Monday January 28, 2002

You Better Get Used to Us, There Are A Lot More Social Conservatives Around Than You Think

by Darrel Reid, President Focus on the Family Canada

Published in The Globe and Mail – January 23, 2002 Reprinted by LifeSite News with the permission of the author

Last summer I was invited to CBC’s National Magazine to address the subject: “Who are social conservatives, and where did they come from?” Why then? Stockwell Day was shiny and new, having risen from relative obscurity to seize the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. This improbable feat, my media host assumed, had been accomplished through Mr. Day’s collaboration with a shadowy group called “social conservatives” – apparently an unknown bunch of pro-life fanatics, religious fundamentalists, and other assorted dyspeptic cranks. The media seemed thoroughly alarmed and confused.

The problem, I stated at the time, was that this picture of social conservatives was then – and is now – incorrect. While most media commentators have persuaded themselves that all Canadians share their secular bias, this view often diverges widely from reality. In truth, many grassroots Canadians share concerns about issues no longer in vogue for our reporters and broadcasters. While Stockwell Day may have demonstrated some success in giving social conservatives a voice, their numbers are not restricted to the Canadian Alliance.

So, who are these people and what do they want? Truth is, social conservatives are a loose and shifting group who come together on various issues at various times. And what do they look like? Do they have horns or pull white hoods out of their closets at night as Hedy Fry and Elinor Caplan have implied? Well, no, actually. Rather, they look and act like the people in your community, who attend your churches and volunteer with local service agencies. Their concerns, when they gather in numbers large enough to register on the political radar, tend to focus around three central themes.

First, they hold conservative religious views, and take them seriously. They are Protestant and Catholic and, increasingly, of other faiths as well. For years, the media culture has dismissed such people with the pejorative term “fundamentalist.” And while some religious social conservatives, like myself, may be Protestant evangelicals, a glance at current polling data would suggest that the majority are not. What do we make of Angus Reid’s findings in 2000 that 84% of Canadians believe in God, 77% identify with a Christian church, and 69% believe Jesus provided a way for the forgiveness of their sins? These views, while unwelcome by many cultural elites, more accurately reflect Main Street Canada.

Second, they value the institution of marriage and understand the family to be the cornerstone of our society. They further recognize that both are under attack. They believe the special status historically accorded heterosexual marriage is being eroded, and that a concerted effort is being made in the courts to undermine parental authority. And here there is plenty to alarm, whether it’s government-funded activists such as the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law seeking to make criminals of the 70% of Canadian parents who have spanked their children, or the spectacle of armed police dragging terrified children from their parents in Aylmer, Ont., last summer.

Third, they question the so-called “benefits” to our culture of unrestricted abortion, and fear the dire consequences that the euthanasia movement and the brave new world of genetic experimentation will bring us. Social conservatives tend to be pro-life, and say so. It should not be surprising that they exist; Canadians remain deeply troubled about the morality of deciding which life is worthy and which is not. This issue will not go away – nor should it in any moral society.

The values described above cut across all political lines. But since the Canadian Alliance is in the middle of a leadership campaign it is worth asking how social conservatives see the prospects for having their views reflected – and respected – within that party.

I joined Reform because I shared its concern for individual rights, strengthening the traditional family, fiscal responsibility and smaller, more responsive government. The Reform/Alliance was a coalition consisting of social conservatives, free-enterprise capitalists and libertarians. Its policies, not surprisingly, could be found gathered at the intersection of these belief systems.

While my religious and pro-life views were not always shared or encouraged by fellow coalition members, we were able to work together in an attitude of mutual respect by virtue of the party’s citizen-initiated referendum policy. Some day, I believed, if enough Canadians felt as I did, we could ask the country to reconsider its current reckless disregard for preborn life. Maybe my view would have prevailed – maybe not. That’s democracy.

My question today, looking in from the outside, is whether that coalition still exists in the Canadian Alliance. Although most of the leadership candidates declare themselves to be “more on the pro-life side” personally, they are at pains to assure Canadians that they will never “impose their views” on others. Thus, leadership hopefuls have gone out of their way to declare that abortion will never occupy their attention if elected to lead. It’s a timeworn and very Canadian solution: I hold my views, but not strongly enough to act upon them, so you don’t have to worry. Elect me.

The irony here is that each candidate knows that attracting social conservative support will be an important element in making a successful leadership run. That will only happen if the candidates include competent team members who understand and even share social conservative views and represent them accurately.

Equally striking is the absence of discussion on issues of marriage and family – especially when they come anywhere near the gay rights issue. Alliance policy rightly defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman (as do the courts, the government of Canada and the vast majority of the Canadian public). But homosexuality has become the third rail of Alliance politics – “touch it and die.” One can imagine it will only be a matter of time before a defence of the heterosexual nature of marriage will be lost as well – not because Alliance leaders don’t believe it personally, of course, but because affirming it means taking political heat in the perfervid world of Ottawa political correctness.

And finally, I’m left asking myself if there is still room in Canada’s public square for people of faith? True democracy cannot function without a vigorous debate about morality and first principles. But what we have seen is an increasingly nasty disregard for people of faith by those who view transcendence as an embarrassment – and maybe even dangerous. From the squelching of prayer and references to Jesus at our official gatherings to Canada’s shameful, non-religious response to the Sept. 11 tragedy, Canadians of faith sense something essential is being drained from our national psyche.

So, is there any room for social conservatives in the Canadian Alliance? I sure hope so. But then again, I think it would be great to see social conservatives from all our parties and traditions begin to reinsert their most deeply held convictions into our nation’s political discourse.

It might not be pretty; it might be frowned upon and resisted by our media and political gatekeepers. But it would be democracy, and our beloved Canada would be the better for it. ___

Darrel Reid is president of Focus on the Family (Canada). He served as director of research for the Reform caucus, was chief-of-staff to Preston Manning, and a Reform candidate in 1997.