new laws that reflect their values.
    The Evangelical Christian lobby has decided to pressure the Harper government to produce the goods or their constituency will not give Harper the majority that he so badly wants. Canada’s Evangelical Christian organizations are crawling all over Parliament Hill to lobby for all sorts of changes to programs, both domestic and international.

  7. e says:

    Susan D said it so very nicely… said more plainly, to the Harpers religion is merely a political weapon

  8. SUZANNE says:

    I’ll take the Protestant line.

    Just because he doesn’t go to church doesn’t mean he doesn’t have faith.

    Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you do.

    What do we know about his religious beliefs? Lloyd Mackey seems to think that Stephen Harper is a fairly religious guy, but he doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve.

    You can “throw a bone” to a constituency without it being dishonest. You really don’t think that Harper doesn’t support his G8 Maternal Initiative wholeheartedly? Really? Can a person not want to fund abortion without favouring fetal rights?

    Stephen Harper has shown time and again that he has religious roots, but he’s not on the religious right. When a guy’s actions matches his words, that tends to show he is sincere.

    • Ted says:

      I don’t for a second think that his maternal health initiative was anything but politics.

      In his entire career he has never ever made it an issue.

      He is not attending the global maternal health conference going on in Washington in a few weeks and even Bev Oda has not confirmed her attendance.

      He did not speak with anyone like Keith Martin who have been pushing international maternal health plans for years.

      And the apparatus that is already there to help fund maternal and child health abroad – IPPC, Planned Parenthood, CIDA, MDG, etc. – are being DEFUNDED by Harper instead of expanded.

      This is not the conduct of someone who is passionately committed to ending a complex and deep global problem.

  9. Steve Gallagher says:

    Go Habs Go!
    Had to say that.

    My spouse is an Evangelical Christian and I am a Roman Catholic. We love one another.
    Every once in a while, (after a couple too many) we pick at each other, she about the
    priests and boys, me about ministers and their girls and farm animals, (I’m nastier)

    In any event. At some point it is always a good point to not discuss religion and politics.
    It is not that the two do not mix, it is simply not sensible.

    Steve Gallagher

  10. Michael Watkins says:

    Delacourt and Kinsella are quite right. Since coming to power as the leader of the Canadian Alliance Harper has always played a very careful and discrete game of footsie under the table with the segment of the faith community, the Christian right/ultra-right/evangelical fundamentalists/Christian Nationalists – whatever you wish to label these groups as. It wasn’t fully a two-way street. These groups had no where else to go. The PC Party, which I was very active in, would not hitch its wagon to these elements. Nor the Liberals nor the NDP, leaving then only the Christian Heritage Party and the Canadian Alliance.

    Harper was not best buds with even the moderate Christian elements of the Reform / Canadian Alliance Parties. Witness exhibit A, Deborah Grey, a Christian moderate and Reform Party icon, someone a much younger Stephen Harper once worked for, if I recall correctly labelled Harper as the worst possible leadership choice for the Canadian Alliance.

    For much of his tenure as leader of the Canadian Alliance and then the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper has been pushing the religious right back, gently at times and much more firmly at others. The religious ultra-right simply has no other *productive* political party or avenue to cosy up to and both sides know it. From a strictly political perspective Harper is due lots of credit for stringing them along carefully all this time, and you can see that he has been rewarding that segment of his base with increased power and responsibility in key ministers and by permitting much more visible support to various “family value” groups from within his caucus.

    Some of the excerpts of McDonald’s interviews that I’ve seen seem to draw the wrong conclusion. Warren’s take on the man is just right – he’s employed “the most despicable kind of cynicism” in creating a false persona and stringing along the religious right all these years.

    It is part and parcel of his broader plan to influence the Canadian psyche, pushing every-day Canadians to think just a little more conservatively. The God Blesses are also a simplistic way of standing out from the other guys, appealing to the older crowd and other demographics which respond well to these sorts of platitudes. But Harper as an end-timer? Nope. He’s just one crass political animal.

    But I do believe that McDonald is quite right about the growing influence of end-times influenced politics and politicians in our society. Perhaps in forcing his MP’s to toe the line on so many issues of moral and religious beliefs will result in buttressing support for the religious right to too great an extent, and Harper will find out one day he’s lost control.

