OTTAWA, ON May 4, 2011 – On May 2, Canadians elected a new Parliament composed of 167 Conservative MPs, 102 from the New Democrat Party, 34 Liberal, four Bloc Quebecois and one Green. The massive nature of the upset to the Liberal dominance of almost a century, and the historic inroads of the NDP in Quebec at the expense of the BQ, have been (and will be) commented upon extensively.
Many analysts believe the votes of religiously-motivated electors played a key role. A recent Angus Reid poll on the question, which became one of the most widely-quoted in the last weeks of the campaign, found what many already suspected: The votes of practicing Catholics, and Christians active in other denominations, are more likely to go to the Conservatives than was the case several decades ago. (Read poll results here.)
Religious belief and practice have always played a role in how people vote; the change may simply be the issues and realities put before us. To take just one example, if previous generations had encountered re-definition of marriage as an election issue and party responses had been like today’s, perhaps allegiances would have changed then. The social gospel movement helped create the forerunner to the NDP because the responses of the then-existing parties were judged inadequate to meet the social problems of the 1920s and 30s. However, despite this history, we can expect this poll to be used by anti-religious people hyper-sensitive to any sign of Christian influence on the new (or indeed any) government.
In any event, what has changed before can change again. As Father Raymond De Souza noted in a recent column, linked below, any party that takes the vote of one group or another for granted runs a real risk of losing it. League members did their best to elect the candidates most likely to deliver (or perhaps least likely to offend) on faith-based issues, but as with any election result it will take time to see how the issues play out and get addressed in practice.
Also of concern, neither the issues, nor the pre-election polls and campaign advertising, changed the fact that a significant portion of the population does not vote at all. Monday’s turnout of 61 per cent is only about two per cent higher than the historic low recorded in 2008. The League will continue to advocate in support of respect for life and religious freedom with this Parliament, as it has with others in the past.
Catholic vote makes difference in Conservative victory, Register, May 3
Reclaiming the religious vote, Father Raymond De Souza, National Post, May 3
Canadian voters polarizing over Christianity, like in U.S., Vancouver Sun, April 27
Votes from heaven: Politicos ignore religion at their peril, Winnipeg Free Press, April 23