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Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Photo by Michael Swan

Editorial: A test of tolerance

  • September 19, 2019

In some respects, the Oct. 21 federal election will be a referendum on tolerance.

That word, tolerance, is a favourite among politicians, indeed among many Canadians. Our tolerance for the cultural, racial, sexual and linguistic diversity of Canada, we crow, is what sets us apart from — and even above — most other nations. 

But that boast is being tested when it comes to a waning tolerance of religion or, more specifically, public expressions of principles based on religious beliefs. Hopefully, during the election campaign voters won’t be herded by politicians into failing that test.

The early indications are not encouraging. 

Even before the campaign officially began, a prominent member of cabinet appeared to be mocking the faith of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer by dredging up a 14-year-old speech in which Scheer, a Catholic, defended traditional marriage. The taunts challenged Scheer to start marching in Pride parades and to reverse his opposition to same-sex marriage. They came from a seasoned politician who has often received credit for promoting a tolerant society but now, assumedly for political gain, climbed onto a soapbox of intolerance to belittle an opponent because of his faith-based beliefs.

The minister didn’t mention religion, but Scheer’s faith is well known so the jeers were widely construed as mockery of Catholic teaching that rejects many of the so-called progressive values being enshrined increasingly in Canadian law, particularly on life and family issues.

“Scratch the criticism slightly and it exposes a far more distressing concern that anti-Catholicism is alive and well in Canada,” the president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, Phil Horgan, said of the remarks.

If Canada is to become a fully tolerant society, people of faith must be free to express their beliefs and live their faith publicly and without derision. A truly tolerant society has open arms and no cold shoulders. It tolerates not only a plurality of views, but accommodates them respectfully.

That message of tolerance and inclusion should be consistent among politicians and civic leaders at all times, but particularly during election campaigns when comments are more widely circulated and more closely scrutinized. A mature society, a tolerant one, must be able to conduct civil debates about such contentious moral issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, gender identity and other controversial topics without sinking into personal attacks or religious derision, direct or implied.

In that sense the election campaign will demonstrate if Canada truly is a tolerant society. Voters should demand that candidates stop trying to score partisan political points with personal attacks of any type. And that includes stopping immediately the unseemly practice of taunting those whose political values are founded on sincere religious beliefs.

That is how a truly tolerant society acts.

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