Sunday, 14 September 2014

Politics, law and morality - seldom in the same room at the same time

Having spent three months now examining the issue of the separation of church and state, I've concluded that politics is a poor method for obtaining moral objectives that are not already included in prevailing societal norms.

[By morality, I am referring to the concept as understood by Christians who draw their system of principles, virtues, ethics, and morals from the Christian Bible. In the U.S., this is typically referred to as Judeo-Christian morality. Of course, most of Christianity's moral positions are shared by the world's other faiths.]

There are precious few moral giants* among our current crop of political leaders, and not many modern-day Martin Luther Kings or Ralph Naders bringing influence to bear. Consequently, if one wants to pursue a moral objective (whether it is addressing aboriginal alienation, having affordable housing and homeless policies with teeth, or establishing fetal rights and ending abortion, to name a few that are important to me) where society generally is either opposed or indifferent to you, or is not changing rapidly enough to achieve a critical mass, then methods other than agitating for changes to laws must be found.**

With respect to issues related to fetal rights, abortion, and crisis pregnancies, much useful laying of the ground is happening, although a lot of it is being done on a shoestring by hardworking, unsupported, and unappreciated amateurs. I want to start highlighting some of these noble efforts in subsequent posts.

*A fascinating study has just been released by the Manning Foundation for Democratic Action ( 162 current and former politicians were asked to rate themselves on a variety of politically-relevant issues. They gave themselves a score of just 3.95 out of 10 for overall performance of politicians (Canadians generally give a rating of 4.49). Only one-third of the respondents believed that "ethics and integrity" was the most important skill set for a politician.

**I have had many opportunities to observe the political scene up close over the years. My late father
Donald J. Sutherland (pictured right) was quite active in politics as a municipal politician, campaign manager, and a federal candidate in Ontario. He was on a first-name basis with former Prime Minister Joe Clark and several federal and provincial cabinet ministers. I have been, as my reader knows, a school trustee since 1983, which requires frequent interaction with the Ministry of Education. Two of my former colleagues on the board of education are now cabinet ministers, one federal and one provincial. Others have served on our city's council. In addition, I was charged with lobbying the Ministry of Labour when I worked with CLAC, a labour union. I have been invited by three different provincial/federal parties to consider running myself. I couldn't say NO fast enough. Through it all, I have developed a fairly dubious attitude towards what can be accomplished politically, and what cannot, as a result of my experience.

Just today I read an article from Sun News (not a source I normally consult, but it was emailed to me and the headline grabbed my attention). The author has arrived at conclusions much like my own regarding a political leader's reluctance to step outside of societal norms (he calls it society's "sweet spot") despite their personal moral convictions (

Here is an excerpt. The context is the political scene in New Brunswick, where the provincial Liberals, under the leadership of Brian Gallant, are leading the polls. The author's observations could not be truer to my own experience.

Now most political know-it-alls from all parties will tell you abortion is like a third rail, take any position on the issue - pro-life or pro-choice - and you lose more votes than you can get.

Their logic is that the sweet spot in politics is in the middle and taking any position on abortion moves you away from that big-tent sweet spot and towards a place where there are fewer votes.

And yet, here is Gallant, leading in the polls in New Brunswick across every demographic, income level, education level, and gender.

And not only is Trudeau leading every poll these days, but in May, the Liberal party actually sent out a letter soliciting membership and support using his pro-choice stand as the hot-button issue.

Sounds like those parties are in a pretty sweet spot.

Meanwhile, the conservative opponents of Gallant and Trudeau - those to whom pro-life advocates in Canada look to champion their views and who they hope would legislate restrictions on abortion - are timid and weak in their opposition to the bold, moral certitude of Gallant, Trudeau and, it must be said, New Democrat leaders at both levels.

The best that both Alward's Progressive Conservatives and Stephen Harper's Conservatives have been able to do is to point to inconsistencies in their opponents' parties. Gallant, they note, will have pro-life Liberal MLAs in his caucus if he wins, just as Trudeau does right now.

Conservatives also like to mutter something about being proud that they would allow free votes on matters of conscience like abortion.

Except that conservative governments do all they can to avoid ever having a debate, let alone a vote, on any abortion-related issue.

And while Trudeau's Liberals sent a membership pitch using abortion as a hot-button topic, I guarantee you there has never been a fundraising pitch from a conservative party that reads, "Send us $5 to help us protect the unborn."

Now, this column is not an argument in favour of restricting or extending abortion access in Canada.
But it is arguing for truth and candour in politics.

On abortion, political leaders on the left are advancing their position in an honest, upfront manner.

But conservative leaders shun the issue, making weak "process" arguments about their opponent rather than dealing with the substance of the issue: Should abortions, as Hillary Clinton said in 2005, be "safe, legal and rare"?

Leaders of the federal and provincial Liberals and New Democrats are loudly answering: Yes. Their conservative opponents would rather you asked them something else.

I rest my case

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

There's no 'I' in team--nor is there any freedom of conscience

Brent Rathgeber is a former member of the caucus of the Stephen Harper government who was disciplined by the party for blogging his mind on government practices that no thinking person would agree with. This is what he wrote in an excerpt from his book that was printed in the September 9/2014 issue of the National Post (

In the fall of 2012, the Conservative party leadership tried to discipline me when I refused to remove, or edit, several blog posts I had written that were critical of such non-conservative practices as ministerial opulence (e.g., expense claims for such things as $16 glasses of orange juice and parliamentary limousines), the F-35 fighter jet procurement fiasco, and taxpayer subsidies to private corporations.

In a riveting discussion of life on the backbenches of Parliament, he talks about fellow Conservative Member of Parliament Mark Warawa's experience with his private member's bill condemning sex-selective abortion, another topic on which Canadians are generally agreed:

In the Spring of 2013, Chief Government Whip Gordon O’Conner (pictured) took the team analogy to new and disturbing limits. Langley MP Mark Warawa wished to deliver a statement in the House of Commons, expressing his disappointment that his private member’s motion condemning sex-selective abortion would not be allowed to proceed to a debate. O’Connor justified denying Warawa the opportunity to speak in the House by stating that the caucus was a team and that he was the coach. As coach, he argued, he had the unfettered discretion to determine who gets to “play.”

As an illustration of how this treatment of MPs who don't "get team" is not restricted to the Conservatives, he cites the treatment received by two members of the current NDP caucus:

NDP MPs Bruce Hyer and John Rafferty, both rural Ontario MPs, split with their party leadership on the merits of the Long-Gun Registry and voted in support of a government bill to repeal it. Both faced internal discipline. As a result, Hyer left the NDP and sat as an Independent before eventually joining the Green Party caucus.

