Social Conservatives Push Force in Canada Politics
Mainstream commentators have written so many obituaries for B.C.’s social conservatives that casual readers can be forgiven for thinking traditional family values have vanished from the provincial political agenda. But a recent resurgence of the Christian Coalition of British Columbia (CCBC) and the formation two weeks ago of the first chapter of the Canada Family Action Coalition in the province indicate that B.C.’s disenchanted social conservatives are beginning to re-discover the soul of politics in the values of groups that are firmly anchored to the Christian right.
Beverly Welsh, president of the CCBC, explains that the history of the coalition begins in the U.S. Demoralized after Bill Clinton’s rise to the presidency in 1992, the United States Christian Coalition under the leadership of Ralph Reed concentrated on nurturing a grassroots, community-driven pro- family network. Rather than instituting a new political party or endorsing a new presidential candidate, the coalition sought to mobilize support for its agenda on a scale broad enough that any political party interested in power would have to take their supporters’ votes, and thus their agenda, into account.
As Mr. Reed explains in his book Active Faith, the Christian Coalition did not “seek public policy victories by relying on the patronizing benevolence of a friendly White House. Rather, [it] advanced the pro-family agenda the old-fashioned way: one family at a time, one church at a time, one neighbourhood at a time, one community at a time.” The results were staggering. Congress turned Republican in 1994 and, although Mr. Clinton returned to the presidency in 1996, the Christian Coalition played a major role in returning a Republican Congress to power for the first time in 40 years.
Suitably impressed by the Christian Coalition’s track record, representatives of Canada’s religious right met with Mr. Reed, adapted his model to the Canadian scene and began establishing their own network of local organizations across Canada. The Christian Coalition of Canada is now active in every province, with numerous volunteer chapters swiftly forming in communities throughout the country.
Organization occurs at the community level because disenchantment is strongest on issues close to home. For example, the CCBC has been galvanized by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s attempts to force Surrey parents to accept homosexual literature in schools, and by the B.C. College of Teachers’ attack on Trinity Western University’s requirement that students and staff abstain from all forms of extramarital sex.
Mrs. Welsh acknowledges that social conservatives are often intimidated by the well-organized, well-funded, government- sanctioned opposition they face. “Christians have become discouraged and feel they can’t make a difference,” she says. “But Canada’s prosperity is largely due to our Judeo-Christian roots. The problem is that strong traditional family values and strong political leaders with integrity have fallen by the wayside. We want to return to these roots. It is important that we do not lose hope.”
The CCBC hopes to rally Catholics, evangelicals, mainstream protestants and members of other faiths behind a “pro-family agenda” which promotes the sanctity of all human life, the inalienable rights of parents to be the primary authority over their children, the protection of the vulnerable in society, and the necessity of people in leadership positions to foster high standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability.
Respected leadership for the CCBC is not in short supply. Backed by some of the same sponsors who fund the Fraser Institute, the board of directors of the CCBC includes such well-known supporters of conservative values as Peter Schellenberg of Remax Realty, television preacher Bernice Gerard, clergyman Daryl Paragrym, prominent Chinese-Canadian leader Albert Lo, Kari Simpson, president of the Citizens’ Research Institute and former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
Almost 400 CCBC supporters attended an April 24 awards banquet to honour former MP Sharon Hayes for her role in emphasizing family values in Parliament, B.C. Report editor Terry O’Neill for journalistic integrity, and Betty Green, president of Vancouver Right to Life, for community service. The crowd that enthusiastically applauded each award was denominationally and ethnically diverse.
Indeed, Mrs. Welsh notes, the Christian Coalition seeks to be denominationally and politically non-partisan. “We’re not interested in a new party,” she explains. “We’re interested in having an influence on public policy.” She even suggests that the traditional left-to-right political paradigm is being replaced by a spectrum which places family supporters on one end and those who use government to attack families on the other.
TWU political scientist John Redekop cautions that the CCBC’s perspective may prove shortsighted. He points out that political power in B.C. has historically fallen to those parties that managed to capture the centre while preserving a tie to either the left or right wing. To make too strong a pretense at non-partisan politics could end up alienating those who look to the agenda for political answers. “It is healthier for the body politic if these large blocks of opposition are channeled through the Legislature instead of outside it,” he argues.
But Mr. Reed warns Christian conservatives against dissipating political power by too-close affiliation with one party. “The pro-family movement must not become the Republican party [in Canada read Reform Party or the Tories] at prayer,” he writes in Active Faith. “Instead, it must seek to transcend both political parties by reaching out to Roman Catholicism, Jews, African-Americans and blue-collar workers with a positive message that speaks for a cause larger than partisan politics.”
British Columbia Report Magazine Inc. May 11, 1998