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December 9, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Canadian Politicians are Expected to Tip-toe Around Religious Beliefs

Canadian politicians are expected to tiptoe around their religious beliefs

By David Haskell

Hamilton Spectator & Kitchener Waterloo Record

March 21, 2009

I have sympathy for Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear, our federal Minister of State for Science and Technology. A spur-of-the-moment remark has led others to suggest that his faith makes him intellectually naïve and anti-science.

Earlier this week, a reporter from the Globe and Mail asked if he believed in evolution. He must have thought he was offering the only acceptable answer a Canadian politician can give when he said, "I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate."You see, Goodyear and his colleagues in caucus have been taught to abide by the 11th commandment: "Canadian politicians shall not talk about their religious beliefs lest they be damned."

This commandment has come from "on high" and has been codified in "sacred text."

By "on high" I mean previous, high-profile politicians have vociferously argued that members of Canada's ruling class, if they are to govern legitimately, must bury or abandon their faith when they walk through the doors of the House of Commons. In interviews, former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin publicly promoted this ideal.

Martin stated he was both a devout Catholic and a supporter of abortion and presented that as proof of "his ability to divorce his personal beliefs and his political outlook." In similar fashion, Canada's former deputy prime minister, Sheila Copps, suggested that politicians "refrain from invoking the Judeo-Christian God to avoid offending others in Canada's multi-ethnic society."

By codified in "sacred text" I mean a host of articles published in none other than the Globe and Mail itself have insisted Canadian politicians remain silent about their faith. Over the last decade, its headlines have trumpeted such claims as "God has no place on the ballot: Canada lacks the U.S. taste for the influence of religion in politics" and its columnists have echoed that opinion.

For example, back when Conservative politician Stockwell Day made the news for his creationist beliefs, the Globe's Jeffrey Simpson summarized the opinion of his fellow journalists saying, "That Mr. Day has strong religious beliefs is fine; that he brings them into the public domain is not. At least not in this secular country."

Given the rules laid down by his political predecessors and the Globe itself, one can see how Goodyear may have been at a loss for words when asked to answer a question that, for him and millions of other conservative Christians, has religious implications.

I can imagine the conflicting thoughts racing through his mind. Something like: "Elite national politicians and elite national journalists have said I can't talk about religion but now this elite national journalist is insisting I answer a question that is intricately tied to religion."

I imagine, "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't" also ran through Goodyear's mind.

Since his earlier, problematic interview, Goodyear has clarified that he does indeed believe in evolution. And well he should. The rules outlining how politicians should deal with issues linked to faith have evolved right before his eyes.