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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, from left, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper had a slow few days leading up to the first debate of the campaign on Thursday. (Canadian Press )

Canadian Press

Heading into the last weekend before the Federal Election, we ought to get a medal for enduring among the longest and foggiest electioneering periods in recent Canadian history. I am not sure voting is the “reward” for such tolerance, but at least it will be over!

And then – let the games begin? That’s part of the problem isn’t it? Parliamentary procedure is about how to use, abuse, and bend the rules, whilst decrying how low the debate, and how dirty the partisanship has become. All this obfuscates the issues and the reason we vote for one person/party over another.

Freedom of Conscience and Democracy

Call them values, ethics, or morals, but you can’t get away from the fundamental ground from which politicians build their world view. People are continually suspicious of Harper and his alleged evangelical affiliation, despite no political evidence to support that, and, I would argue, evidence to the contrary: his political career betrays the compromise of the values his accusers assert. Surely, like Chretien before him, faith plays virtually no role in this government. This electioneering, the mean-spirited partisanship, and uncharitable, uncooperative workings of Parliament testify to that well enough.

Who am I to judge? My career put me in positions needing compromise and cunning; I have sympathy for political leaders who must make decisions that they can live with… or ignore. And I am aware of our responsibility to engage politically and prayerfully.

I am, nevertheless, deeply disappointed… as I have been with the last couple of decades of Prime Ministers.

Some would declare Harper is the worst.

He isn’t.

He’s just the most recent.

While people accuse this Prime Minister of exerting his will on the country (which leaders are called upon to do), the one who wants to impose his morals on the nation isn’t Harper – it’s Mulcair. It was Mulcair who lashed out at Christian groups, accusing them of going “completely against” Canadian values and law with their beliefs about homosexuality. Mulcair’s anger spilled over when reporters asked about Crossroads Relief and Development – a group that’s received $389,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to build wells and provide clean water to 11,000 people Uganda. “We don’t understand how the Conservatives can … subsidize a group in Uganda whose views are identical (sic) to those of the Ugandan government,” Mulcair said.

Really? Identical? Building wells; massive charitable work? It’s like he forgot Tommy Douglas (to whom he regularly gives homage) was an Evangelical Christian Pastor! Is Mulcair completely ignorant of the Christian roots of the NDP, and is he unaware that many Christians still try to find allegiance with his party despite his misinformed comments? Or is he wanting to disentangle Tommy Douglas as the Father of Medicare from his essential Christian roots? As one commentator quipped, “he’s the left-wing Harper.” Can there be a worse insult?

Political but Not Partisan

The problem with being partisan is the temptation to willfully overlook attacks on the freedom of conscience in favour of cheering on one’s political affiliation. Of course, not being partisan is an anathema to any politician. They want uncritical partisans who are also willing to fund their narrow band causes.

Meanwhile it is popular, and not (yet) considered either bigotry or politically incorrect to slag Christians; thus Mulcair appeared to be the only one with self-proclaimed authority to define “Canadian values.” He did not seem interested to enter “thoughtful conversation” as he went on to misdefine Christian values (that form the historical foundation of Canadian culture). One can imagine what would have happened had he dared say these same things about Muslims, Sikhs, or the ever likeable Dali Lama who also, according to Mulcair’s logic, hold “unCanadian” values.

This election of name-calling, insults, and misrepresenting the opponents’ positions has been tiring. For a laugh I imagined a comedy sketch of the debates where the political leaders actually admitted,

Gosh – that’s a really good idea; I have a thought about how to make that policy better.

It’s funny because it would be so simple IF the primary motive was for the common good of our nation.  Sadly, the motive of politicians is to win an election: let the games begin, indeed!

Indicator of a Healthy Democracy

It is interesting timing to note that this week, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, a former Al-Jazeera journalist who was released from prison in Egypt last month, has returned home to Canada with the hope of starting an election debate on how the Canadian government can better protects its citizens abroad. The unspoken element about this is the need for protection in countries found primarily in a certain narrow belt within the 10-40 Window.

Fahmy’s arrival ends a nearly two-year ordeal that raised questions about Egypt’s commitment to free speech and conscience. Among the many indicators of a healthy democracy is the freedom of conscience. One need look no further than the 10-40 Window to see the deplorable state of democracy with the even more deplorable lack of free conscience. While Canadians like to think of ourselves as a generous and multi-cultural society, we possess a curious naivety to cultural practices and perspectives that are inherently dehumanizing and self destructive. When someone dares to speak up against this, they are immediately labelled bigots (with the notable exception I stated above).

It need not take a Christian to know the worth of the freedom of conscience as an expression of the value of human dignity (but I expect better from politicians who claim it). We take for granted that Canada, as a civil society uniquely seeded by Christian thought, would have its Supreme Court state:

It should also be noted, however, that an emphasis on individual conscience and individual judgement also lies at the heart of our democratic political tradition. The ability of each citizen to make free and informed decisions is the absolute prerequisite for the legitimacy, acceptability, and efficacy of our system of self-government. It is because of the centrality of the rights associated with freedom of individual conscience both to basic beliefs about human worth and dignity and to a free and democratic political system that American jurisprudence has emphasized the primacy or “firstness” of the First Amendment. It is this same centrality that in my view underlies their designation in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as “fundamental.” They are sine qua non of the political tradition underlying the Charter.

Chief Justice Dickson wrote (R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295)

May you be thoughtful, prayerful and ready to further engage in the vote

For more, see Political but Not Partisan.