Of course, I have already cited in previous posts Justin Trudeau's requirements for current and future Liberal members that they park the heartfelt moral convictions against abortion at the caucus door. 

What is my point here? Simply this. Those well-meaning but deluded people who think that they can push for political solutions to heartfelt positions (such as pro-life) from within a government or any caucus* which is governed by today's crop of political leaders--guided as they are by polls and perceived societal norms--are dreaming (in my not very humble opinion) in technicolour. I'll give Rathgeber the final word:

I have participated in four elections and many election forums. In almost every one of these job auditions, the question is posed by pundits and voters: “How will the candidate, if successful, vote on a matter of local importance, if the position of the constituents is different than the official position of the party under whose banner the candidate is running?”

Invariably, the answer offered, especially by neophyte candidates, is: “Of course I will stand up for my local constituents.” 

The truthful answer should probably be something along the lines of: “I will support the party position and thereafter attempt to persuade you of the correctness of that position, because if I stray from the party position, I will be out of the caucus and off the team and I can do more for you inside the caucus than I can from outside the tent.”

I cannot recall how many times I have heard elected members use this logic to defend their refusal to fight against an objectionable decision the government had made. The reality is that the longer one has been part of the team, the easier it is to rationalize one’s decision to stay on the team as opposed to staying true to the principles that brought the member to Ottawa in the first place.

*The majority of the present Conservative caucus have voted in favour of various private members bill that have promoted pro life causes, even when their leader urged them not to. Wonderful. Courageous. Every bill has failed, and the government has vowed not to bring any life-related bills to the house, ever.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Separation of church & state 5: Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder? Apparently not!

It's probably just the weird way my mind works sometimes, but when I think of the school district's sexual education program, which emphasizes abstinence, I always think of the old proverb about absence making the heart grow fonder.

[For the more literary minded, the Roman poet Sextus Propertius gave us the earliest form of this saying in Elegies: Always toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows.] 

At any rate, the school district developed a sex education program some decades back that emphasized abstinence as the only sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and all of the other ills that go with today's culture of twerking and rapid coupling. Abstinence-based sexual education is commonplace in school districts in the U.S., but less so in Canada. While birth control is taught, it does not extend to fitting condoms on bananas and so on. The contents of the program, by the way, were developed completely by teachers in the district.

While we have letters on file from medical people thanking us for this approach to sexual education, and have received inquiries from around the continent about it, here in British Columbia we have been laughed at, ridiculed, and are now being challenged by the human rights watchdogs for failing our students. Here's a sample:

The BC Humanist Association, a community of atheists, agnostics, and what they call freethinkers, has written a letter to BC’s education minister asking him to look at the Abbotsford school district sex education curriculum.
Executive Director Ian Bushfield says his group is opposed to focusing primarily on abstinence without teaching the use of contraceptives.
“We found a policy in Abbotsford which promotes what we see as a religious, morally inspired view of human sexuality that maybe deprives a number of non-Christian or non-religious students in the district of a full comprehensive sex education.
Bushfield says abstinence should be a part of any sex education program, but not the only part. (Source: Star 98.3, Nov. 29/2012. Emphasis added).

This illustrates what I was suggesting in an earlier post; i.e., that moral positions that are not aligned with what are perceived to be current societal norms--as interpreted by the media, advocacy groups, pollsters, politicians, and so on--are pretty quickly vilified, ridiculed, dismissed, and worst of all, seen as religion intruding on an unwilling society.

This is why people like Justin Trudeau, who is all about societal norms, take the position that our current regimen of abortion on demand is the only acceptable one. While only about 30% of Canadians actually support abortion on demand, another third are accepting of abortion in some instances--everything from age of viability; to end of first trimester; to incidents of rape, incest, and endangerment of the mother's life (in this latter case less than 5% of all abortions, by the way). Since the 20-30% of Canadians who oppose abortion, and the 30 - 40% of Canadians who accept it with restrictions, by and large aren't kicking up a fuss about the issue, it is easiest for the politicians to stay the course and avoid criticisms from those who are most vociferous in supporting abortion on demand and who tend to get the national media's uncritical attention. See, for example, "Onward Christian Soldier" in the Full Pundit section of the National Post, August 28. 2014 where it is reported that in a documentary on Prime Minister Harper's evangelical beliefs, that Harper would like to reopen the abortion debate but won't because he knows that it's a political non-starter.

This is why I take the position that the political process is a poor way to bring down the abortion rate. On this issue our political leaders are, by and large, moral cowards for whom staying in power will trump almost any principle once held while out of politics or in opposition. 

Excuse the cynicism. On the other hand, show me I'm wrong.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Separation of church & state 5: How I try to make it work at the municipal level - Disciplining students and staff

In a school district, moral issues typically come in two forms: one, disciplining either students or employees; and two, the nature of some of the curriculum.

First discipline. Student discipline normally would not fall under the purview of the trustees. But long ago, some school trustees and other community members were instrumental in the founding of a non-profit society called the Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association (, with which we now contract to deal with many student discipline issues in our school. While there are times when students simply have to be removed from school for the greater good (e.g., criminal activity such as drug possession/dealing, carrying weapons, assaults, and so on), there are also many instances where a restorative approach is the far better alternative in the long run. 

To me, ARJAA exemplifies the christian approach to conflict resolution. In a nutshell, the approach is as follows:

Based on the principles of restorative justice, Abbotsford Restorative Justice holds offenders accountable to their victims and the community and assists them to make appropriate amends and repair the harm done. 

As an alternative to the criminal justice system, restorative justice provides support to both victims and offenders, allowing an incident to be resolved directly between the affected parties without going to court.  

ARJAA also works with Abbotsford School District 34, delivering training in conflict resolution for staff, students and their families, and helping schools implement Restorative Action—a restorative justice program specially designed to address bullying and other forms of conflict in schools (emphasis added). 

I am happy to say that this same approach has, by and large, been used in dealing with staff disciplinary issues as well. 

The second moral issue has to do with the teaching program itself. Abbotsford has followed the lead of other school districts, particularly in the United States, in encouraging the implementation of character education into its schools. One high school in particular, WJ Mouat Secondary, has taken national leadership in the development of its character council and courses ( 

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, taking moral positions is easier when the virtues in question are generally supported in society, as is the case with character education. The situation becomes more difficult when an issue is more controversial. The best example in our school district is sexual education.

