What got Preston Manning into such trouble recently in the
Canadian Parliament was, arguably, that he behaved like an American.
Shortly after the Canadian Thanksgiving last month, the
opposition leader expressed gratitude for "the religious liberty
which allows each of us to turn toward God, or away from him." He
voiced thanks for marriage and family, both rather broadly defined.
He made reference to defining "the rights of the unborn."
And he drew a firestorm of criticism.
Accusing him of being homophobic and intolerant, critics
interpreted his language as code for a divisive social agenda. His
"values" rhetoric, which would be unremarkable south of the border,
was roundly condemned in this country as "an address redolent of the
values of the American religious right," as columnist Susan Riley
That was not meant as a compliment.
If religion in public life has a different role in Canada from
the United States, it is nonetheless complex - and evolving rapidly.
Church people here, who tend to lean to the political left rather
than the right, are alarmed about cutbacks in the welfare state and
are looking for new ways to engage government. Mainline
denominations are having to find a new footing as vestiges of their
past roles as "established" churches erode. And court decisions,
made in the light of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
from 1982, are raising questions about the appropriate role of
religion in a secular society.
"There's been a greater polarization in the US, where the
religious right is more active," says Marguerite Van Die, a
historian at Queen's University at Kingston. She has just chaired a
conference here, entitled "Faith and Public Life: Challenges,
Choices, and Opportunities."
The US often serves as a negative role model for Canadians.
Conservative denominations here, particularly, "have been
consciously concerned to present a gentler image," Professor Van Die
At the institutional level, churches are having to rethink their
roles as Canada becomes more pluralistic. Until the 1960s, Canada
had what Van Die calls "an informal establishment" of traditional
churches - an establishment that has since broadened to include
other faith groups, including non-Christians.
But the British North America Act, Canada's constitution, still
includes special privileges for Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Only
very recently have separate school districts for Catholics and
Protestants been abolished in Quebec and Newfoundland. …