Friday, January 29, 2010

MPs and religion

UPDATE: Thank you to a reader who pointed out a factual error in the initial post. It has been corrected.

Over at Samara we're working on our MP exit interview project. One observer , in reading this post about this post about Canada's amateur politicians, asked me over Twitter if our lack of a "political class" meant there was more influence of religion in our politics and wondered also how that was related to the amount of formal education MPs had. I agreed to look further into the educational backgrounds of MPs to see how many had religious training.

The answer only includes the sub-set of former MPs involved in our project, and we
know a bit about their backgrounds already. However, for more specific detail on any religious training, I emailed our summer intern, Devan Sommerville, for help. Devan compiled excellent biographical packages on 139 MPs involved in our project and is a wealth of knowledge on politics in general.

His response is longer than Twitter allows, so I've paraphrased his answer here:

Several of the former MPs in our sample had formal religious training. The Hon. Bill Blaikie (NDP Elmwood-Transcona) is an ordained minister in the United Church. Raymond Gravel (Bloc Repentigny) is a practicing priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Those are the former MPs that stand out in my mind from our sample, and there may have been another one or two with theology degrees.

It is worth noting that both these men championed social policies that were often at odds with their respective denominations. In fact, Gravel was forced to resign or be removed from the priesthood due to his support for issues such as gay marriage.

Your questioner also wondered about party affiliation. While there certainly are some vocal Christians in the Conservative party (Stockwell Day, Chuck Strahl, Harold Albrecht, David Sweet, Maurice Vellacott, etc), it is not a purely “low-brow” Conservative issue. Many have post-secondary education, although not in theology. Furthermore, longtime Toronto Liberal MPs like Tom Wappel (ret) (Law – Queen’s) and John McKay (Law – Queen’s) are active Christians as well, and have legislated from that perspective. In fact, the strongest bastion of Liberal opposition to the gay marriage amendment was in the GTA (Scarborough, Etobicoke and Mississauga) – mostly from MPs that opposed it on religious-moral grounds that went beyond just Christianity.

So there's a bit more colour on the question. As with many things, not as straightforward as it may seem.

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