Doug Ford’s turfing of his controversial candidate, Tanya Granic Allen, is probably good news for Ontario’s conservatives. The PC leader will no longer need to defend this rogue candidate whose controversial statements on everything from sex education to the Muslim faith have often gone beyond the pale.
It is also good news for those of us who see a legitimate role for people of faith in our political debates. Granic Allen so fulfilled every negative stereotype the secular world holds about religious people that she became a caricature of what many believe a person of faith represents.
She gave a bad name to the idea of mixing faith and politics.
The story of Granic Allen is fairly straightforward: A devout Roman Catholic, she was an activist for a variety of social conservative causes with strong religious ties, including leading the opposition against the Kathleen Wynne government’s changes to the sex-ed curriculum. Granic Allen entered the limelight earlier this year when she threw her hat in the ring to replace Patrick Brown as leader of the Ontario PCs.
I have a confession to make. I initially enjoyed watching Granic Allen in leadership debates. While Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney tried to out-bland each other, and Doug Ford struggled with the basics of provincial policy, she was the only one who spoke with some passion and energy. And although I didn’t agree with much of what she said, at least she brought some life to a pretty dull event.
My views changed rather quickly as I learned of the extreme nature of her positions including her attacks on the LGBTQ community and Muslims. What was more troubling, however, was the way many saw her as a typical “religious” person – someone who is self-righteous; sex-obsessed; homophobic; intolerant and humourless; and intent on ramming their views down everyone’s throat before condemning them to hell.
Yes, these people exist. But they only represent a small portion of Canadians who want to bring their faith convictions to public debate. On the other side are countless individuals who, informed by their faith, have spoken out for the poor and marginalized, the environment, and the rights of Indigenous peoples. They have called our elected leaders to account and made us all a bit uncomfortable by demanding that we recognize our collective responsibility for each other, even when it requires us to do more than the minimum.
Canada’s faith communities have a proud record of activism. A recent collection of essays, Journeys to Justice: Reflections on Canadian Christian Activism, tells the story well. Edited by Joe Gunn, a long-time Canadian ecumenical leader and the current executive director of the Ottawa-based advocacy group Citizens for Public Justice, it contains essays on the contribution made by Canada’s faith communities in a wide range of areas. These include: refugee policy; the environment; women’s rights; economic justice; the fight against apartheid; combatting violence against women; and cancelling the debts of Global South countries. It was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that made international news in the early 1980s with their statement calling on the Pierre Trudeau government to put people ahead of profits.
The book acknowledges that some of the momentum has been lost. However, it still sees a major role for faith-based activism in our world of rapid change where so many seem to be looking for an anchor. The voices of the faithful have an important role in helping a society obsessed with material goods and personal pleasure, and in which individual liberty often replaces the idea of the common good.
At Waterloo Lutheran Seminary’s Centre for Public Ethics, where I serve as director, we have created resources and sponsored a series of events to help prepare faith communities for involvement in the upcoming provincial election. The result has been an outpouring of interest from many people of faith. They want to ensure important issues like poverty; Indigenous reconciliation; the rights of persons with disabilities; palliative care; racism and action against climate change get the attention they deserve during the election campaign. They want to rally their faith communities and ensure that their voices get heard.
Few of them seem to be focused on Granic Allen’s hot-button issues.
Does that mean that social conservatives should not contribute to the cut-and-thrust of election campaigns? Of course not, they have every right to participate. And even if you don’t agree with their particular policy prescriptions, they are an important reminder that society has not yet found perfection when it comes to issues of human sexuality or that many Canadians are unhappy that our abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world.
But faith and politics in Canada cannot begin and end with Tanya Granic Allen. Canada’s faith communities have so much more to offer than the caricature that she represents. Hopefully her departure creates space for other voices.
John Milloy is a former MPP and Ontario Liberal cabinet minister currently serving as the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics and assistant professor of public ethics at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, and the inaugural practitioner in residence in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science Department. He is also a lecturer in the University of Waterloo’s Master of Public Service Program. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @John_Milloy.