The brief and controversial era of Stockwell Day, a former lay Pentecostal minister, is over for the Canadian Alliance, the leading opposition party.
Stephen Harper, a Christian & Missionary Alliance church member, took office in May as the opposition leader in Parliament after soundly defeating Day in a bitter contest for the party leadership.
"You have just voted to move our party forward into the future," Harper, well known as a fiscal conservative, told cheering supporters at a spring rally in Calgary.
That future will almost certainly include a change in the party's approach to divisive moral issues. Canadian Alliance enjoys its strongest support among evangelicals in Canada's more conservative west.
Day endured intense public criticism last year for his evangelical beliefs and his efforts to have the party become more conservative on social issues. Under pressure from party members, Day resigned last December, barely a year after taking the reins (CT, Sept. 3, 2001, p. 33).
Harper, 42, says he will try to change the way Parliament works. Party-line votes dominate Canadian parliamentary procedure. Harper wants to promote the increased use of free votes in the House of Commons. In a free vote, individual lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, vote according to their conviction or their constituents' views, not by party.
Harper wants to make members of Parliament more accountable to voters through recalls or referenda.
On moral issues, Harper resists "litmus tests." As a Reform Party member in 1994, for example, Harper opposed his party's resolution against gay marriage. Harper opposes same-sex marriage but says a political party should permit its members greater freedom. "People have to be able to belong to political parties regardless of their views on [moral] issues."
"I'm in politics for the long haul," Harper said in an interview with CT. "Too many people expect victory at the next election. I want to build a party that can govern, not make a big show. The important thing is to gradually build trust through credible policies and honesty."
Day and Harper clashed repeatedly during the Canadian Alliance leadership campaign. Harper accused Day of seeking votes from churches, prolife Christians, and other special interests. Day then blasted Harper's "hypocrisy" for accepting the support of the Calgary-based Concerned Christian Coalition. The group said it would contact 4,000 churches on Harper's behalf.
Harper chided Day in the news media, saying, "This race is not about religion. It's about choosing a leader for this party, which is going to have a range of religious views in it."
Tom Flanagan, a political adviser to Harper, told Christianity Today, "Harper is a political strategist who has a real chance of influencing government policy and eventually becoming prime minister."
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Related Christianity Today articles include:
Evangelical Bungles Party Leadership, ResignsStockwell Day's Canadian Alliance party woes seen as leadership issue, not religious. (September 3, 2001)
A Velvet OppressionConservative Christians are not faring well in Canada's brave new secular society. (April 3, 2001)
Editorial: Bigotry Up NorthAn evangelical's faith generated shrill criticism in a nation known for its tolerance. (January 2, 2001)
Liberals Sweep Canadian ElectionsAfter a swift campaign of personal attacks, Canada settles in for a long winter of discontent. (Nov. 28, 2000)
Pentecostal Shakes up Canadian PoliticsStockwell Day, leader of Canadian Alliance, wins House of Commons seat. (Sept. 9, 2000)
Confronting Canada's Secular Slide (July 19, 1994)
Learn more about religion in Canada from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
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