What till you see what great sin we're guilty of in Abbotsford!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Separation of church & state 5: How I try to make it work at the municipal level - The public's money

Where I want to get to eventually is whether one can be christian without being a Christian in a system like that of the Canadian Parliament, with party discipline, party whips, a Prime Minister's Office that tells individual government members how to vote and even what to say, or a leader (in this case, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau) who tells his caucus members how they must vote even regarding highly morally charged issues, such as abortion, where individual consciences are at stake.

As I noted in earlier posts, I have been in municipal politics for 27 years, but have had the luxury of being a political free agent for all of that period. Therefore, I have never had to deal with party discipline issues. Nevertheless, the British Columbia school act requires that school districts be run on a strictly secular and non-sectarian basis. Consequently, I have had to work with integrity as a school trustee within that system while also being true to my faith and myself.

As I've tried to make clear as well, I don't believe that being christian means a) imposing certain moral rules that are unique to my faith but not necessarily part of prevailing societal norms; and b) being coercive in governing the school district. In the former case, my decision-making rests primarily on God's principles and values, not rules. In the latter case, if God is so respectful of human choice that he avoids being coercive, how can I be different? God's use of full information and offers of support to achieve his goals, while leaving the final choice to the individual, has been highly instructive to me.

Now, how does this work out in reality?

Governing a school district is, most of the time, a pretty straightforward process. A school board hires excellent people to lead the district, manage its budget, teach the students, plan well for the future, work with partners, and generally give students an education a for life worth living. Easy peasy, or so you would think.

But whenever there are scarce resources--and there is never enough money to fund every meritorious program--how does one choose?  And if there are morally charged issues associated with choices one
must make--such as sexual education or disciplining an employee for misconduct--how does one decide?

I'll take the former first--scarce resources. Being careful stewards of our resources is certainly a biblical virtue, and generally speaking it is publicly approved as well. That is not to say that we don't see shocking waste in various governments, and too often we've witnessed political snouts deep into the public trough, former Alberta Premier Alison Redford being the latest egregious example.

But I have always been a member of school boards that place a high value on weighing the educational value of every financial decision, always keeping in mind the business we're in--educating kids. Transparency in financial decision-making, and giving ample opportunity for public input into how the budget is to be used, are crucial to this process. It is, in the final analysis, the public's money.

I should add that British Columbia boards of education no longer have the authority and responsibility to set local school tax rates. Virtually all of our funds come from the provincial government and school boards have precious little leverage in squeezing more money out of the Ministry of Education. In addition, we don't negotiate educators salaries at the local level.

But we're still left with choosing among competing requests for funding. I have a little grid through which I run such possibilities:
  • Is it consistent with the strategic plan for the school district?
  • Does it stand on its own merits as an educational opportunity or as a means to help students to reach their potential?
  • How many students does it impact as compared to other requests that are under consideration? Or to put it another way, are the rights to another educational alternative that a different group of students/families/educators wants given full respect in coming to a decision. Is the maximum bang for the buck realized?
  • Is it affordable?
But in my attempt to be "christian"--i.e., faithful to my principles--I pose these further questions:
  • Are some programs being considered because of the articulate nature of the presentations? Requests for some programs, such as sports academies or fine arts schools, are typically made by parent groups from a certain socio-economic class that can be more persuasive, and who can afford the extra costs that go with such programs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the nature of their presentations often can add a certain luster to the idea.
  • Do some programs not stand out as much because they are geared more to students and  families who are not as able to speak for themselves, who are marginalized in some way, or who lack confident spokespeople? I'm thinking here of some immigrants, the poor, the less educated, students with serious addiction or legal issues, and so on.
Where I have to chose, my "bias" tends to be in the direction of those least able to speak for themselves, which is how I see God operating. This will affect how I see an issue like providing transportation for students, for instance, and how much (if anything) to charge. Or the funding for special education. Or limiting fees. Or dealing with the students who are more likely to drop out.

[I once had the disillusioning experience of a teacher union executive member suggesting that we could save a lot of money that could be put toward better stipends for high school department heads if we didn't spent so much money on special education. He wasn't necessarily speaking for the whole union executive, or at least I hope he wasn't.]

Fortunately, my own district is very enlightened in this regard. No one is perfect, but I believe that the district attempts to balance competing requests in a way that optimizes opportunities for all students.

That is not to say that I haven't had the occasional moral qualm with respect to the use of our budget. I've been accused of nit-picking on this, but I have a hard time accepting the justifications that some of my colleagues have offered over the years for attending certain so-called public relations events that have little to do with education. As trustees we get invited, along with the city councilors, to virtually every fundraiser in the city. There are some non-profit organizations who put on quite elaborate "galas" to attract people to attend, with ticket prices upwards of three figures each.

I have no problem with colleagues attending these events, of course. They can ante up their own money and have a great time supporting worthy causes. I do have moral issues, however, with the public paying for the tickets, often for the trustee and a spouse/child/special friend. I simply don't agree with politicians using the public's money to attend fundraisers. Fortunately, the amount of actual money this represents is very small in a ~$200 milllion budget. But the principle is still important.

But what of the so-called moral issues? I'll address that next.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Separation of church & state 4: God is pro-choice; why should I be different?

Okay before you write me off, I'm not referring directly to abortion-related issues here. Let me explain what I'm talking about when I say that God is pro-choice because it has had a profound effect on my life in academia, consulting, politics, and advocacy. I'm planning to lay out my approach to principled decision-making as a municipal politician, but I can't do that without a little background regarding my personal beliefs.

1 - Faith in action means striving for the right principles and values

I think, of first importance, you should understand the approach I take to using the Christian scriptures as a guide for everyday life. While I am a seminary grad (M.A. in Biblical Studies with a major in Old Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago), I have not aligned myself with any particular theological camp, although I have been attracted in recent years to some of the thinking coming out of the Emerging Church movement (see my theological blog, entitled wholly stretch, at

I have certainly not tied myself up in knots working out what the inerrancy of scripture means. Not that a trustworthy revelation of God's nature, character, and will aren't important. But the theological schools of thought that one can list, even within the orthodox Christian Church where everyone is committed to an inerrant scripture, are so diverse at points that inerrancy is the least of our challenges!

[I do like the definition of inerrancy of the Catholic Church, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council: "The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." The definition of truth is what counts, of course.]

