05.11.2013 07:56 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: conservative death by numbers

God is dead.

Or, at least, he’s irrelevant. So say a growing number of Canadians who, according to Statistics Canada’s just-released National Household Survey, are becoming less and less religious.

The numbers are drawn from the agency’s 2011 demographic study and they paint a picture that anticipates an increasingly secular Canada. Back in 1981, around 90% of Canadians were Christian and just over 7% had no religious affiliation at all.

Thirty years later, those self-identifying as Christians have plummeted to 67% — and the non-believers have surged to nearly one-quarter of the population.

Statistic Canada’s numbers show constant growth in the non-religious category, by about 5% every decade.

If that trend holds steady, a third of Canadians will be effectively godless by the end of this decade.

For students of politics — and conservative politics, in particular — there are other trends worth noting.

The survey also found that Jews are far less numerous than they once were, and are now in danger of slipping below 1% of the population.

Meanwhile, the number of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are rising all the time. In 1981, for instance, less than one-half of 1% of Canadians was Muslim.

Now, they constitute more than 3% and are the second-largest religious group in Canada.

Any politician seeking to one day lead to the Conservative Party of Canada — or anyone hoping to win a Conservative nomination somewhere, and a seat in a federal or provincial legislative body — should scrutinize the Statistics Canada trend lines very, very carefully.

They strongly suggest the Conservatives have pursued a strategy that, ultimately, will see them marginalized in the way Republicans currently are in the U.S.

Going back a decade, Stephen Harper’s Conservative coalition had been partly made up of evangelicals, right-leaning Christians and Jews who were upset about Liberal party foreign policy.

At the same time, Harper’s party gave the cold shoulder to other faiths — going after the charitable status of left-leaning Christian causes, attacking the religious garb of Muslims and suggesting (as Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney famously did) that Sikhs were “overheated” and use “the race card.”

In the short term, it was nasty, but it was a strategy that worked. With a massive war chest — and with state-of-the-art electioneering techniques like psychographics and geo-demographic segmentation — the Conservatives cobbled together enough votes to win a majority in 2011.

But, if Statistics Canada is right, the Conservatives have also chosen a path that long-term will ultimately end in defeat. By championing Christian-right causes and demonizing Muslims, the Harper Cons are demographically putting themselves out of business.

(Personally, as a church-going Irish Catholic guy, the StatsCan data makes me sort of sad. I’m no missionary — I consider religion to be an entirely personal affair and detest those who are always lecturing and hectoring others about it — but I know I draw considerable comfort from my faith. It gives a measure of hope to me and, I believe, others. So how do the growing numbers of non-religious folks get by without hope? I’d find that pretty hard to do, but that’s just me.)

As citizens of the best country in the world, these statistics should make most of us pretty happy, however.

We are a peaceful, diverse society, and that’s helping to attract people from all over. We are the envy of the world, as Jean Chretien used to say, and that can only be a good thing.

But these statistics should fill future Conservatives with dread. They strongly suggest that Harper’s party — as conservatives so often do — is fighting the last war, and not preparing for the one that lies ahead.

God might have something to say about that, but at press time he could not be reached for comment.


  1. Chris says:

    “So how do the growing numbers of non-religious folks get by without hope?”

    That’s such an interesting statement. As a completely non-religious person (I don’t even really find the need to identify as atheist) my goal is to try to leave this world at least a minute amount better than it was when I came into it. That doesn’t take hope, just hard work.

    • Northern Gentleman says:

      And how do you define what “better world” is?

      • Steve T says:

        Presumably we don’t need that term defined by the church (and I say that as a Christian). Certain messages the church gets right, and could be helpful in promoting include: be kind to each other; do not kill; do not steal; do not covet. Other messages which have been royally screwed up by the church: contraception is bad; certain groups of society are less worthy than others; other religions are the devil – only religion X is truly worthy; God is telling you to do this – don’t question it; believe the church leaders rather than using your brain and thinking for yourself.

  2. I’d say most people, including most non-believers, have plenty of hope. It’s just that different people hope for different things.

    Some people will spend their entire lives sacrificing for others (or sacrificing others, as the case may be), in the hope that they will be rewarded with an eternal afterlife of effortless bliss. In effect, they are choosing not to pursue their own happiness in this life, on this earth, as an end in itself, either because they are not competent to pursue it, or because they believe that it is evil to put ones own happiness first…but they know that that’s a heck of a decision because, if they are wrong – if there is no afterlife – they are ruining the only chance they will ever have to be happy.

