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Globeandmail.com

ANALYSIS
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Religious beliefs are fair game
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By SHAWN McCARTHY
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Globe and Mail Update
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Thursday, November 16 – Online Edition, Posted at 10:15 PM EST


Ottawa — Stockwell Day doesn't want to talk about his religious views — at least not publicly during an election campaign.

The Canadian Alliance Leader was visibly angry this week when a reporter asked him to comment on a CBC Television documentary that said he believed in creationism, a strictly literal, biblical account of creation that rejects the theory of evolution.

Like former Progressive Conservative leader Kim Campbell, who didn't think an election campaign was a good time to debate social policy, Mr. Day clearly figures a dispassionate debate on the Book of Genesis is neither likely nor desirable in the heat of an election campaign.

"I don't think the particular beliefs of an individual belong in public policy any more than asking a Roman Catholic what their belief is related to the Virgin Mary," he said.

Who can blame him? With the Liberals slinging mud like a kid in a puddle, the Alliance Leader has every reason to fear that his political opponents will try to smear him as some sort of religious fanatic who would impose his Bible-based moral principles on Canadians at large.

True to form, the Liberals Thursday resorted to mockery, which may be even worse than the scare tactics.

Playing off the CBC report which claimed Mr. Day believes man co-existed with dinosaurs, Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella quipped: "I want to remind Stockwell Day that The Flintstones was not a documentary."

But the way for Mr. Day to answer those criticisms is not to retreat into silence, or to suggest that people have no right to ask about the religious beliefs of a man who would be prime minister.

The former lay pastor is a newcomer to federal politics and Canadians want to know who he is, what he believes, and how those beliefs will influence his political agenda.

He won the Alliance leadership with the strong support of evangelical Christians from across the country, who still help pack the halls at his election rallies. Surely, they expect Mr. Day to promote their moral and political agenda in Ottawa in areas such as abortion, gay rights and support for private religious schools.

On a Vancouver talk-radio show Thursday, the Alliance Leader said he would support the teaching of biblical creationism in the public schools as an alternative explanation to evolutionary theory about the origin of the world and humankind.

Mr. Day doesn't help himself with his two-tier campaign in which he sends clear signals of support to the evangelical community while insisting his religion is not an issue.

The Alliance Leader suggests the media is being unfair because it doesn't ask Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien or Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark about some of the tenets of their Roman Catholic faith.

However, Mr. Chrétien has made it pretty clear to Canadians he does not let his Catholicism drive his public policy agenda. He has been harshly criticized by Catholic bishops for his pro-choice stand on abortion and resisted a furious lobby from the Catholic Church when he agreed to Quebec's request to amend the Constitution to allow the province to reconfigure its school systems along language, rather than sectarian, lines.

Mr. Day's record on that score is less clear. He has insisted that he would not impose his Christian views over the will of the majority.

"Being a Christian in politics is very different from trying to use state influence to impose a religious agenda," he argued in a Globe and Mail op-ed piece after winning the Alliance leadership last summer.

He held up as a model his record in the Alberta Legislature.

"I may have argued strongly for what I believe to be the will of my constituents and the common good of the community but, at the end of the day, I have always respected the democratic process, even when my side of the debate has not prevailed."

That may be. But that does not mean he would not work assiduously as opposition leader or prime minister to promote and further a Christian agenda as he has in Alberta. And, for better or worse, Canadians might want to consider that fact, along with a host of other issues, when deciding who they will support.


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