After Party Election, Canadians Have Less Faith in Politics ; Pentecostal Preacher Stockwell Day Lost His Post as Leader of the Canadian Alliance

Article excerpt

For years, religion was not an issue in Canadian politics. A politician's religious views were considered private and, it was assumed, would have little impact on his or her political decisions.

Two years ago, that began to change when Stockwell Day, a devout evangelical Christian, won the leadership of Canada's second- largest political party. A one-time lay Pentecostal preacher whose anti-abortion and family-values politics were well known, Mr. Day's surprise victory suggested that moral issues would return to the political debate.

But the growing influence of Canada's "religious right" suffered a setback late last month after Day failed in his bid to be reelected leader of the Canadian Alliance. His defeat suggests that Canada's moral conservatives are still a far cry from the level of influence of their devout brethren in the US.

"Fairly or unfairly, Day became a symbol of a form of political belief and activism that many Canadians would associate with elections south of the border, not with their own tradition," says Kevin Christiano, a sociologist from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, who specializes in Canadian politics.

It is not an easy comparison. Canada's social conservatives - predominately evangelical Protestants, but also some Roman Catholics and non-Christians - make up about 15 percent of the population, compared with about 30 percent in the US.

They also show less political cohesion. "I'd say we're about 10 years behind the US" in the level of political influence, says Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Alberta-based Canada Family Action Coalition.

Studies suggest that devout Christians who might agree with Day's opposition to abortion and gay rights do not necessarily gravitate toward the right-wing politics of the Canadian Alliance, says Dennis Hoover, a political scientist at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. Mr. Hoover says social conservatives in Canada "are to the right of center on the moral issues, and pretty much at the center for other issues."

In some pockets of the country, such as the rural prairie district of Day's home province of Alberta, a mix of social and fiscal conservatism is not uncommon. As a provincial politician, Day opposed abortion while championing tougher treatment of criminals and funding for private religious schools. …