While nobody ever thought they’d be a serious contender for government, the People’s Party of Canada made a definite impression in the recent election. They came nowhere close to winning a seat but damaged Erin O’Toole’s chances, and tripled their support from 2019, when they averaged a mere 1.6% of the vote. “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to carry on this fight in Parliament” said leader Maxime Bernier, “but we will continue this battle to unite Canadians under the freedom umbrella.”
Which is where conservative Christianity enters the scene. Although we don’t have precise numbers, the support Bernier enjoyed among fundamentalist and literalist Christians seems to have been deeply significant. Bernier courted them, prayed with them, appeared in a much-viewed video in which he was blessed and proclaimed by a well-known pastor.
Yet here is a party that wants to lift many COVID-19 public health restrictions, expand the oil and gas industry, end official multiculturalism, and drastically reduce immigration levels. At a time of increased racism, and a murderous attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, the PPC has said it would repeal the official Multiculturalism Act. Bernier even denied that the discovery of thousands of graves of Indigenous children proved Canada’s involvement in an attempted cultural genocide.
How can such ideas appeal to people who claim to follow Jesus? This was a man who was known as the Prince of Peace, who commanded that we welcome strangers and newcomers, treat every person as a child of God and made in absolute equality, and who repeatedly preached the importance of community, sharing, giving, and empathy. The Bible demands that we care for the planet as stewards, not owners, and that we live not as individuals with- out responsibility but in direct solidarity with those around us.
The reasons for the conservative Christian support for Bernier are not unique to Canada. We’ve seen the same with Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and in many other countries. The phenomenon is dangerous for the body politic, and tragic for organized Christianity. It makes the faith appear to be reactionary and insular when it’s in fact—or should be—the direct opposite. People often embrace right-wing ideas when they’re challenged and frightened of change, but conservative populism makes the world subjectively smaller.
So, what of the future? While Bernier claims that issues such as abortion and gender identity aren’t on his party platform, and was always regarded as more socially liberal, he’s attracted a fierce anti-abortion element into his ranks. That clash between Christian social conservatives on the one hand and anti-state activists on the other may have survived the election but will surely expose the artificiality of the People’s Party in the months to come.
The future of the conservative Christian place in the Bernier project will depend to a large extent on whether Erin O’Toole remains leader of the Tories. He’s declared himself to be pro-choice and supports a ban on conversion therapy, even though most of his parliamentary caucus disagrees. If, however, he should be removed and replaced by a more conservative alternative–new MP Leslyn Lewis comes to mind–we could see an exodus of evangelical support from the People’s Party.
Until and unless all of this, a fringe party that empowers some of the least noble aspects of Canadian society will continue to attract those Christians who see the first-century Jewish son of a carpenter not as someone who called for the world to be turned upside down in a revolution of love and justice, but as someone who called us all to revere 1950s suburbia. If that’s not worrying, I don’t know what is.
Michael’s latest book, The Rebel Christ, was published in October.