In an article I wrote in this week's Georgia Straight, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May caused an uproar in the comments section by saying she has seen no evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a Christian.
“I know what a lot of people assert his religious beliefs to be,” she told me earlier this week. “I’ve seen no sign that he is actually a practising Christian.”
May's comment came in response to my question whether or not Harper's refusal to address climate change might be linked to his religious beliefs.
"If he does go to church, I don't think that drives him," May said. "I see no sign of it."
The Green leader is a practising Anglican who attends church services on Sundays.
Journalists have highlighted Harper's Christianity
In 2010, author Marci McDonald examined the influence of the Christian right on the conservative movement in The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.
In the book, McDonald reports that Harper's old Reform Party colleague, Diane Ablonczy, talked him into attending a fundraising gala at Calgary's Centre Street Church, where he took his future wife, Laureen Teskey, on their first date. It's a Christian and Missionary Alliance church.
Later, according to McDonald's book, Harper attended the Bow Valley Christian Church in a northwestern Calgary suburb. And in Ottawa, The Armageddon Factor maintains, Harper has attended East Gate Alliance Church, where former Chilliwack-Hope B.C. Liberal candidate Laurie Throness served as a spiritual counsellor.
McDonald also cited a book by Christian journalist Lloyd Mackey called The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper, which purports to lay out the prime minister's religious beliefs. Harper was never interviewed for the book.
Then last March, self-described Christian social-conservative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk wrote a commentary declaring that Harper seems to take climate-change advice from an evangelical group called the Cornwall Alliance for The Stewardship of Creation.
The Cornwall Alliance denies that human activity is contributing to a warming planet.
May isn't convinced by the books and articles
May is aware of McDonald's book and Nikiforuk's article on Harper's religious beliefs. But this hasn't convinced her that the prime minister is developing climate-change policies because of any religious beliefs.
"The problem is—what if the progressive left is solidifying his base among right-wing Christians for him, so he doesn't have to do it?" May stated. "But that's not at all what's driving him."
The Green leader quickly added that there are "2,000 denominations of Christians in this world". And she emphasized that Christianity doesn't have anything to do with her party's policies.
She went on to say that she started wondering about Harper's religious beliefs when he broke the fixed-election-date law in 2008 to call an election.
"There was no compelling reason other than the fact that he saw he could strike for electoral advantage by moving fast," she noted. "There were no external circumstances that made Stephen Harper go to the Governor General on a Sunday morning."
May said she was in Guelph at the time and wanted to attend church services. But she couldn't because she had to reply to the prime minister's announcement and news conference.
That's when she said to her press secretary: "How's he getting to church?"
May maintained that last year when Harper called another election, it was timed so that the advance poll would fall on Good Friday and the following Saturday.
"Nobody bothered to ask how come Stephen Harper—someone we're told is a fanatical Christian—paid no attention whatsoever to having advance polls on a Good Friday," May scoffed.
The campaign period went over the Easter and Passover holidays in the Christian and Jewish calendars. May pointed out that when Paul Martin called an election in 2005, he made adjustments in the timing to accommodate Christmas and Hanukkah, scheduling the vote for mid-to-late January.
Harper, on the other hand, kept the election period to the minimum time period in 2011. May claimed that this was designed to suppress interest in the campaign and drive down voter turnout. Scheduling it over Easter and Passover (not to mention the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton) served this objective.
Despite May bluntly stating at one point that she has seen no evidence of Harper being a Christian, she said at another moment in the interview that she "wouldn't question whether he's a Christian".
"There's no reason to know one way or the other unless he tells us," May stated.
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