Key for me is the issue of interpretation (hermeneutics is the official theological word). How does one utilize that inerrant scripture in a way that works for all centuries, all ethnicities, all contexts? My own upbringing in the conservative, evangelical church was not always helpful in this regard. Living Christianly was largely rule-keeping, avoiding being worldly (whatever that meant), and evangelizing. As recently as the late 1970s, when I joined the faculty of Trinity Western University, we had to sign a community standards statement pledging not to drink or dance (culturally-based rule-keeping). There was no compulsion, on the other hand, to pursue social justice.

I have attempted, to the best of my poor ability, to discern what principles and values are at work underneath the biblical teaching on everyday life. For instance, from the mass of parables, stories, and laws that constitute the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), I have determined that God's long-term principles and objectives include these:
  • The sanctity of the family unit as the building block of society.
  • God's special concern for the restoration of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.
  • A culture characterized by justice (distributive, restorative, and retributive) and the rule of law.
  • Letting punishment fit the crime.
  • Life balance.
  • Personal integrity.
  • An organic relationship among the God's people; i.e., a sense of mutuality, concern for the needs of others (cf. the Good Samaritan) as opposed to individualism.
  • Wholesome relationships; i.e. a person was never to be exploited in any fashion as a means of achieving self-gratification--whether sexually, economically, or politically.
  • Loving others as one would oneself.
Later biblical teaching makes clear that much of the contents of the above list rests on the inherent worth of every individual as God's image-bearer, which is why God grounds his recommendations regarding our behaviour towards all people in love, justice, and where necessary, mercy (Micah 6:8). These principles have a major influence on the worldview I bring to decision making.

Thus, it is principles and values such as these, rather than rules, that I strive for as I look at political choices and challenges.

2 - Remarkably, God never forces his followers to obey his commands or to pursue his principles

Now this is what, to use the old fashioned expression, blows my mind: while God makes it clear that
he is in charge, that his way is the right one, and that he will enable people to live according to his principles, values, and objectives, God never actually forces anyone to live in the way that he as the Supreme Deity prefers. Yes, God points out the benefits of living for him, and the perils one will attract in the long run for living for oneself without reference to his will. But he so respects human choice that, in the final analysis, he leaves the ultimate decision to the individual. God gives people all of the information they need to make the best choice regarding the principles, values and objectives that should characterize their life choices. He offers his help in living with the results of that decision, but he still puts human free well ahead of his objectives. Unbelievable.

This is why I called God pro-choice. He offers full information so that an informed choice can be made. He proffers his own support to help us make the choice he prefers, but he lets me choose. I find this--at the same time--amazing, exhilarating, and terrifying.

3 - How does this affect the way I do politics?

This post has gotten a little long, so I'll save this discussion for the next one.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Separation of church & state 3: Why Solzhenitsyn and I think that the political process is a poor way to achieve moral objectives

On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Commencement address at Harvard University (7 June 1978)

Just to recap, I decided to research the topic of the separation of church and state, something that I've been interested in for a long time, as a result of current Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau's recent pronouncement (out of the blue and for no apparent reason) that in future no federal Liberal Member of Parliament, nor candidate for same, may vote other than pro-choice regarding any relevant legislation. Current Liberal M.P.s holding pro-life views will have to keep such to themselves and toe the party line. What pro-choice means exactly was left undefined. [For more information, please see my previous posts on June 18, 19, 21, and July 4, 2014.]

My fundamental question is, Can a person of faith function with integrity is his/her pursuit of what we consider to be faith-informed objectives in a system such as the Canadian Parliament? If not, should we abandon the political process entirely in favour of some other approach to righting the moral wrongs of society as we see them?

I have lengthy political experience myself, but it is all in the municipal arena (school trustee) and
with no party system in place to hinder me in any way from voting my conscience. I have run successfully ten times as a political free agent. Given that even as a school board member important moral issues come to the fore from time to time (see my previous post, I have developed my own rules of thumb for how to think about and approach these in a manner that is consistent with my faith-informed worldview while operating with integrity in a secular, non-sectarian political setting.

But before I explore this line of thinking further, a quick aside. Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (quoted above) had little faith in the long-term efficacy of political reform to effect desirable social change, preferring to place his trust ultimately in spiritual solutions. Given his experiences living in the old Soviet Union, I am in no position to challenge his thinking. It should be added that he was no more impressed with capitalism than he was with communism, if this quote is any indication: Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.

There is a good deal to what Solzhenitsyn says. I've been an active player in the political arena for long enough to see that some good things can come from the political process, even moral achievements. But my 27 years have led me to the conclusion that using political approaches to accomplish moral ends is, more often than not, the last stage in the process, not the first.

[This is why I believe that my friend Mike Schouten of is bound to be forever frustrated in his attempts to convince the federal government to pass any kind of legislation that fundamentally changes the abortion scene in Canada. The rest of the pro-life movement has not prepared the ground to make such a move by the feds possible (cf. the decades of hard, discouraging, fearless, and ultimately effective work done by the opponents of slavery in the U.S. that ultimately made it possible for Lincoln to abolish that hateful institution). Until we do, Mike will be running on the same treadmill on which he currently finds himself. I'll have more to say about this several posts hence.]

So to begin my study of church and state, here are some presuppositions I have concerning why I think the political process is a poor way to address important moral issues in the first place. 

1 - Moral issues are notoriously difficult to legislate. That is not to say that governments don't try. I well remember LBJ's proposed Great Society of the 1960s that sought to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. But unless there is already a significant groundswell of public support for a particular approach to an issue (e.g., in Canada, supporting gay rights, or in times past eliminating capital punishment), getting a law passed is almost impossible. One only has to look at President Obama's fruitless quest to impose even a modicum of gun control in the U.S., whereas in Canada virtually everyone agrees with his proposals and wishes that he would go beyond them. Even where there is general agreement in a theoretical sort of way (e.g., the need to combat climate change), Joan Public citizen will often draw the line when the government considers a measure that might require individuals to sacrifice, particularly economically (e.g., a carbon tax).

[Curiously, the majority of Canadians polled consistently say that they would accept restrictions placed on the availability of abortion. These vary from an outright ban, to age of viability. Only about 30% of Canadians support our current regimen of abortion on demand. Yet no party has indicated they have any interest in addressing the subject.]

2 - Staying in power trumps ideology. Political parties typically claim to stand this or that way on a
variety of issues, and attempt to differentiate themselves from other parties by emphasizing their superior views. But once in power, the incoming party becomes remarkably like the outgoing one. This is because staying in power, once obtained, is more important than ideology. We often refer to this phenomenon as governing from the middle, which means that politicians and political parties that take what are viewed as extreme views, whether to the left or right, tend to have a short shelf life. Since appealing to the majority is more important than staking out a potentially unpopular position, politicians will often morph into something very different from what they once claimed to be, or even leave one party for another as quickly as a snake sheds its skin.