    Some people hope that their efforts (for example, to earn material values like money, or spiritual values like admiration) will eventually bear fruit in this life, on this earth…and they hope not to be sacrificed by the other sort. But this sort – when they are rational people – take steps to justify their hope. For them, it’s not blind hope: it’s informed.

    When you do not believe in an afterlife, the lack of a hope for a great afterlife is not something one feels one lacks, any more than an adult might feel sad or empty without hope that a real bunny will deliver eggs at Easter.

    Good article.

  3. Philippe says:

    “Meanwhile, the number of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs are rising all the time.” Consequently, I’m still stunned that parties cater to the Jewish vote restlessly whole the pro-Palestinian vote which is larger is out there for the grabbing. I bet Mulcair, being the opportunist he is, will go after it.

  4. Bruce A says:

    “So how do the growing numbers of non-religious folks get by without hope”?


    George Carlin and Bill Maher.

    We’re rationalists and that’s hope to me. It’s the True Believer I pity.




  5. ottawacon says:

    Why on earth would that statistical set fill Conservatives with dread when in the intervening decade they have been the most successful party at capturing the votes of socially conservative immigrant groups? If anything, those groups are the pillar of the Conservative urban strategy.

    • Michael says:

      How do you think those new immigrants are going to feel & vote, now that Minister Kenney is making it harder for them to bring over their families?

    • !o! says:

      Yes, but it’s tough, and costly to turn the ship.

      As Warawa et al. are making abundantly clear.

    • Big mistake if you think it is enough to say ‘immigrant = social conservative’. That simply is not the case, the only big diff. from the past decade is that the Conservatives have managed to isolate specific social conservative immigrant groups, while suppressing the others. Now that both Liberals and Dippers are getting into the data game, that advantage will prove to have been temporary. Of course, the fact that the political world is dynamic, and not static as you imply cuts both ways. It is possible that the Conservatives will grow their support in new and ever more tightly targeted groups, even while the NDP and Liberals are carving out their own constituencies.
      The bottom line is that political alleigances are always going to be fluid, and are likely to be increasingly fluid in the years to come. Ideologically based voters are on the decline, as very specific and highly motivating issues are easier and easier to identify, and organise around. Micro-targeting is here to stay. It is part of the same phenomonon of collapsing broadcast media, the rise of micro-chanels of media distribution. Data collection flow, and dissemination are CHEAP now, and it is easier and easier to parse data for practical purposes.

  6. Mike Moffatt says:

    “marginalized in the way Republicans currently are in the U.S.”

    Umm. The republicans hold the House, have a healthy opposition in the senate (252-245), hold 29 (30 if you count Guam)!state governors chairs and control 27 state legislatures.

    Not only is that not “marginalized” it’s a pretty commanding lead they have over the dems. Put the presidency and 2 or 3 more senate seats in the red and that’s really the whole shebang.

    Sure the republicans may be terrible a d you dont like hem but marginalized they are not.

    • You should have said the Republicans ‘currently’ hold the House. 2014 midterms are right around the corner.

      The U.S. is tired of this blatant obstructionism – look at the dramatic drop in support for the Senate nitwits voting for Wayne LaPierre’s agenda.

      How anyone would think they can defy 90% of the electorate and not pay a price at the polls is beyond reason.

      • deb s says:

        yes indeed, lets hope americans show them, and that the republicans dont find a way to stop folks from voting…they keep trying:P

        • Canada Joe says:

          Cus gun control is the hill liberal politicians go to die on. Micheal Bryant, Mark Holland, Allan Rock etc. Obama’s career will make a fine trophy for the NRA, don’t you think?

    • deb s says:

      one word:

    • steve says:

      You must realize the house has selected its voters, so in reality less than a third of the seats are open to a democratic competition.

  7. Marco says:

    As an atheist for four decades (not a militant or proselytizing one) I find hope in the evident progress that has been made and is continuing to be made towards peace and non-violence and material well being around the world. I believe that mankind is essentially rational and that reasonableness must lead to these outcomes over time, although there will always be events that go against the tide of progress. I highly recommend reading Steven Pincker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist in this regard. The former deals with the tidal movement towards peace and non-violence and the latter with increasing material progress (and environmental progress as well, as many believe the environment is getting worse whereas, in fact, much progress has been made and continues to be made in cleaning up and maintaining a clean environment). The two best books of the last decade in my opinion.

