The implosion of the right-wing official opposition Alliance Party under its young evangelical leader Stockwell Day dominates the headlines of most of Canada’s papers and feisty tabloids: Will the “gang of eight” dissident Alliance MPs be hung out to dry? Will Stock get drummed out over some Zionist-sounding remarks that set the tender Canadian sensibilities so on edge? Will that toad Joe Clark, leader of the squishy center-right Progressive Conservatives, capitalize on the Alliance’s disarray and bring his party back from the near-death experience of the last two elections? Will this keep the right split for the next decade, ensuring Liberal dominance? Inquiring minds want to know.
In the rest of Canada, that is. British Columbia is preoccupied with its own drama. After a decade on the outs, the B.C. Liberals are back in power—and then some. Unlike the last election, when the Reform party split the B.C. conservative vote and returned the New Democratic Party (NDP) to office for a second tragic term, Gordon Campbell’s party won a decisive 77 of the 79 ridings on May 16 with 56 percent of the total vote.
As impressive as that victory sounds (imagine a U.S. Congress with 425 Republicans in the House and 96 in the Senate), it’s actually a lowball figure. Acting NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh’s concession of defeat a week early deflated some of the anger voters had for the NDP and suppressed turnout: The Liberal’s commanding early lead in the polls was cut from 70 to 56 percent. Of course, the Vancouver media’s constant hand-wringing over what a clean sweep would mean for the state of democracy in British Columbia didn’t help matters. Down to only two seats (neither including Dosanjh, who was defeated in his riding), the NDP is no longer allowed any government funds or recognized as the official opposition. The common sentiment in the province is “good riddance.” As one reader wrote in a local paper the day after the election, “So we didn’t elect 79 Gordon Campbells after all. Darn.”
Through a strange electoral quirk, B.C. Liberals are, in the designation of Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer, “grits in name only.” They may belong to the same party as Prime Minister Jean Chretien (technically), but they wouldn’t be caught dead acting like him. In fact, on fiscal and privacy issues, Camp bell’s Liberals ran to the right of America’s GOP. Though the B.C. Liberal leader occasionally threw the random bone to his party’s history of public works and refused to propose the kind of free market reforms that the overburdened B.C. health-care system could benefit from, the platform that the Liberals ran on was essentially Thatcherite.
The party promised to slash income tax rates, require a balanced budget, and take a baseball bat to the kneecaps of greedy, bloated, public- and private-sector unions. Government subsidies to business would be discontinued, and many of the more onerous regulations of the NDP era would be scrapped. Even social conservatives can take solace in the fact that the B.C. Liberals want to knock off social engineering and will hold free votes on all matters of conscience. With a 77 to 2 majority, they should be able to make good on all of these promises.
By a weird coincidence that makes you wonder if there isn’t something to the notion of Providence, the next morning the Supreme Court of Canada finally decided that it believed in religious freedom and, therefore, that my degree will be worth the paper it is printed on. In a surprising eight to one ruling, with radical Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé angrily dissenting, the court upheld the B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals’ rulings against the B.C. College of Teachers’ bid to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s education program.
The sticking point was over the part of the university’s community-standards agreement that prohibits, among other things, fornication or homosexual sex, which the BCCT claimed violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The title of a glowing story in the Globe and Mail (widely cited by Trinity administrators) asked, “Students at Trinity Western University have pledged not to smoke, drink, swear, take drugs, fornicate or have gay sex. Are they unfit to teach your children?” The College of Teachers believed that, without a fifth year at a secular university. Trinity grads would be indistinguishable from genuine bigots.
A win for the BCCT would have had a ripple effect: First, the education program would have fallen; then the nursing program; then, Katy bar the door, and good luck getting a job. Students of “the most expensive school in Canada” (about $11,000 U.S. per year) were not enthusiastic about the prospect of being turned into undergraduates of the Bob Jones University of the North.
Nor would the comparison between TWU and BJU be particularly apt, were it not for the fact that a government agency was seeking to have a religious institution de-recognized. Trinity is on the far-left fringe of conservative evangelical schools. The majority of the religious-studies faculty favor female ordination. Non-religious-studies professors do not have to fear reprisal when they spout off on subjects ranging from the femininity of God to the imperialism of missions work. A March 2001 survey for Mars’ Hill, the student newspaper, asked unmarried students questions concerning masturbation, pornography, petting, oral sex, “vaginal/anal” sex, and birth control. Forty-eight percent of men had engaged in oral sex, 85 percent of women believed in birth control, and only 18 percent of men felt guilty for their current non-marital sexual activity.
The paper also published an article by “Thomas,” an anonymous student claiming to be gay. Student responses were either supportive of Thomas’s choice or of the abstract “hate the sin, love the sinner” variety. The dean of undergraduate studies’ response included:
Mars’ Hill and “Thomas” are to be commended for stimulating a thoughtful discussion on a significant issue for both the Christian community and for society-at-large. We believe that all people are God’s images. We must therefore honor them as such. Failure to do so violates our community standards as surely as any other sin. We agree with “Thomas” that a gay Christian is not an oxymoron.
To anyone with actual firsthand knowledge of Trinity Western, it was little wonder that the BCCT couldn’t find a single intolerant Trinity-educated teacher to serve as Exhibit A, but that did not make the case any less serious. If TWU could be called “bigoted” for simply making students sign a statement of belief that ran contrary to p.c. norms, then any religious freedom in Canada would have been dead. Writing about the case in the B.C. Report, publisher Link Byfield distilled the potentially chilling implications: “The Supreme Court will now decide if we may believe things government officials don’t like.”
Even the Canadian arm of the ACLU found that prospect to be a bit much and filed a brief on behalf of Trinity. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Seventh-Day Adventists also intervened on Trinity’s behalf. (Talk about the pride lying down with the flock!) Money flooded into Trinity’s coffers to defray court costs, and opposition leader Stockwell Day let it be known that he was doing some intervening of his own for Trinity, on his knees.
Prayer or sanity won out. The normally gay-rights-happy Supreme Court found that the BCCT’s “expertise does not qualify it to interpret the scope of human rights nor to reconcile competing rights.” The justices decided that “freedom of religion, conscience, and association” outweigh the “right to be free of discrimination based on sexual orientation” and said that, where discrimination does exist, it should be dealt with by disciplining individual teachers, not flogging the institution from whence they came. They ordered the BCCT to pick up some of TWU’s court costs (over $600,000 Canadian).
In a press release, TWU Executive Vice President Guy Saffold declared victory not just for TWU but for “fundamental Canadian values”:
The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that, in our multi-cultural and multi-faith society, people cannot be arbitrarily penalized or barred from participation in public life simply because they hold religious views.
Bully for pluralism, but—as commentators in the National Post and the Globe and Mail pointed out—the decision was a narrow one that drew a line “generally between belief and conduct” and reaffirmed the near parity between religious freedom and “the right not to be discriminated against.” Some gay-rights advocates latched onto a few throwaway lines and called the ruling a minor setback or, more laughably, a qualified success. But it, like the Liberal landslide, was a necessary win.
Without a tyrannical, inept NDP government to cover their flanks, it’s unlikely that members of the BCCT would have dragged British Columbia and the rest of Canada through three court cases to try to rig the system against even nominally pious Christians. Angry British Columbian voters and a sane Supreme Court may have ensured that it will never happen again.