Liberal MP John McKay tries to woo Catholics

  • April 14, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Liberal MP John McKay is reaching out to Catholic and Christian voters on behalf of the federal party.

He hopes to “redress” the relationship with faith communities — a relationship that has been hurt by Liberal tactics that have at times demonized Christian voters as “scary” or “anti-charter.”

“I am hoping that this initiative will free up some political space for faith leaders to speak into the marketplace of ideas and not feel that they will end up battered and bruised and run out of town on a rail,” said McKay.

In the 2000 election against Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day, the Liberal War Room and various candidates ridiculed Day’s religious beliefs. They tried to paint him and other evangelical Christians as “scary” and having a “hidden agenda.” One Liberal advisor mocked Day’s creationist beliefs by producing a Barney dinosaur during a television panel.

During the same-sex marriage debate, Liberal cabinet ministers painted those who supported traditional marriage as “unCanadian” and “anti-charter.”

McKay, an evangelical Christian who represents Toronto’s Scarborough-Guildwood riding, is among more than two dozen pro-life and pro-family Liberal MPs who consistently vote their conscience on moral issues. On issues such as abortion, euthanasia and marriage, he said people can disagree without being disagreeable.

“I think from time to time the Liberal party has edged into the areas of being disagreeable,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s right or respectful. It doesn’t allow for a fruitful, mature, intelligent dialogue on both differences and commonality.”

McKay said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is not only onside with his initiative, he is “leading the charge.”

However, elements of the Liberal Party continue to brand religious politicians negatively.  The most recent example concerns Science and Technology Minister Gary Goodyear, who was asked about his beliefs on evolution by the Globe and Mail. The article prompted a spate of columns, further articles and blog posts ridiculing Goodyear for his Christian beliefs. Some argued that he should not be in charge of a science portfolio, even though the evangelical Christian said later he did believe in evolution. Some of the attacks came from at least one Liberal blogger connected with the Liberal War Room.

“I think it is perfectly fair to criticize the minister on the basis of his policies,” McKay said. “It is not fair to criticize the minister on the basis of any belief he or she might have.”

He said critics would seem to “prefer a society that is free from religion rather than a society that has freedom of religion.”

When asked about the Liberal War Room and its continued attacks on religious believers, McKay said, “I think you’ve hit on a problem, and that’s a problem that definitely needs to be addressed and we’re moving on that.”

He called demonizing one’s opponents as a “short term” strategy that’s “not necessarily the smartest thing you can do.” In fact, McKay admitted support among Catholics and other Christians began to erode under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and continued under Paul Martin.

McKay, who was one of Martin’s supporters in his leadership bid, said it is ironic that Martin, a Catholic and perhaps the most fervent Christian believer of the last four prime ministers, had to watch substantial numbers of Catholics and other Christian believers leave the party under his watch.

“I think it was probably a source of pain for Paul, something he was not able to redress in his tenure as prime minister and I think he regrets that,” he said.

McKay said he sat in on a number of meetings Martin had with evangelical leaders. He said he wished those discussions had been on the forefront, instead of the “frivolous, idiotic nonsense that passes for dialogue in our newspapers.”

“The Liberal Party is a big tent,” McKay said. “I would hope that all things being equal that evangelical and active Catholics would feel very comfortable in that tent.”

He said religious voters and the Liberals find commonality on issues of poverty, justice, human rights and foreign aid.

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