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The Religion Factor in Canada’s Environmental Politics


Canadian politics has traditionally avoided the religion factor. By common agreement, belief has been deemed a private matter, a facet of a candidate’s qualifications for election that is not relevant to his or her ability to represent voters in parliament or to function as prime minister. The media has generally been respectful of this sensitivity and has averted coverage and commentary that touches on personal religious beliefs. This may be changing.

Most environmentalists and scientists, together with a growing number of Canadians and others, are often bewildered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s aversion to address or even to mention the spectre of global climate change. This profoundly important environmental issue is prominent in many political discussion in many countries of the world, an integral part of their budgets, economic plans and energy policies. All but a fringe minority now accept the essential science explaining climate change and are taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not so in Canada.

This lapse has focused attention on Prime Minister Harper, particularly because he is such a powerful and skillful political leader who meticulously manages, controls and directs much of Canada’s domestic and foreign policy — this nation’s governance is now the image of Stephen Harper. His response to environmental issues has been perplexing, provocative and worrisome. Green Party MP Elizabeth May outlines these concerns in her response to the government’s 2012 budget, the devious C-38 omnibus bill that devotes 170 of 425 pages to repealing, amending or otherwise weakening existing environmental regulations, while also withdrawing financial support from key scientific research that is environment related (Island Tides, May 17/12).

A mere sample is staggering: no funding for the Polar Environment Arctic Research Laboratory, the definitive and authoritative monitor of northern climate change; withdrawal of financial support for the Kluane Research Station, a 50-year project studying high-latitude ecological changes; the slashing of almost all marine pollution monitoring; and dissolution of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, the only institution that attempts to find sustainable business options that are satisfactory to both industry and environmentalists. Despite arguing austerity, the government found an additional $8 million of scarce money for Revenue Canada to more closely monitor environmental charities to be certain excessive funds are not being used for “political” advocacy. “Nearly half of the budget implementation bill,” writes May, “is directed at re-writing Canada’s foundational environmental laws.” This includes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Decisions once based on public processes guided by science now move to ministerial discretion.

The Prime Minister’s seemingly anti-environment and anti-science agenda has prompted Andrew Nikiforuk, a prominent Canadian journalist, to search for the root cause of this behaviour. In his quest for an explanation, Nikiforuk has broken from convention, raised the sensitive religion issue, and written an opinion piece in (Mar. 26/12) titled, “Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission”, subtitled, “Signs mount that Canada’s government is beholden to a religious agenda averse to science and rational debate.”

Nikiforuk had obviously pondered the Prime Minister’s political behaviour, trying to explain why the leader of a modern, progressive and technologically sophisticated country would muzzle public comment by government-funded climate scientists, make no serious effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, block or stall international agreements on greenhouse gas reductions, provoke the ire of every environmentally conscientious country on the planet, officially withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, promote rampant fossil-fuel development, and assiduously avoid any mention or discussion of climate change anywhere in his tightly controlled government. To an inquisitive journalist, this behaviour is an anachronistic idiosyncrasy that invites exploration.

Because the Prime Minister will not publicly discuss his religious views, Nikiforuk’s conclusions are conjectural. But the Prime Minister is known to belong to an Alberta fundamentalist Protestant church that espouses “evangelical climate skepticism”. Nikiforuk contends that this church holds seven tenets which “not only explain startling developments in Canada but should raise the hair on the neck of every thinking citizen regardless of their faith: 1. Disdain for the environmental movement, 2. Distrust of mainstream science in general, 3. Distrust of the mainstream media, 4. Loyalty to the party, 5. Libertarian economics as God’s will (God is opposed to government regulation or taxation), 6. Misunderstanding of divine sovereignty (God won’t allow us to ruin creation), 7. Unreconstructed Dominion theology (God calls on humans to subdue and rule creation).”

These are the tenets, Nikiforuk suggests, that could now be directing Canadian policy through the singular authority of the Prime Minister. “Any Canadian listening to the news these days,” he writes, “might well conclude that the Republican extremists or some associated evangelical group has occupied Ottawa. And they’d be righter than Job, I believe.”

Because of the guarded privacy of the Prime Minister, Nikiforuk’s evidence is only circumstantial — without any direct links, his operative word is “believe”. But this belief is strong enough to lead him into territory traditional journalism has not explored, and to open an avenue of consideration that Canadians have been too polite, or perhaps too naive, to explore. In doing so, he has robbed our politics of an element of innocence and added a complicating new dimension to our environmental challenges.


About Ray Grigg

Ray Grigg is in his ninth year as a weekly environmental columnist for the Campbell River Courier-Islander on BC's Vancouver Island. Before this column, titled Shades of Green - now appearing on as well - Ray wrote a bi-weekly environmental column for five years. He is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. His academic background is in English literature, psychology, cultural history, and philosophy. He has travelled to some 45 countries around the globe.

6 thoughts on “The Religion Factor in Canada’s Environmental Politics

  1. I’ll make you a deal…. I won’t diss “All” Christians if you agree to get your church to make a public statement regarding Harper’s loonie tunes christian agenda. Otherwise you are as guilty as he is. Christianity is at the root causes of most of the world’s problems and in case you haven’t noticed Islam is at the root of the rest. “Religion really does Poison Everything”

  2. Please read ‘The Armageddon Factor’ by Marci McDonald, a highly respected Canadian journalist who meticulously documents the right wing evangelical rise and agenda in
    Canada. We need to get rid of this Harper Government now before they destroy the secular Canada we love that puts humanity first.

  3. I happen to agree with tenet 3, the mainstream corporate media is controlled by the same who control the government basically. The concentration of media ownership is not good. The corporate media will tell us what we need to know only if it protects their financial interests.

    Wingnut, just like the mainstream corporate medias desire to control you through what they tell you, your religion is controlling you by telling you what to believe.

    Only sheep need shepherds.

    Obviously I can’t convince you though, I’m merely a hopeless immoral godless heathen, and your beliefs are deeply ingrained.

  4. “The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved — Judaism, Christianity, Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal — God is the Omnipotent Father — hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not for just one tribe but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god’s purpose.”

    –Gore Vidal, Harvard University, April 20, 1992

  5. Please don’t diss Christians. There are plenty of Christian/Religious environmentalist groups around who are doing a lot of good. Just because a few “bad apples” (like Harper) give our religion a bad name, does not mean we are all like that. It is greed, not being Christian, that is the brunt of the problem (yes, religious people can be greedy, too. We are not perfect beings.)
    There are a lot of secular climate change deniers around, too. There is no hope for those that do not believe in God, in any case. Change will not happen in a secular society. Period. Better get used to that fact, or change!

    Unless we heed this warning, it will only get worse:
    “What is key for a true healthy society is not green legislation but the adherence to the moral laws that have been instilled into the creation by Almighty God”
    The only real “wingnuts” around are those who think that they can diss God, and his believers, and get away with it. Without God, we do not have a prayer of a chance…

  6. congrats on your revelation. how did you miss the fact that half his candidates in the ’06 election were promise keepers (founded by falwell with moonie money) and/or members of (us evangelical kingpin, longtime friend to blackwater’s erik prince and associate of kkk’er david duke) james dobson’s ‘focus on the family’?
    this is one reason why he’s the most controlling pm in canada’s history, because so many in his party are evangelical wingnuts who, left to their own devises, would repeatedly provide news media with the stupidest quotes imaginable

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