The Church of Stephen Harper - 2006-02-20
Harper is not the first Conservative leader to find himself with an evangelical segment in his caucus. In the early 1970s, Robert Stanfield's party absorbed the remainders of Social Credit, along with its evangelical elements. That influence remained through to the Mulroney era and became known as the "God Squad" (it included MPs like Jake Epp and John Reimer). The evangelical block in the old party "was just about as strong as it is in the new Conservative party," says Mackey.
Canadians have long been squeamish about religion in politics, dating back to early conflicts between the French and English. "Because religion has been very divisive and because of the dominance of a Catholic Quebec, what politicians quickly learned is that burying religion was probably a good idea," says David Marshall, the head of the history department at the University of Calgary. Yet religion has never been far removed from the political sphere, with references to God in the Constitution and the national anthem, points out Bill Blaikie, a United Church minister and NDP MP. Many leaders on the political left have worn their faith on their sleeve, without drawing any attention, says Blaikie. Harper himself echoes those sentiments. "The separation of church and state is an American constitutional doctrine," he wrote in Faith Today magazine last month. "It does not mean that faith has no place in public life or the public square."