Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his wife, Sophie Gregoire, and their children, waves to supporters during the Liberal election night party in Montreal Sept. 20. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

An election that looks a lot like 2019

  • September 22, 2021

OTTAWA -- It was status quo come election night as save for a few minor seat changes, Canada’s new Parliament will mirror the one it replaced.

The results of the Sept. 20 election are almost the exact same as the 2019 election when Justin Trudeau’s majority was reduced to a minority. At The Register’s press time, with some votes still being counted, the Liberals had taken 158 seats, the Conservatives 119, the Bloc Quebecois 34, the NDP 25 and the Greens two.

Despite this, Trudeau said the result is a “clear mandate” for his government going forward.

“What we’ve seen tonight is that millions of Canadians have chosen a progressive plan,” Trudeau said in his victory speech.

“Some have talked about division, but that’s not what I see,” Trudeau said. “I see Canadians, standing together. Together, in your determination to end this pandemic. Together for real climate action, for $10-a-day child care, for homes that are affordable for middle-class families. For our shared journey on the path of reconciliation.”

Missing from Trudeau’s victory speech — and for the most part from the election campaign — was a topic important to Catholics and others of faith: religious freedom. Trudeau is not alone in neglecting this. Each party abdicated their responsibility to protect the rights of all Canadians by buying into the viewpoint that a law — Quebec’s Bill 21 — that bans the wearing of religious symbols in Quebec by public servants is no one’s business except for the province of Quebec.

Quebec’s so-called secularism law Bill 21, which was adopted in 2019, was barely addressed during most of the federal election campaign save for a question asked of Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet by the moderator of the English leaders’ debate on Sept. 9. It caused a firestorm in Quebec when the tone of the question prompted criticism that the question was an anti-Francophone attack on Quebec. Not only did Blanchet and Quebec Premier Francois Legault say this, but Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh echoed that view as well.

If Canada’s federal party leaders won’t speak out against Bill 21 during a federal election, then when will they ever stand up for religious freedom, the former head of Canada’s religious freedom office asked.

“Religious freedom is not just any freedom,” said Andrew Bennett, program director for religious freedom at the faith-based think tank Cardus. “It is one of the fundamental freedoms.”

Bennett, who was Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom when he headed up the short-lived Office of Religious Freedom established by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2013 (it was disbanded by the Liberals in 2016), said all of the parties were afraid of speaking out against the bill because they feared hurting their electoral chances in Quebec.

“It is a matter of principle. If we can’t stand up in defense of religious freedom in this instance, then when will we stand up?”

It comes as no surprise that it will be status quo on abortion and other pro-life issues. In its six years in power, the government has also pushed forward an expansion of medical assistance in dying.

Campaign Life Coalition said it “is disappointed, but not surprised, by the re-election of a minority Liberal government.”

“Trudeau’s Liberals are the party that champions death, and will continue to be a government that silences pro-life views for the foreseeable future,” said Campaign Life president Jeff Gunnarson.

But while the Liberals’ position is in opposition to Church teaching, O’Toole also positioned the Conservatives as a pro-choice party and pledged to support existing abortion rights.

A number of candidates who championed the fight against assisted dying also went down to defeat. B.C. Conservative Tamara Jansen lost her Cloverdale-Langley City seat in a tight race, as did Port Moody-Coquitlam Conservative Nelly Shin.

“Much remains to be seen concerning the consequences of this election,” said Nicole Scheidl, executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life. “But one thing is clear: politics follows culture and it is up to us to influence the culture in a more life-affirming direction.”

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