In the midst of the Canadian election campaign - the fourth in seven years - the Conservative incumbents have come up with a doozy...hunt the ethnic vote under the guise of an office of global religious freedom.  

Why on earth – God’s earth even – would a politician looking for re-election promise to set up a department of religious tolerance with a global outreach?

Why in particular if that politician is Canada’s Stephen Harper who is not exactly known for goold old Canadian tolerance in any field, religion included, unless it is of his own conservative, anti-gay-marriage-Israeli-biased Christian variety?

It will no doubt have escaped most of the world that Canada is in the throes of its fourth election in seven years. No more Italian instability jokes required.  The tragedy of this expensive exercise in democracy is that the country is destined to again re-elect a minority Conservative government, despite the election being called because said government was found in contempt of Parliament. First time that’s ever happened in Canada, and you’d think a Prime Minister plagued by scandal and found to be misleading Canadians over how he spends their money would be a good reason to change.

Doesn’t look that way. This Prime Minister openly disdains the role of parliament, treating it like some pesky insect which needs to be dealt to – and prorogued when inconvenient - and if current polling has anything to do with it, Canadians don’t seem to care much either.

So why, when on the campaign trail, would a global religious freedom plan seem like a good idea?

The aim of the office – to be neatly sequestered in a broom closet of Foreign Affairs – would be to monitor religious freedom around the world, and promote it as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy because Canada wants to protect vulnerable religious minorities.

Whoa there Mr. Harper.

Are you the same guy who, on the basis of conservative religious group lobbying and personal religious beliefs about abortion, refused to allow abortion to be included in the G8 maternal health policy that Canada so trumpets for Africa?

Are you the same Mr. Harper who has a complete blind spot when it comes to the plight of the Muslim and Christian Palestinians because you never, ever question the intolerance shown to them by the Jewish state of Israel?

Are you the same Mr. Harper who jaunts off to China to make good on an economic relationship without any public mention of China’s treatment of religious minorities? What will you do on the next visit when your religious tolerance office is up and running and the Chinese Baptists who have been rounded up and arrested in China over the last few days are still languishing in the slammer somewhere because they are a religious minority? Perhaps the members of the Shouwang Church, who have been ‘relieved’ of their actual indoor facility and were trying to meet outdoors, will have been successfully re-educated by the time you are next winging your way to China.

And, not finally, but perhaps to drive home the point, where were your concerns Mr. Harper when the American nut-case Terry Jones decided to burn the Qur’an knowing it would spark a violent backlash…or was he evangelical enough to slip under the intolerance radar because he was white, nominally Christian and busy attacking Muslims who of course are not a ‘minority’ religion at all with 1.2 billion of them around the world?

Harper’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenny has helpfully already divided the Muslims into easy paint-by-numbers codes. Those whom Canada’s government considers moderate will be deserving of assistance if required, so long as they disagree with fundamentalist jihadists. Thanks for that Jase, and while you are busy on that moderate vs. jihadi thing, don’t forget how helpful America’s office of religious freedom has been in sorting out things that are done in the name of God around the world.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on the rights of minorities at home or around the world. Human rights groups – many of whom have fallen out of favour with this Conservative administration – do it all the time.

This ‘initiative’ however just smacks of politics, and politics in Canada has a lot to do with courting the so-called ‘ethnic’ vote.

Exhibit A on the ethnic thing was a rather embarrassing e-mail from Harper’s campaign to ethnic groups asking them to send a couple of people in “ethnic costume” to come to a Harper event and sit in the front row! “Great photo op” was the enticement. No kidding. Just to slather on the irony, one of the groups approached was a Muslim group which Harper’s government had recently ‘defunded’. It does not exactly take much of the old grey matter to realise that taking money away from a group for no apparent reason and then asking them to come play dress-up to help you get re-elected is a bit of a non-starter.

So hungry for the ‘ethnic vote’ is Harper that this election he launched his campaign in a riding called Brampton-Springdale which used to be pure old Anglo and now boasts almost half its residents to be immigrants, of which a third are from South Asia. They are extremely politically active, and the Conservatives sense they can woo them from the traditional Liberal camp.

For ‘woo’ read smother.

So far Harper keeps referring to them as ‘ethnics’ which is unfortunate, but so too is the Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff’s painful reminder that Harper’s treatment of these “proud Canadians” is despicable. Successful fawning is sooo hard to do especially when you try sooo hard.

What these people are is vote bait, and they know it, and it is doubtful they will be suckered into voting for a piddly little office of religious tolerance. A budget of $500,000 shows exactly how serious Harper is in his global tolerance outreach!

On current polling he really should have kept that small change in the government’s petty cash – not just because it is petty, but because he’s going to be back in charge in a couple of weeks time with either another minority government, or his dreamed of majority. Then we will see how big ‘tolerance’ is in the Harper lexicon.   

 

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