Thus we witness political musical chairs in Canada, with politicians of allegedly different stripes jumping from one party to another; e.g.
  • Conservatives Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach jumped to the Liberals and into cabinet.
  • Former NDP premiers Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh both became federal Liberal cabinet ministers, with Rae seeking the Liberal party leadership.
  • Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson joined Conservative Prime Minister Harper's cabinet in a similar capacity after saying that he would be Harper's worse nightmare as an opposition MP.
  • Former Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Joe Clark criticized fellow Conservative Prime Minister Harper, saying that the strong and positive traditions of the Progressive Conservatives have been forced aside. He has from time to time supported Liberal candidates.
  • Former Quebec Liberal cabinet minster Thomas Mulcair is now the leader of the federal New Democratic Party. 
  • Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau came to Vancouver to court the participation of former NDP member of the BC legislature and now socialist mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson as a Liberal candidate.
3 - Governments let prevailing societal norms, not religion, define morality. Related to the above, it is rare in Canada for a politician to refer directly to his/her religious faith as the basis for their moral views. In fact, with the demise of Christianity as an important organizing force in Canadian society, politicians typically let the prevailing societal norms define what the current moral issues are and what should be done about them. For instance, given that most Canadians (approximately 75% in most polls) define themselves as some kind of pro-choice supporter (the definitions of what that
means vary considerably), no Canadian party would dare take a pro-life position.

Various times that I have prepared for an election, the media have asked me and other candidates who make their faith a matter of public record whether we are going to let our religion affect the way we make decisions once in office. The clear inference is that this would be highly inappropriate. I try to explain how everyone has a worldview that affects their principles and priorities, with religion being an important influence in the formation of that worldview with some people, while other candidates may have other influences. I find that such explanations tend to go unreported.*

4 - The courts keep religion in its place - In 2000, the Surrey BC School District attempted to deal with a set of controversial books which were criticized by many vocal parents and groups as promoting, or at least supporting, the gay lifestyle by removing them from use in the classroom. In a B.C. Supreme Court decision, Madam Justice Saunders ruled that the Board violated section 76 of the School Act when it refused to approve the three books because of parents’ concerns, and ordered them to reconsider the matter. Section 76(1) requires B.C. public schools to be conducted on “strictly secular and non-sectarian principles”. The courts generally have kept explicit religious values and practices out of the public arena, limiting their use to independent rather than public institutions. [See my posts regarding faith-based Trinity Western University's attempt to establish a law school and the opposition the university has received from the legal community at and]

Given these realities, how have I attempted to show full integrity to both my faith and to my role as a publicly elected official in one of those strictly secular and non-sectarian school districts? That comes next.


* For an excellent example of an automatic bias towards a politician because he belongs to a certain faith group, look no further than the recent appointment of Gordon Dirks, a former chair of the Calgary Board of Education, as Alberta's new Minister of Education ( His ability to be in charge of a pluralistic, non-sectarian school system is questioned solely because of his denominational affiliation, ignoring his long service on the board of education of a very large, pluralistic, non-sectarian school district. 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Separation of church & state 2: First my own humble, if plucky, political experience

I have been a politician for 27 years. Part-time to be sure. A limited sphere of influence. Nevertheless, I am an elected official who has successfully run for office ten times. I am a school trustee (or as most American states call it, a school board member).

Ours is a good sized board of education. Our operating budget approaches $200 million dollars and exceeds that of the city administration.  We are the biggest employer in a community of 140,000 with some 2,000 employees spread over 50 schools and district buildings. 19,000 school-aged children are entrusted to our care daily by their families.

Much of what we do as a board of education is pretty straightforward. We hire excellent people to manage the district and hold them accountable for results. We have the responsibility to live within our means financially. [We are not allowed to run a deficit without the prior consent of the provincial Ministry of Education, and such permission would be highly unlikely.] We promote public education in a community where approximately 15% of school-aged children attend independent (largely faith-based) schools. We liaise with many groups with an interest in what happens in the schools, such as the local university, employers, the teachers' and staff unions, social service agencies, service clubs, advocacy groups, and the police. Perhaps most importantly, we participate in the development of a long-term strategic plan and ensure that it is enfolded into the warp and woof of the school district's activities.

A good deal of the politics has been removed from our job as a trustee. We no longer set the local school tax rate. This is done provincially. Similarly, teacher collective agreement bargaining takes place at the provincial level. In addition, a good deal of the budget which we receive from the Ministry of Education is targeted to specific programs, thus eliminating much of the spending discretion we once had.

That is not to say that political decisions don't have to be made. Whenever resources are scarce--and they always are--one group has to be favoured over another. And no matter what choice we make, the loser accuses us of bias, even injustice. No matter how much good one wants to do as a politician, one simply can't meet all the needs, however meritorious.

[That's why I always tell wide-eyed, naive, would-be candidates to political office my two axioms for being an elected official:
  1. You can't please everyone no matter how much you want to. So if you don't have a thick skin,
    don't go into politics.
  2. Never take criticism personally, no matter how personally it might be delivered. Those who know you, know better. Those who don't will lash out at the nearest available politician. It's just part of the reality of political life.]
In addition, we often run up against moral issues. We once had a teacher pose nude in a men's magazine, for instance, and were criticized by the media locally, regionally, and nationally for disciplining her. The issue went to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and set a precedent that is studied in schools of law to this day regarding community standards. Some Christians have taken us to task about the Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in the high schools. Sex education is always a hot button, including such issues as contraception and reproductive health (code for abortion). Naturally we have to deal with drug-related issues.

Out of these experiences I have come to certain conclusions about functioning as a person of faith in a non-sectarian setting such as a public school board. I'll discuss those in my next couple of posts.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Separation of church & state 1: How to be christian without being a Christian

Sharon and I have been on the road for the past month, visiting children, siblings, assorted other relatives, and friends in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. We drove east across Canada and back home via the Excited States. In doing so, we were thrilled by the beauty of this continent, and enjoyed many outstanding experiences, among them:
  • The Cabot Trail, and Cape Breton Island generally.
  • Celebrating our 45 wedding anniversary with our children, their spouses, and Sharon's brother in lovely Baddeck, Nova Scotia (home of Alexander Graham Bell in his later years).
  • Peaceful agricultural and cottage country along the north shore of Lake Erie.
  • The South Dakota Badlands.
  • The Bighorn Mountains and the wild terrain generally of Wyoming. I expected a stage coach to careen around the corner pursued by a half a dozen mounted outlaws at any moment.
  • Mt. Rushmore.
  • Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota (you had to be there).
  • Yellowstone National Park.
  • Glacier National Park in Montana, particularly the Going to the Sun road (pictured on right). My knuckles are still white, and my mind continues to be boggled.
  • And once again, the beautiful foothills country west of Calgary. It never gets old.
Since returning three days ago, we have done seven loads of laundry, waded through scores of email messages that needed addressing right away, calculated our vacation expenses, committed suicide (just kidding, although contemplated when we did the expense calculations), and brought our schedules for the rest of the summer up to date.

