Review: The Armageddon Factor, by Marci McDonald

May 17, 2010

Every columnist has an opinion about Marci McDonald’s new book, but as she quipped in a CTV interview last Thursday, “They haven’t read it.”  It took me a couple of days to get through what amounts to a history of the evangelical movement as a political force in Canada. It’s a very good book, well researched and believable.   McDonald has capably defined that elusive group journalists refer to as “the Conservative base.”  I’ll run the second half of the review next week.

The legal separation of church and state is an American concept.  Because our country was not populated by religious refugees in the manner of the Thirteen Colonies, we have never had the equivalent of the First and Fourteenth Amendments in Canada.  In the United States for members of the religious right to assert their power over government they have to bypass the constitution, but there is no such roadblock in Canada.

In fact, the orderly history of Canada relies upon a strong tradition of the church exerting a benign influence over government.  Schools, universities, and hospitals were started by churches until well into the twentieth century.

In Quebec the Catholic Church controlled the province until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s.  Over 2 million acres of clergy reserves in Ontario left the Anglican Church an economic power of great influence.

On the prairies the desperation of the Depression gave rise to the J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas radio ministries and demands for compassionate treatment from government.  The Social Gospel movement became the CCF and later the NDP.  Canadians have this populist movement to thank for Canada’s current system of medicare.

Bible Bill Aberhart in Alberta founded the Social Credit, a right wing populist group.  After Aberhart’s death Ernest Manning took over, hosting the Back to the Bible Hour while serving as Alberta Premier for a generation.  His son Preston founded the Reform Party which later morphed into the Canadian Alliance and later the Conservative Party of Canada.

But when the bill passed in June of 2005, same-sex marriage legislation in Canada came as a galvanizing defeat to social conservatives.  In its aftermath many threads of the religious right coalesced around the Conservative Party, determined never to allow a defeat like this again.  The strident theo-conservatives from the United States moved north, responding to invitations from ambitious individuals in Canada seeking the benefit of their organizational expertise and image.

Ralph Reed is widely credited with engineering George W. Bush’s White House victories.  Rev. Charles McVetey of Canada Christian College invited him to Canada and the American Republican influence gave new intensity to the organized activities of Christian evangelicals.

As Reed told his audience in Toronto, “Democracy is often a game played by a motivated few:  in the nitty gritty of grass roots organizing, it can take only a handful of citizens to commandeer a nomination contest.”  Several prominent members of the Conservative Party were in the audience.

Preston Manning reinvented himself after losing the helm of the Canadian Alliance.  Although he remained loyal to the party and to those who had supplanted him, embodying the Christian tradition of his upbringing, he apparently realized that his straightforward approach to politics would no longer work, and so he opted for a much more covert approach to leadership. His Manning Centre for Building Democracy now trains Conservative party operatives using the twin metaphors of the serpent and the dove.

McDonald likens the new Conservative legislative strategy Manning devised to that of the anti-slavery activist M.P. William Wilberforce in the 2006 film Amazing Grace.

Frustrated for two decades in his efforts to end the British slave trade, during a war with France he engineered a “patriotic” bill, the Foreign Slave Trade Act, which forbade trade with the French.  It slipped through the British Parliament before the pro-slavery elements twigged to its real intent:  by barring British slave merchants from selling their human cargo to French plantation owners in the United States, they had effectively outlawed two thirds of the slave trade and destroyed its economic viability.

Apparently inspired by the film, Preston Manning repeatedly showed clips from it in his training sessions and urged evangelical activists to study Wilberforce’s strategy “backward and forward,” counseling them to employ both his patience and his subterfuge.

“If Harper’s sly circumvention of Parliament (on the issue of grants for Canadian films) bore an amazing resemblance to that of Amazing Grace — right down to undercutting the commercial viability of the Canadian film industry — it was no accident.”

End of Part 1
Link to Part 2


One Response to “Review: The Armageddon Factor, by Marci McDonald”

  1. […] the other half of this article, cut and paste: Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)New Book Review at BlogcriticsMy Published Review […]

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