We often haven’t been enthusiastic supporters of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative Party since they came to power in 2006. Still, we try to give credit where credit is due.
In January 2011, we noted “Harper has now led the longest-serving minority government in Canadian history, surpassing the record of Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson, who led a minority government during the 26th Parliament from April 22, 1963 to April 19, 1968.”
We also observed, “While Harper may not be the great conciliator, neither has he been the dangerous theocrat some have made him out to be. Harper, whose roots were in the mainstream Protestant United and Presbyterian churches, is a member of East Gate Alliance Church, a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation in the working-class neighbourhood of Vanier, just east of Ottawa. He is the first evangelical to serve as prime minister since another Tory, John Diefenbaker, who was a Baptist.
“Of course, the NDP’s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), had leader Tommy Douglas, who was a Baptist minister, while another CCF legend, James Shaver (J.S.) Woodsworth was a Methodist minister. Holding religious values should be no disqualification for serving in public life.”
Journalist Marci McDonald, whose 2010 book, The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, expanding on her October 2006 Walrus magazine article, “Stephen Harper and the Theocons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right,” were both well-researched and useful contributions, as they put faces on the often largely invisible evangelicals supporting Harper behind the scenes (who in the secular world knows who Faytene Grasseschi Kryskow of The Cry is?) Yet, if they are largely invisible political operatives don’t blame stealth; blame mainstream journalists who have often been too lazy to do their homework. McDonald, a former bureau chief for Maclean’s magazine in Paris and Washington, is a notable exception. Presumably Lloyd Mackey, the Ottawa correspondent for CanadianChristianity.com, could have identified Grasseschi (Kryskow), as he has broken a number of significant Harper stories.
But perhaps we can’t expect too much when many journalists were surprised when Harper ended his Jan. 23, 2006 election-night victory speech with “God bless Canada,” only to be reminded the next day by historians Harper had already used the tag line as opposition leader – and that on Feb. 15, 1965, Lester Pearson had offered the same benediction as he hoisted Canada’s first red and white maple leaf flag over the Parliament Buildings.
We also gave credit in this space to the Tories for marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812 this year – the least understood war in our history (Canadians have a vague notion we defeated the Americans, who for the most part have simply forgotten the war) and having had enough grasp of Canadian history in November 2009 when, after consulting with a blue-ribbon panel of experts that included former governor general Adrienne Clarkson, her husband, writer John Ralston Saul, historians Jack Granatstein, Margaret MacMillan, Desmond Morton and Xavier Gélinas, and retired general John de Chastelain, former chief of the defence staff, they unveiled Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.
The 62-page guide to citizenship significantly refashioned our national image through historical emphases, replacing the bland and politically correct, A Look at Canada, the 48-page citizenship guide published by the Chrétien Liberals that included such stirring patriotic citizenship material as an admonition to “conserve energy and water by turning off lights and taps when they are not being used” and explained “people who help others without being paid are called volunteers. There are millions of volunteers across Canada.”
The great fear, of course, among the “chattering classes,” that wonderfully evocative term coined by the British writer Auberon Waugh, was that if Harper won a majority government after more than five years leading a minority, the “secret agenda” would finally be rolled out and Canada would be on the fast-track to being synonymous with the fictional Republic of Gilead, as portrayed in Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s dystopian 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale.
Truth be told, while the Tories may have been a bit churlish about marking the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on April 17, the country has not been transformed into a theocracy since they won a majority government nearly a year ago on May 2, 2011.
Besides, instead of offering platitudes about the Charter on its anniversary, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was busy instead announcing two days later that Kingston Penitentiary, a maximum-security catacomb-like prison which opened in 1835 and now also includes the Regional Treatment Centre psychiatric institution and E Block, the country’s most infamous prison range and which has been home to such notorious killers as Mohammad and Hamed Shafia, Russell Williams, Paul Bernardo, Clifford Olson, Saul Betesh and Melvin Stanton, will close in two years and save the federal government $120 million a year, with the prisoners transferred to more modern penitentiaries.
It would have been nice if the feds could have brought themselves to do both: talk about the importance of the Charter and closing KP, but actions in the end are more important than words.
"Institutions built in the 19th century are not appropriate for managing a 21st-century inmate population," Toews said.
"Simply put, we have better options."