    If that means Day is next in charge, bring it on! 😉

  11. allegra fortissima says:

    A cup of tea, anyone?


  12. Elizabeth says:

    “Oh may Thy powerful word
    Inspire the feeble worm
    To rush into Thy kingdom, Lord
    And take it as by storm.”

    (Wesleyan hymn book)

    I always found this so funny, for some reason. Out of “The Bedside Book”

    Worms, all of them.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Of course he’s mean. He’s a bully. He demonstrated that thoroughly with Stephane Dion. A mean bully who oddly seemed to quit the QP bullying when Ignatieff came along – and he has no code of honour whatsoever.

    My reaction to him was instinctive; he made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, so to speak. As a dog’s hackles stand on end when it senses a threat.
    I didn’t quite growl, but I got more involved in politics than ever before in my life, and it was because my country is threatened.

    My country is as important to me as my family is – there really is no difference between the two, because my country is my home; and I do what I can to defend it.

  14. Frank says:

    In the past, Mr. Kinsella, you used to insist repeatedly that Harper was no extremist.

    Do you still believe that is the case?

    And if you do, how do you reconcile that with his presiding over extreme policies?

  15. Paul R. Martin says:

    It amazes me how Liberals can bulid a mountain out of a mole hill when it comes to Harper. Taken to extremes, some Liberal will probably claim that Harper is the source of original sin.
    By the way, if you think that Harper is nasty, try reading Angelo Persichilli’s column in the ttoday’s Toronto Star. In your heart of hearts, many of you Liberals realize that he is right.

    • parnel says:

      Paul, when similar columns were written about Harper needing to be replaced in 2004/05 did you think they were right also?

    • Ted says:

      I think it is Harper reaping what he has sowed.

      You can’t put out radical rightwing propaganda, proto-western separatist firewalls, Canada is the “worst kind of socialist country” anti-Canadian ideology for years and years and years and just expect Canadians to wipe the slate clean because your past interferes with your ability to get a majority.

      Harper wants everyone to forget he was a firebreathing ideologue, but the social conservatives are remembering what he told them in order to get their support (I’m one of you and “you won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it”) and the rest of us are assuming he means what he said (No big changes and nothing at all on abortion).

      Now he and we are starting to deal with the outcome of the impossible tension created by his two faced Say Anything to get power approach to politics.

  16. Michael Watkins says:

    I’d like to add something to what Riff has said above and my prior comment here — while the Harper government might have been playing a careful game of footsie under the table with the more, shall we say, radical fundamentalist Christian right, ever since first assuming power in 2006 it has been pedal to the metal in its drive to court votes from garden variety social conservatives, the religious mushy middle, and what is often naturally conservative (in attitudes) multi-cultural support.

    Is Harper an end-times dispensationalist looking to use his power to build what such folk view as the pre-conditions for the return of the Messiah? Or is he just a cunning politician that knows fertile voter ground when he sees it?

    I’ve always pegged Harper as the latter.

    That the end-timers are also among the most vocal skeptics of climate change is a not unwelcome bonus for a PM who ultimately relies upon as his true base the oil and gas linked voters and corporations of Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan.

  17. Stephen Reid says:

    I am constantly bugged by the fact that there is so little of the public’s recall that Harper, Duceppe and Layton all signed a coalition agreement in 2005 when Paul Martin was PM. Why are the Liberals not using those images?

    Also, Harper bases his style of government on that of John Howard’s long running government, which in itself was a coaltion government between his Australian Liberal party and the Australian National Party with its leader, Mark Vaile in the Deputy Prime Minister role.

    Everyone thinks coalition governments are a new concept…Roy Romanow brought in the Liberal leader for his government back in the 1990’s, Bob Rae entered into a formal agreement with David Peterson, and Border in WWI.

  18. Hopeful Joe says:

    In the big picture the worst cynicism isn’t the sleaze of the PMO or of the “say anything” Iffy Libs. What should be shaking people up is the implicit mindless mass of followers in the evangelical faiths who either don’t see or don’t care that their “deeply held beliefs” are the playthings of politics. I realize that in historical terms this is far from a new concept, but the divide between church and state was supposedly put to rest more than a generation ago. The regression we’re now seeing is scary.

  19. Bill Figgins says:

    can someone explain the comic to me please?
    why is it a shadow?
    i understand that he agrees with abortion, and is against gay marriage

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