Senator Nicole Eaton now joins the ranks of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Environment Minister Peter Kent and Energy Minister Joe Oliver in trashing any group or organization that raises a dissenting voice to governmental policies or actions. Only Senator Eaton has now given the issue a new twist, helping the cause of government propaganda she has decided to target the mainline churches in Canada.
Over the last few months we have heard ministers of the crown speaking about, “money laundering” and “radicals serving foreign interests”. Added to that venting of spleen is Senator Eaton’s offering of, “influence peddling”. The Prime Minister in a recent interview with Peter Mansbridge even offered the view that organizations who receive federal funding and publicly dissent from government policy will have their funding reviewed because such dissent is not appropriate. The only common thread in this villification and focused attack is that these groups have the audacity to question the priorities and actions of the government. What a sin!
But now the real fun begins for the government. They will try to silence the environmental groups who stand in the way of their pro petroleum legislation and policies. Then they will move on to attack the churches who should not, as the good senator opines, “take political stands. They should be more about helping people and giving people succour”. I am sure next on the list will be the poverty groups, immigration and refugee support agencies and of course those organizations that support women’s issues. The only thing lacking is legislation to ban such groups from actually existing. Fear not, given another mandate, that legislation will enevitably follow.
So what do we make of this attack on the churches? Although only the United Church was singled out for this particular example of vituperation, you can be assured that the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church and others have often committed the “sin” of critiquing the policies of various governments. I recall in the 1970′s the document “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis” published by the CCCB of the Roman Catholic Church received a dismissive comment from Prime Minister Trudeau who said that the bishops should stick to theology and leave economics to the government. Author’s note: (After all the politicians have always done so well by the economy.”) The Anglican Church has often sent clear messages of concern about policies of various levels of government. They have also publicly condemned the federal government for certain policies and initiatives through resolutions passed at General Synod.
My reading of this is similar to Moderator Mardi Tindal who publicly stated, ” there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.” In fact over the last fifty years the churches have felt both the need and the responsibility to keep governments accountable and they have done this on a totally non-partisan basis. I have seen churches criticize Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic governments across Canada. The point is not that they represent a particular political stripe but that they are the government and therefore responsible to the citizens for the policies and actions that they espouse.
A number of people have taken up the view that there should be a separation between church and state. Maybe this is necessary, it is certainly a debatable point. I hasten to add that the particular doctrine of the separation of church and state is enshrined in the United States system of government, not in the Canadian or British tradition.
What I find offensive is the act of Ministers of the Crown questioning any group or organization’s right to crticize or express dissent. They do so on what basis? To defend the Income Tax Act? To ward off revolution or the attempt to be criminally engaged or perpetrate violence? No, they are engaged in a cynical and reprehensible campaign to further their ideologically based policies by destroying any person or group who has the courage, intelligence and comittment to express a vision of Canada which is just, equitable and compassionate, in other words the opposite agenda to the present government’s.
Mercifully Christians in Canada follow the gospel of Jesus Christ not the gospel of Stephen Harper. I don’t speak for any church, Anglican or otherwise, but I can enunciate clearly what many Christians feel when the government starts name-calling, accusing, and using innuendo to besmirch the good names of people and groups who are unwilling to follow the dictates of this authoritarian regime. They are offended and find such behaviour extremely repugnant.
If the government truly believed in democracy, and the last few months have decidedly shown otherwise, they would not only allow discontent and dissent but ensure that other views are afforded opportunity to be expressed. Democracy requires all sides to be heard for for the initiation of good public policy and so that the best legislative decisions are able to be made. After all, who really has the upper hand in this struggle; the government or a host of ill funded non profit agencies and organizations that depend on volunteers and the good will of their supporters? If anything is clear from these governmental attacks, it is that the government is afraid of its own citizens and intends to crush any expression of dissent.
If the Harperites continue to initiate the same unjust and inhumane policies that we have seen of late we will not only oppose them, we will redouble our efforts and ensure that every mis-step, every attack, every policy and regulation that hurts our citizens and that sells out the rights of Canadians is witnessed to and that they, the government, are made accountable. They believe that power resides in the government. This is wrong and dangerous thinking in a democracy. The government only has as much power as the citizens of Canada are willing to allow them to use.
My friends remember, time is on our side, not theirs.