Canadian Conservatives Eat Their Own

Posted: Jul 17, 2001 12:00 AM
OTTAWA -- Last year, Canada seemed like a dream to conservative evangelicals in U.S. politics. This year, it's a nightmare, with Stockwell Day, the evangelical leader of Canada's major opposition party, expected to be overthrown any day now. Who is Day? Why should Americans care? Let's start with our own politics. Evangelical political activists flocked to George W. Bush's banner last year. They realized that Bush in his associations and many of his attitudes was not one of them. They understood, though, that in American politics they could do no better than a presidential candidate willing to declare his allegiance to Christ and deep respect for evangelical ministries. Canadian evangelicals last year, though, did the full Monty -- or is it Mountie up north? Stockwell Day, 50, a former pastor, spent the early 1980s founding and running a Christian school. Then he went into politics, and spent 15 years building an impeccably conservative record and winning before becoming party leader of the Canadian Alliance last year. He encountered some strident attacks, with demonstrators chanting: "Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Stockwell Day, go away." More damaging by far, though, were the snide press attacks, similar to those George W. Bush encountered: "He's not bright enough." As we ate lunch on the screened porch of his home, Day spoke of mistakes he had made in appointments and in some dealings with the press. After spending time with some leading Canadian journalists, though, I don't think it would have made much difference had he been error-free. A (Toronto) Globe and Mail column headlined, "Leave the Prayer Book at Home, Stockwell," shows the prevailing view of the nation's journalistic elite: "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." Bringing strong liberal or feminist beliefs into the public domain is fine, but referring to the Bible evidently is wrong, even though a Globe and Mail survey found that 84 percent of Canadians declared their belief in God. Two out of three Canadians also said that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that religion is very important to them. The Canadian media/academic elite, on the other hand, is largely made up of secular liberals, as is its American counterpart. Once Day refused to sign onto evolution and other ideologically correct theories, reporters depicted him as dumb, which he is not. The Alliance in a recent election was unable to break the liberal hammerlock on Ontario, and over the past two months some Alliance leaders have left the party in a carefully orchestrated, press-fostered campaign. The resignations, coming like clockwork every few days, have produced headlines predicting the Alliance's demise. Since Canadian social conservatives do not have any major national newspapers, magazines or networks of their own, the stories may be self-fulfilling prophecies. Many Alliance members know in theory that liberal reporters are biased, but daily sneers at Day have still produced a climate of disaster in the making. Yet if the Alliance falls apart, what then? Social conservatives cannot by themselves win a Parliamentary majority, but the leader of Canada's Progressive Conservative Party, a possible ally, marched last month in a gay pride parade. Somehow, someway, Canadian social conservatives must stop being fratricidal, and fiscal conservatives must find a way to work with them in tapping into a sentiment shared by over 80 percent of Canadians: that taxes are too high. Canada's politics are complicated by the presence of French-speaking Quebec, but one simple truth is evident: Disunity among conservatives has allowed the Liberal Party to turn its 41 percent of the vote in the last election into 57 percent of the legislative seats. Stockwell Day's likely political demise is sad for Canada and a warning to American evangelicals -- don't let your political aspirations run too far ahead of your media presence -- and to American conservative leaders: Debate proposals vigorously, but hang together at election time or you will all hang separately.