Now my mind has turned once again to blogging. I was rushing at the end of my last few posts regarding Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau as we prepared to leave on the big road trip (12,000 kilometers in our trusty Camry, by the way, plus a return flight from Toronto to Sydney NS). I feel that the really big issue in connection with those posts has not yet been addressed; i.e., how would a person of faith whose principles include the right to life for unborn babies function in a non-sectarian setting like the Canadian Parliament.

That insightful, erudite and humorous Newfoundlander Rex Murphy summarized his thoughts on Trudeau Jr.'s pro-choice pontifications with a column entitled In Justin Trudeau's world, Christians need not apply (

I enjoyed the column thoroughly, as I do all of Murphy's writings. But I had to ask myself, "Is he correct?" Are principled, committed Christians (or people of any other faith that includes a commitment to pro-life beliefs) doomed to be pushed to the margins of society in the face of not compromising their principles?

Or, to put it another way, how is a person of faith to function in a system that is, by practice or definition, based on the separation of church and state?

As usual, I have only very formative ideas of what the answer is to that question. So this is what I would like to explore next.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Liberal Pary of Canada & abortion 4: One of these things is not like the other

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

The remarkable children's program Sesame Street has introduced a large number of phrases and songs to the general English lexicon. Parents have been singing the song above to their children for many, many decades.

The song came to mind when I read Justin Trudeau's justification for insisting that all his MPs and even candidates for nomination be pro-choice, which he equated with supporting equal rights for women. Perhaps through misunderstanding, maybe willful playing with words, possibly because of plain ignorance, Justin placed that equation squarely in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

I encourage and am pleased that there are always a wide range of views within the Liberal Party because the Liberal Party is representative of the country as a whole, and that’s a good thing. But the Liberal Party is also the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and with our votes we will defend that Charter and that’s what every Liberal who walks into this House of Commons needs to understand and do understand that in the matter of defending women’s rights our votes are clear. We defend the Charter.

Of course, there is no constitutional right to abortion. Our present abortion-on-demand regimen rests on a lack of any law against it, not a positive statement in the Charter for it, as exists in the U.S.

His further asserted that his father :...had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people. "He too held fast to  his beliefs. But he also understood that as leaders, as political figures, and as representatives of a larger community, our utmost responsibility is to stand up for people’s rights.” 

It could be that Justin has just never studied what his father did with respect to abortion. Pierre Trudeau certainly did not simply do away with all legislation that would place any restrictions on the provision of abortion. His medical committees were sufficiently restrictive that they were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada as contrary to Trudeau's own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nor would it appear to be the case that Trudeau Sr. equated abortion on demand with equal rights for women, as we saw in my last post. I quoted him as saying:

“I think she should have to answer for it and explain. Now, whether it should be to three doctors, or one doctor, or to a priest or a bishop or to her mother-in-law is a question you might want to argue, you do have a right over your own body, it is your body. But the fetus is not your body; it’s someone else’s body, and if you kill it, you’ll have to explain,” Mr. Trudeau said.You would have to convince me that a person who asks for an abortion has no responsibility at all,” the Montreal Star article quotes Mr. Trudeau as saying. The report said he was responding to the protestors by stating his “private attitude.”

“You know, at some point you are killing life in the fetus in self-defence, of what, of the mother’s health, or her happiness, or of her social rights or her privilege as a human being?” Mr. Trudeau went on to say.

“I think she should have to answer for it and explain. Now, whether it should be to three doctors, or one doctor, or to a priest or a bishop or to her mother-in-law is a question you might want to argue, you do have a right over your own body, it is your body. But the fetus is not your body; it’s someone else’s body, and if you kill it, you’ll have to explain,” Mr. Trudeau said.

And according to Pierre's biographer, it would not be accurate to say that he had "no problem" with some of his legislation. A 2009 volume of a biography of Trudeau, written by former Liberal MP John English, a history professor, says Mr. Trudeau later had “profound reservations” about many of the social changes his landmark overhaul of criminal law had sparked, and shared them in confessions with his priest. But he believed the reforms “were essential,” including changes that legalized homosexual relations (Source: Hill Times).

And finally, Trudeau Sr. accepted pro-life MP's into his caucus and did not "whip" them in voting for abortion-related issues. The same can be said for all his successors: Prime Ministers Chretien and Martin, and Liberal leaders Dion and Ignatieff.

Other than that, father and son have identical views.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Liberal Pary of Canada & abortion 3: Justin and Pierre should have talked more

Justin Trudeau has taken the highly unusual step of raising a political issue concerning which there was no current political debate at the federal level, while claiming some kind of moral high ground for doing so. The issue, of course, is abortion. Beyond raising it, he has used commitment to the loosely defined pro-choice mantra as the litmus test of who is an acceptable Liberal, at least for candidacy as a federal MP.

For taking this unexpected stand, he was labelled a bozo by a long-serving member of his caucus, John McKay (  As reported by the Toronto Star, McKay was having what he thought was a private conversation, not realizing that he was being recorded. The Star goes on to say:

McKay says on a recording obtained by CTV News that he thought Trudeau had a “bozo eruption” and didn’t think about what he said when he declared that anti-abortion candidates won’t be allowed to run for the Liberals. He added that it “scares the hell” out of him that Trudeau’s brain trust could have thought this through without realizing how much of a “toxic issue” it is.

Of course, when all of this became public, McKay had to do the classic sniveling political crawl down. But he did not retract his beliefs.