  8. doris says:

    never mind the stats the Cons will think they will do very nicely, after all these stats are suspect now they have fucked up the Census. That leaves the feeling of superiority to prevail so they will never know what hits them or why – true payback!

  9. J.W. says:

    It’s interesting how much of the Conservative agenda is driven by Christian Fundamentalism: crime and punishment, science, factual evidence versus faith and ideology, fear of government for example gun control and state daycare, etc. I am sure others smarter than me can trace a lot more Conservative policy back to fundamentalism. There are a lot of matches to tea party anti government pro Christian policies in US.

  10. patrick says:

    And another thing that drive me nuts ——- yes, obviously a long list, I take it as a sign of good mental health —— is the political necessity of “faith”. I don’t care about the fantasy a leader pretends to believe and I think most are frauds when it comes to their vows of faith, but I do care about ethics and morality. I realize that the “faith” statement is supposed to define a leaders “morals”, but not coveting a sheep doesn’t really serve as a moral compass in the modern world.
    Really, instead of asking what dogma swirling around a magic man in the sky a candidate believes in ask him about his ethics, how he views the world, what does he consider to be right and wrong?
    Yes, many will default to their “faith” but it’s just an easy answer and provides an assumption for the masses, but no real answer. Mitt Romney made a big show about his faith but behaved as a corporate raider, so I would have liked someone to ask how he views the world (Answered unintentionally as 47%, I suppose) and not let him off with “Well my faith…..”.
    It would be kinda fun to ask the same question of Rob Ford, if only for the responding gibberish.
    As for the “hope” thing, I can assure you that without religion I have lots of hope ——- mostly revolving around that lottery.
    Hello! Hello! Is this mike on? Try the spam.

  11. !o! says:

    I agree completely.

    I’d say a bigger demographic time bomb for conservatism is on the connotation or the general view of the more extreme variants of neoliberal capitalism. Whether you like government or not, people are starting to get pretty suspicious of unregulated markets and growing wealth disparity. You can praise job-making potential of unregulated corporations all you like, but the cognitive dissonance even amongst tea partiers is starting to get to a point where people are turning away from an ideology that is increasingly finding it hard to maintain credibility.

  12. steve says:

    I am one of those agnostic or maybe more accurately a Pastafarian. Religion to often clashes with reality, and while you can carry a suspension for a long time, centuries, maybe millinea, sooner or later people figure out the truth from the made up for themselves. What really should blow Conservatives minds is how this sentiment is being expressed in popular culture. The sad part is that Jason Kenny and John Baird maybe even Stephen Harper would feel the same way about Upstream Color as I do, but they could never admit it because the core would melt down.

  13. Job Economy says:

    My response, as a Conservative?

    Jobs, economy. Jobs jobs jobs, jobs jobs. Jobs. Economy, economy, economy. Jobs jobs:


    Jobilly job job job job job, economy economy (jobs). Economy? Economy!


    OK but seriously: a large majority of Canadians are religious and will be for the foreseeable future. Of the three major parties, only one is not hostile to religion: the CPC.

    Joyce Murray (Lib – West Point Grey-Planet Claire) actually became angry recently with the CPC for proposing an office of religious freedom, at a time when people are getting slaughtered over their religious beliefs. Not cool, in a social justice sense, but very cool in a political sense since it sends religious Canadians to the Conservative party in droves.

    Don’t be so certain that current trends will last, though.

    Thanks to your hero Lenin (!), Christianity was all but wiped out in Russia. And by wiped out I mean priests & nuns executed by the thousands and churches burnt down and Christians being sent to gulags to die. Today, Christianity is flourishing in Russia because they have seen the evil that is state atheism. Everywhere state atheism has existed, mass murder followed: Red China, USSR, Cambodia, Republican Spain – and that is a matter of evidence based political science. Nobody knows this better than immigrants.

    • !o! says:

      “the evil that is state atheism”

      As opposed to (fundamentalist) religious states eh?

      Oh, but your religion is not one of those crazy religions, it’s different. It’s safe when we enshrine a ‘good’ religion into a state apparatus.


      Eh, but what about the whole ‘render unto Caesar’ bit…?

