OttawaWatch: Intriguing bedfellows at summit fringe

By Lloyd Mackey

BY ALL accounts, it was understandable that this week's meeting of the "three amigos" at Montebello, an hour east of Ottawa, should draw some flack and protest.

After all, here were three leaders, Stephen Harper of Canada, George W. Bush of the United States and Felipe Calderon of Mexico. And all of them are bona fide conservatives. So naturally, the protests should come from the left. Right?

It is not quite so simple. So today, I will try to examine why and, in the process, trace some of the lines linking several aspects of Christian thought touching on the Canadian and American political scene.

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The first item to get out of the way is the "conservativeness" of the three leaders. True, they all draw from various parts of the conservative stream. But they all, as well, live with the tension of minority status for conservatives in all three countries.

Harper is in a minority parliament whose opposition parties think more left than right.

And, in last year's mid-term elections, the Democratic party edged out Bush's Republicans for control of both the lower and upper houses in the American Congress.

Further, Calderon is rimmed about, in Mexico, by a strong and vocal left wing whose presidential candidate came very close, last year, to edging him out.

So it might be expected that the protesters and critics of the Montebello summit would swing at the three leaders from a leftward direction.

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Not necessarily so.

Take for example, an Ottawa new conference held on Monday just before Bush arrived in town. It was billed by its organizers as a "coalition protest(ing) exclusion from Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) meeting."

The key spokesperson at the news conference was Howard Phillips, chair of the Conservative Caucus, an American group that brings together a fair number of variously strident right wing groups.

Phillips' main point was to suggest that the SPP meeting at Montebello was being held to plan a "North American Union" -- a European Union-type merger of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Now Phillips, who is a past American presidential candidate representing the Constitution party, is known in the United States as a strong evangelical who also holds to Christian Reconstructionist views.

Not to oversimplify -- which is an occupational hazard when trying to explain reconstructionism to a broader audience -- this is a concept which, at its base, advocates the application of Old Testament law in the governing of society. Most political observers would place reconstructionism as well to the right of the Republican party.

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The Canadian participant in the press conference presented an interesting conundrum. She is Connie Fogal, leader of the Canadian Action Party. In real life, she is at the opposite side of the left-right spectrum from Phillips. But she is just as opposed, for different reasons, to any attempt to bring about a political union between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

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Fogal, as it happens, comes from Vancouver, and I watched her from a fairly short distance around 15 years ago, when she led a coalition against casino gambling on the west coast.

She is the widow of Marxist iconoclastic long-time civic politician and lawyer, Harry Rankin, and has made her own mark in Vancouver, in left wing politics.

But in so doing, on the gambling issue, she formed strong coalitions with various evangelical groups -- like the influential Broadway Church (Pentecostal) -- who saw gambling as destructive of society's moral and social fabric.

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She tended to break ranks with the evangelicals when she declared that the root cause of gambling was the banking system, which she viewed as elitist and protective of the rich. Her stance on that issue was well in line with traditional left wing thinking.

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So it was interesting, but not totally unexpected, to note the togetherness -- as temporary as it might be -- of Phillips and Fogal.

And to learn, as well, that Fogal now leads the Canadian Action Party (CAP), founded in 1997 by sometime Liberal and Conservative politico, Paul Hellyer.

Hellyer is now in his 80s and married to Sandra, widow of Bill Bussiere, who coached the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast group for some years. He has written extensively and informatively about world politics. It is hard to put him in either a right wing or left wing box, because he has been both inside and outside both boxes throughout his political life.

His early political history had him as one of Pierre Trudeau's more controversial cabinet ministers: He presided over the integration of the Canadian Forces when he held the defence portfolio. Later, he was in the Progressive Conservatives, but many of his fellow PCs found him too right wing for their thinking. His most recent efforts involved the founding and development of the CAP.

But whatever is said of Hellyer, it has to be noted that he always let his Christian faith help shape his thinking about politics and global issues. And he has always encouraged other politicians, no matter their ideological stripe, to consider Christ's life and teaching in the way they approached matters of state. He did that through his continuing interest in the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, and its annual spin off, the National Prayer Breakfast.

So, Fogal's leading of the party he founded represents something of a delicious irony -- especially in the light of her appearance at this week's press conference critiquing the Montebello meeting.

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I began this OttawaWatch by headlining it with "Intriguing bedfellows."

I could easily enough have used the expression "strange bedfellows" but did not want to imply the pejorative use of the word "strange" -- as opposed to "normal".

The fact is that, within politics, there are many departures from normal -- some of which periodically relate to the application of Christian concepts to political ideals.

Hellyer, Fogal and Phillips all think outside the box. Harper, Bush and Calderon, whatever else they are, have responsibilities in leading large and significant neighboring democracies. They cannot afford to think too far outside the box, especially when trying to delicately balance their own particular political beliefs with the disparate views of a restive populous.

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Just a couple of housekeeping items with respect to last week's OttawaWatch about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada pointed out that World Relief Canada, one of the CFB partners, is an affiliate of the EFC, not, as it was a few years ago, the relief and development arm of same.

And political scientist John Redekop made note that the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was the major founding body of the CFB; that the other partners came into the mix later. My recollection stands, that the Canadian Baptists, the Alliance churches and the Christian Reformed body came in to the partnership earlier rather than later, although not at the beginning, as with the MCC. Redekop notes that as the concept demonstrated success, an increasing number of groups showed interest in being involved. The latest, as reported, are the appropriate Anglican and Catholic bodies.

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Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006). He can be reached at lmackey@canadianchristianity.com.

August 23/2007