Another long-time pro-life Liberal MP (and former cabinet minister) Lawrence MacAulay (pictured above) understood his leader to say that current pro-life caucus members such as himself would be "grandfathered" and could continue to vote his conscience. But Trudeau's original pronouncements along this line changed dramatically as days passed:

Mr. MacAulay hoped a grandfather clause would exempt him from supporting any abortion bill that might come before the House of Commons. Parliament has failed to pass replacement legislation after the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1988 ruling striking down the country’s abortion law as unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The country has been left with only the court’s ruling for over 25 years, without the guidance of a replacement law, since those same judges said the state should also have an interest in the protection of the unborn.
Mr. Trudeau ordered that all candidates must declare as pro-choice before being allowed to run for the party in the next election. Then he clarified that to say it wouldn’t apply to sitting MPs who are pro-life. Mr. MacAulay grasped at that straw since his pro-life stand is well known, believing he could vote his conscience on the matter.
The grandfather clause would respect, to a certain extent, their choices, the leader had said. Mr. MacAulay felt he was unaffected, that he could vote whatever way he chose. It took one day for Mr. Trudeau to say: “Sorry, Lawrence, you may have a personal opinion on the issue but you will be required to vote party lines.”
A thunderstruck Mr. MacAulay had to backtrack and say he would bow to his leader’s wishes, while Mr. Trudeau had to clarify his own comments for the benefit of other MPs or potential candidates. (

Trudeau's justification for bringing this fundamental test of acceptability was the leadership of his father, Prime Minister Pierre. As recorded in another report in the Star, Justin makes this observation:

“I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very religiously, as Catholics,” Trudeau wrote.

“But at the same time my father had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people.

“He too held fast to his beliefs. But he also understood that as leaders, as political figures, and as representatives of a larger community, our utmost responsibility is to stand up for people’s rights.”

But Trudeau Jr.'s explanation left much unanswered, including his own father's concerns about abortion and its effect on society, and the tolerance that Pierre had for different points of view within his caucus.

What did Pierre Trudeau really think of the abortion issue, and how would his views stack up against the pro-choice scrutiny that holds sway today? Consider this interview, reported this month in the Hill Times, that Pierre did with a Montreal paper in 1972 (N.B. underlining added): 

The quotation is from a Montreal Star column that quoted Mr. Trudeau’s comments, during the federal election campaign that year, to women in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who were protesting his new law’s requirement for prior permission from hospital abortion committees.
At the time, wealthier women or families were still travelling to the U.S. to obtain abortions, without having to go through committee screenings in hospitals.
You would have to convince me that a person who asks for an abortion has no responsibility at all,” the Montreal Star article quotes Mr. Trudeau as saying. The report said he was responding to the protestors by stating his “private attitude.”

“You know, at some point you are killing life in the fetus in self-defence, of what, of the mother’s health, or her happiness, or of her social rights or her privilege as a human being?” Mr. Trudeau went on to say.
“I think she should have to answer for it and explain. Now, whether it should be to three doctors, or one doctor, or to a priest or a bishop or to her mother-in-law is a question you might want to argue, you do have a right over your own body, it is your body. But the fetus is not your body; it’s someone else’s body, and if you kill it, you’ll have to explain,” Mr. Trudeau said. (

Knowing the self-appointed guardians of women's rights as I do, I am quite sure that if I voiced Pierre's concerns, they would be insisting that Justin not consider me as suitable material for running for Parliament.Yet Justin says that his father is his role model in this regard.

I'm not at all convinced that Justin and Pierre are on the same page in the least on the issue. We'll look at the important differences next.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Liberal Pary of Canada & abortion 2: How old are those chickens?

The Right Honourable Joe Clark is the Jimmy Carter of Canada. Carter was undistinguished as a one-term president of the United States, but has carved out a niche for himself as a wise counsellor to succeeding presidents and an unofficial, well received American ambassador of doing good in other lands.

Joe was similarly a distinct failure in his nine months at the helm of the good ship Canada, failing to win the hearts of his fellow citizens from the grasp of the towering Pierre Trudeau. But he was an above average Foreign Minister under Brian Mulroney, and is now seen in many circles as a bit of a wise old throwback to the days when politics had more substance than sizzle.

But in his earlier years in politics, Clark was vilified in the media for being stiff and awkward in public, and for asking inane questions. Perhaps his most famous gaffe came during a tour of a poultry farm where, not knowing what else to say, he asked, "How old are those chickens?" On another occasion, he questioned a farmer concerning his holdings thus: “What is the totality of your land?” A typical Joe Clark joke at the time was: Joe Clark was given a set of cufflinks so he ran out to get his wrists pierced.

But those were different times. Now we are witness to not only questions but observations, pronouncements, even policies of surpassing inanity. Examples could be drawn from any and every point in the political spectrum in these days of hyper-partisanship and super-spin, but I'm particularly interested in the pronouncements of young Trudeau Jr., not because I don't like his party but because I don't care for him--not as a potential leader of Canada.

While well-known to political watchers like myself, not all of you may be aware of the series of public gaffes that have characterized Trudeau's faltering path to the leadership of his party. These are the statements of the man who wants to lead, and unite, our country:

On Alberta: “Canada isn’t looking good because it’s Albertans who are controlling our community and social-democratic agenda. It’s not working.” (Source: Toronto Globe & Mail, Nov. 22 2012. Note that Trudeau's remarks were made two years earlier.)

The Globe went on to report: Mr. Trudeau then suggested that the most important prime ministers in the recent history of Canada were also Quebec MPs, mentioning his father, Pierre Trudeau, and his successors Brian Mulroney, Jean Chr├ętien and Paul Martin. As part of his critique of Alberta politicians, Mr. Trudeau argued that Quebeckers were a crucial presence in federal politics.

On Quebec's place within Canada: "And I always say that if I ever believed Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper and we were going against abortion and going against gay marriage, and we were going backward in 10,000 different ways, maybe I'd think of wanting to make Quebec a country." (Source: CTV News, February 14, 2012)

 CTV was quick to note the response of fellow politicians to Trudeau's tremendous gaffe:
During the talk show, when (talk show host Franco) Nuovo expressed some surprise at Trudeau's remarks, the parliamentarian added: "Oh yes, absolutely. If I no longer recognized Canada, I know my own values."

When the comments spread from Quebec to a national audience over the next 48 hours, Trudeau attempted to tamp down the smouldering controversy on Twitter by stating he would never be okay with Quebec leaving confederation. Trudeau tweeted: "Canada needs (Quebec) to balance out Harper's vision that I (and many) don't support."

But the Conservatives were quick to seize on Trudeau's remarks, as well as refer to his father, the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau. "(Trudeau) grew up hearing about a strong, united Canada, but just last week he said he would favour Quebec independence," Tory MP Merv Tweed said in Parliament, adding that Trudeau should recant or further clarify his comments.