  14. Conservatives have evolved from God fearing believers to Godless hyper-partisans who have lost the ability to use the ‘fear of God’ as the basis of the lies they tell to maintain power for the sake of it. I remember Conservatives who appointed non-suppoters to the Senate or other positions because they were the best person for the job at the time. Now we have a Prime Minister who only appoints hacks, flacks and bagmen and has no respect for democracy, fair play or truth.

    Fortunately what goes around comes around and if we are lucky, the next leader of the Regressive Preservative party (another one of Harper’s minions) will be rewarded with less seats than Kim Campbell and instead of Canada becoming a single party state, the Conservative party will get what it deserves now that it has lost its heart and soul in its successful quest for power at any cost.

    In our Canadian democracy if you follow the Leader, you will be lead to a slaughterhouse owned by one of his or her friends, paid for with taxpayer grants, subsidies and profits from untendered or secret consulting contracts that the Auditor General is not allowed to review, and that violate trade rules that are simply re-written to protect special interests and sell out the rest of us. The missing 3 billion that was supposed to be used for our countries security was likely used for the financial security of a few large Conservative contributors, who are GOD in the eyes of these partisans.

    This is much like the $Billion spent on the G-20 event that the police used to test out their new police state powers on orders from our PM, who justified spending $44,000.00 per person for each and every one who attended the event, which was very likely more than the annual salary of most of those arrested for having the temerity to believe they still lived in a country where they are free to exercise their Charter rights to ‘free speech and peacefull assembly’. Democracy Eh?, not in Canada anymore, pity.

  15. corrected email address.

  16. John McManus says:

    Years ago , if you had asked me I might have said Cattolic because my parents forced me to go to church for my first 15 years. Going to church is the reason I now reason I don’t believe I am a christian and identify as religion- none.

    I wonder how many who answered as ” christian” are jusy answering about their past and not their true state.

    • MCBellecourt says:

      When I was forced to go to that Catholic school, I witnessed the word of Jesus Christ used to bully the “outsiders” (kids not in the teachers’ pet pool) bulllied, beaten and otherwised abused into submission. If you were different in any way (e.g., native like me), you were labelled, harassed, forced to sit on the sidelines during phys.ed, and forced to “serve your betters”.

      In spite of that, I maintain an open mind. There are a lot of questions unanswered by science, and phenomena that cannot be debunked. Historical and archaeological research conducted in the “Holy Land” has revealed much, including documents that are still hidden from view. There is much to be learned from ancient scrolls on a scientific level.

      If there is a God, than why were we given the ability and the desire to seek greater knowledge in spite of what the churches say? From personal experience, religion considers those of us who seek knowledge as heretic, hedonistic or people to be ostracised, executed or otherwise condemned.

      I will continue to glean as much knowledge, without religion’s help, thank you very much. I think any higher diety would want that, since we *are* given the tools.

      I purposely took myself out of the Catholic faith because I do not want anything standing in the way of gaining knowledge. I continue to study the Gospel Of St. Thomas to understand what was said and written within. Science is closer to proving that a man named Jesus Of Nazareth did exist, a social activist with a disdain for the two-tiered heirarchial system prevelant in his day–a system which was directly responsible for the oppression and slaughter of innocents.

  17. Reality.Bites says:

    Your faith may give YOU hope. It goes around calling MY people “intrinsically evil and disordered” and fighting against my rights, seeking to impose its dubious values on others by force of law.

    So no, I don’t consider it in any way sad that its losing its influence and is shedding believers. In fact, it gives me hope that the world is becoming a better, less hate-filled place.

  18. Traxy says:

    “So how do the growing numbers of non-religious folks get by without hope? I’d find that pretty hard to do, but that’s just me”

    Don’t ever wonder why people are fleeing religion in droves. Just look back on this breathtakingly ignorant statement and you’ll have the answer staring you in the face.

  19. Obdurate says:

    So who can replace the Harper Conservatives come 2015?

    Quebec Supremacist Trudeau (Son of PET)


    Quebec Socialist/Separatist Mulcair (le citoyen Français)…

    see the problem?

  20. wsam says:

    “So how do the growing numbers of non-religious folks get by without hope? I’d find that pretty hard to do, but that’s just me.”

    God got his ass fired. For gross incompetence.

    As a ‘non-religious person’ I find it strange that believing there is a magical being who lives in the sky and watches us could be considered anything but way-out delusional and, franklly, creepy.

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