2011 Ontario Election: Religion in the Riding of Parkdale Highpark
Aug 27, 2011

2011 Ontario Election: Religion in the Riding of Parkdale Highpark

Religion usually isn't a dominant issue in Canadian politics. While there is certainly a general correlation with higher levels of Christian religiosity among conservatives, prominent debates over religion as the key polarizing issue is quite rare. During the debates in the Parkdale-Highpark riding in Ontario for the 2011 Federal Election, for instance, there was absolutely no mention of religion. However, in the coming 2011 Ontario Election, religion has the potential to be a key issue in the Parkdale-Highpark riding simply because of the makeup and backgrounds of the candidates.

Most prominently is NDP Incumbent Cheri DiNovo, whose past experiences have been as a doctorate in Theology, an Evangelical author and a former Reverend at a Toronto United Church. In contrast, the Green Party Candidate, Justin Trottier, is in his normal life a leading member of Canada's secular community leading such secular/humanist organizations as the Center for Inquiry Canada. The Liberal candidate, Cortney Pasternak, while primarily a journalist, is also an editor for the Ontario Humanist Society's magazine which regularly discusses religion from a secular humanist perspective. Safe it to say that these represent diametrically opposed viewpoints on the truth and value of religion in our society. While other issues (such as energy and environment) may well dominant the rest of the election, this particular riding has the role of religion as an important campaign issue.

 The following is the religious data, from StatsCan, for the Parkdale-Highpark riding, Ontario, and Canada as a whole. As you can see, the riding is, like much of Ontario and Canada, overwhelmingly some variant of Christian with non-affiliated the next dominant category. Parkdale-Highpark is about the same percentage of Catholics as Ontario as a whole (arround 36%) but somewhat less Protestants and somewhat more non-affiliated than Ontario with just under a quarter. So the riding is certainly Christian enough to desire a Christian leader, although it is a bit surprising that it comes from a United Church, and given the higher levels of non-affiliated it is also not surprising that two secular candidates could rise up. Finally, it should be noted that the emergence of these two candidates with secular roots may be reactive in response to the fact that the incumbent is an Evangelical Reverend.
Total by selected religions (20% sample data) Refers to specific religious denominations, groups or bodies, as well as to sects, cults, or other religiously defined communities or systems of belief.

Catholic Includes Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Polish National Catholic Church, Old Catholic.
Christian Orthodox
Christian n.i.e. Includes mostly answers of 'Christian', not otherwise stated.
Eastern religions Includes Baha'i, Eckankar, Jains, Shinto, Taoist, Zoroastrian and Eastern religions, not identified elsewhere.
Other religions Includes Aboriginal spirituality, Pagan, Wicca, Unity - New Thought - Pantheist, Scientology, Rastafarian, New Age, Gnostic, Satanist, etc.
No religious affiliation Includes Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, and No religion, and other responses, such as Darwinism, etc.

As an atheist myself, regular readers of this blog will know I am often very critical of religion - both in the veracity of its metaphysical and moral claims as for its effect on society. Let me thus be very clear to say that after spending some time reading about Cheri DiNovo's religious views that I would consider myself a strong ally of many of her positions. From her doctoral thesis (Queer Theology, Queer Evangelism) to her book (Qu(e)erying Evangelism), to her many interviews and public statements, Cheri DiNovo has been a stalwart champion on including the homosexual community into the church. She performed North America's first gay marriage. Further, she is supportive of an inclusive, bilateral relationship with transsexuals, drug users, poor people and any others who have been marginalized by establishment religion - of which she is often critical. Such an approach to religious inclusiveness is rare, should be commended in the strongest of possible terms, and should more of religious leaders and laity be like her I would have much less bad things to say about religion. I don't give my praises easily, but to Cheri DiNovo I must say bravo.

Reading into Justin Trottier's views I strongly identify with much of his calls for secularism, rationalism and scientific thinking in society. He represents the kind of new age atheism (which sees promotion of secularism as normative to a better society), and leftist athiesm at that, which I am broadly part of and the shared outlook makes it very easy to agree with and identify what he says. If I was to vote for the "most like myself" candidate, it would be him.

That said, the case for increased secularism and decreased religiosity in our society is weakest when compared to people like Cheri DiNovo. If all religious people were like her, I would hardly worry about the issue of religiosity in our society as much. Against the fundamentalist right, absolutely, everything Trottier works against is relevant and important, but not so much against her. Further, she brings her clearly egalitarian religious reviews into the secular context of political parties identifying with the left leaning egalitarian NDP, not, say, the Christian Heritage Party. I read through transcripts of the Ontario Legislative Assembly that Cheri DiNovo had contributed to and it cannot be said that her religiosity never entered (she quoted CS Lewis, for example, and referenced the Christian role in the Holocaust, on various occasions), but I didn't see examples of it contributing in a negative way.

I think there still remains a case for secularism in and of itself - even when religiosity doesn't contribute in a negative - but this issue must be an order of magnitude less important than other issues. As such, as interesting as it is that we have this issue naturally arising based on the backgrounds of the candidat - and even though I am a partisan in that debate - I cannot maintain that this issue should trump others and be a core reason to vote.

Please note that while lots of information on their religious views is readily available for Cheri DINovo and Justin Trottier, I wasn't able to find too much information on Cortney Pasternaks views although reading some interviews she conducted in the Ontario Humanist Society's newsletter it is not a stretch to conclude she is an atheist/agnostic but at least would be a secular humanist. Joseph Ganetakos does not have religious information easily available on google and did not return my email querying him on the issue. Hence the asymmetry in representation.

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Majid Ali said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deathbytrolley said...

Good post!

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