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January/February 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Faith and Politics: Party Leaders Respond

Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton/Bill Blaikie, and Marie Bourgeois

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. We agreed to print their answer unedited if they stayed within our word limit. Below you will find the unedited responses of the party leaders elected to the House of Commons. These and the responses from the other party leaders are posted on www.christianity.ca.

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.

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 practise 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

 

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.

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

 

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.

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
co-written by Bill Blaikie, Deputy Leader of the NDP

 

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.

Marie Bourgeois
Coordonnatrice de la correspondance

 

[TRANSLATION:] 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

Other Articles
Jan/Feb 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Faith and Politics

From the Editor
Why Showcase Politicians?

The Gathering Place
Faith and the "Values" Debate

Guest Column
Why Don't They Just Get a Job?

   
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