Meanwhile, Interim NDP Leader Nicole Turmel used the occasion to talk about her own federalism.
"I will let (Trudeau) choose his party, if he wants to go to Quebec, but for me and for the (New Democratic) party we are clear: we're a federalist party and we represent all Canadians," she said.

On which political administration he most admires: “There is a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say we need to go green, we need to start, you know, investing in solar. There is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about: having a dictatorship where you can do whatever you wanted, that I find quite interesting.” (Source: National Post,
The NDP also noted this wasn’t Mr. Trudeau’s first expression of admiration for the quasi-Communist rising global superpower. While on CBC TV’s Power and Politics, Mr. Trudeau noted the concerns swirling around the takeover of natural resources by a Chinese state-owned entity would be similar to those of a takeover by a Scandinavian state-owned entity.
Tim Uppal, the Minister of State for Multiculturalism, said Mr. Trudeau’s remarks on China show he is unfit to lead the “greatest democracy in the world.” “The comments made by the leader of the Liberal party are an insult to the many Canadians who fought for the basic values and freedoms that we enjoy today. His answer demonstrates again a long-standing position of our party that he is in over his head.”

On the seriousness of Russia's takeover of Crimea: “It’s very worrisome,” Trudeau said after telling the panel that he now considers Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to be illegitimate. “Especially since Russia lost in hockey, they will be in a bad mood. We are afraid of a Russian intervention in Ukraine.” (See the interview at this CBC News link: if you can put up with the ads that precede it.)

Trudeau admitted that he had made a poor joke. But given that Canada is home to the third largest population of people of Ukrainian descent in the world, it was seen as remarkably insensitive. The Ukrainian ambassador suggested that an apology was in order.

On legalizing marijuana: Trudeau quite rightly observes that the "war against marijuana" has not worked, and that decriminalizing it may rob criminal elements of a cash cow. He has also acknowledged that it should be kept out of the hands of young people who are susceptible to harm to their developing brains. But then he goes on to say that a number of studies have shown marijuana is less hazardous to health than alcohol and tobacco (

Yet the president of the Canadian Medical Association does not accept such a positive view: A marijuana cigarette causes as much as six times the damage to an individual’s heart and lung health as a tobacco cigarette. As physicians, we take an oath, and one of the cornerstones of that oath is to “first do no harm.” This is why we do not support marijuana smoking, especially among young people (
In my next post, I want to switch from political blunders and immature utterances to something even more serious: Trudeau's tendency to bludgeon his followers into submission despite their heartfelt moral convictions--while displaying little knowledge regarding the issues themselves.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Liberal Pary of Canada & abortion 1: Of Justin Trudeau and other dimwits

I grew up in a politically conservative household--that's Conservative with a capital C to be sure. Had you given my late father the authority to add a fourth personage to the Trinity, he would have chosen former Progressive Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker (1957-1963). He also had a very high regard for Conservative Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Stephen Harper, although he couldn't stand Brian Mulroney. Dad ran for the Tories in 1979 during the brief Clark leadership.

I don't remember much about the Diefenbaker years. I was in high school when he was succeeded by Liberal Prime Minister Pearson--famous for his bow ties--whose distinguished career is nicely summarized by Wikipedia:

Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson (23 April 1897 – 27 December 1972) was a Canadian professor, historian, civil servant, statesman, diplomat, and politician, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. He was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada from 22 April 1963 to 20 April 1968, as the head of two back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.

During Pearson's time as Prime Minister, his Liberal minority governments introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the new Flag of Canada. Pearson also convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he struggled to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. In 1967, his government abolished capital punishment in Canada de facto - by restricting it to a few capital offenses for which it was never used, and which themselves were abolished in 1976. With these accomplishments, together with his groundbreaking work at the United Nations and in international diplomacy, Pearson is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.

Pearson suffered by comparison with Diefenbaker in terms of charisma, although certainly not in substance. He was an international figure, in his way, and did Canada proud and the world good.

Pearson's successor, in turn, was an amazing man although subject to mixed reviews--Pierre Elliot Trudeau (1968-79, 1980-84). He was a person of boundless intellect, refined tastes, a great love for Canada, tremendous personal courage, but regrettable (as it turned out) economic policies. A practicing Catholic, he nevertheless paved the way for abortion on demand and gay rights in Canada. He was also the father of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

American President Richard Nixon called Trudeau, in his characteristically vulgar way, a son of a bitch, an asshole, and a pompous egghead ( But in a recent poll conducted by the Harper government regarding inspirational Canadians, Trudeau topped the list. Lester Pearson was also high among the choices (

Successive governments since Trudeau's day have produced (to put the kindest possible construction on it) rather middling government leaders in my view. Prime Ministers Mulroney, Chretien, and Harper can all number some important accomplishments among their many decisions, but none of these gentlemen could be said to have the political heft of either Trudeau or Pearson, or the ability to excite that Diefenbaker could create at his best. Harper especially is probably the nation's best cure for insomnia.

But let's follow this devolution further. Mr. Harper has benefited from past Liberal scandals and a succession of gormless Liberal leaders to stay comfortably in power for ten years. Paul Martin had been a great Minister of Finance, but was definitely Peter Principled in his promotion to Prime Minister. His nickname, Mr. Dithers, was well earned. He was succeeded by Stephane Dion, who was certainly well educated, a strong federalist, and accomplished in other settings. But his English was very much of the cereal box variety, his record as Environment Minister undistinguished, and his campaigning ability abysmal. The Liberals tried another professor, Michael Ignatieff, who prior to succeeding to the Liberal leadership had spent the previous two decades in the U.K. and the U.S. He, too, flamed out, leaving the once mighty Grits in third place in Parliament behind the victorious Conservatives and the socialist New Democratic Party.

And that brings us to Pierre Trudeau's son and now Liberal leader, Justin. In my humble opinion (well, not all that humble to be honest), he makes a nice foursome of recent Liberal leadership lightweights. But at least the three prior to Justin had significant credentials to draw upon, even if they failed to use them wisely in attempting to give political leadership. Trudeau has none. Unlike Trudeau Sr., a widely exposed intellect and original thinker, Justin appears to be un-nuanced, even unaware, perhaps not overly bright, looking for Canada's future in his father's past.

Yet he may become the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Because of my interest in pro-life/pro abortion matters, I have followed young Trudeau's short and undistinguished political career more carefully than would be normal. In further posts, I would like to discuss his views further, and to consider a number of related issues about which Trudeau appears to be fairly unacquainted, such as religious freedom, separation of church and state, and democracy.