The Sunday Edition

Religion and Canadian elections

The church and state officially are quarantined from each other in this country. But God, and what He or She would think of the issues, keeps creeping into our elections in debates about abortion, immigration and religious symbols among other things. Michael Enright discusses whether we can — and whether we should — keep religion out of our politics, with Trinity Western University professor Janet Epp Buckingham and author Michael Coren.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May takes part in The National Presents: Face to Face With the Federal Party Leaders — a broadcast event giving undecided voters a chance to speak one-on-one with the federal party leaders. May recently cited one of her personal influences as Jesus Christ. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Listen28:18

During a recent television interview, Green Party leader Elizabeth May was asked a question about her heroes.

Politically, she said, it's Flora Macdonald. Personally? Jesus Christ. 

She abruptly backpedalled because, she said, Canadian politicians should not wear their religion on their sleeve. 

Church and state are explicitly separated in the US. But the influence of religion on politics is not only tolerated south of the border, it's overt and integral to every level of politics. 

Religion has typically had a subtler influence in Canadian politics, but not so in this election.

Much has been made of  Andrew Scheer's conservative Catholicism and how that informs his position on same-sex marriage and abortion. Of Jagmeet Singh's Sikh faith — his turban and what it signifies. 

Why are we so surprised when religion slides onto the frontlines of Canadian political discourse? 

Michael Coren was, for many years a champion of "traditional family values." He underwent a very public change of heart, and abandoned his connection to the Catholic church.  (Submitted by Michael Coren)

Michael Coren was, for many years, a hero to  conservative Christians, a champion of "traditional family values." He underwent a very public change of heart, and abandoned his connection to the Catholic church.  

He has since found a new religious home, and later this month he will be ordained as an Anglican priest. Coren emphasizes the distance between how people pray and how people vote. 

"Within Catholicism, which is 40-odd percent of Canada," he says, "most Canadian Catholics vote according to their class, not according to their religion." 

He argues that religion should be seen less as a buzzword during election campaigning. "In Canada we can speak of our Christianity but too often it's a euphemism for conservatism," says Coren. 

We are a very diverse and multi-faith country... That is part of our identity as a country. Let's talk about it- Janet Buckingham

Janet Buckingham is a professor at Trinity Western University and the Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre. 

She is the author of Fighting Over God: A History of Religious Freedom in Canada. She is and academic advisor to the International Institute for Religious Freedom and a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Religious Freedom. 

Janet Buckingham is a professor at Trinity Western University and the Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre.  (BYU International Center for Law and Religious Studies )

Buckingham takes a more optimistic viewpoint. She claims that it is religious belief that motivates politicians towards doing better by Canadians. 

"Religious people are often motivated by their faith," she says. "By their interest in seeing Canada be a better country they're motivated to become involved in political life."

For Buckingham, the reality is that Canada is strong in its support of multiple faiths. "We are a very diverse and multi-faith country," she says. "That is part of our identity as a country. Let's talk about it."

The panellists' comments have been edited for length and clarity. Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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