Dear God

Four months ago, Andrew Nikiforuk theorized that the Prime Minister’s religious beliefs explained the Harper government’s approach to environmental issues. Lawrence Martin picked up the theory this week and concluded that “if his government’s policy-making in important areas like the environment is being motivated by religious faith at the expense of reason, it is cause for debate.” The Post’s Charlie Lewis then raised a number of issues with this theorizing and wondering. And now Lorna Dueck adds her thoughts.

In 2007, Mr. Harper said climate change was “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” And when last I checked, the Prime Minister believed that “preponderance of scientific evidence and opinion is that climate change is a very real challenge.”

But ultimately leaders have to translate the necessity of dealing with the challenge in the science of climate change with the very real impacts that trying to deal with it will have on our economy. And we should not try and kid people on this. I know people… there’ll be people running out there saying targets are not hard enough. But let me assure you what we and others are committed to do over the next decade will have real impacts and real challenges on players and the Canadian economy, but we’ll obviously work with them to ensure that we balance these objectives of environmental protection and progress with economic growth.

That seems a fairly straightforward explanation of the Harper government’s environmental policy: something should be done about climate change, but that something should be balanced against the need for economic growth. (The debate about the environment isn’t really about whether something should be done anymore, but rather what constitutes “balance.”)

Nonetheless, is the Harper government’s approach to climate change informed by religious belief? No one really knows. Nikiforuk concedes as much. He just then proceeds to substitute his own answer.

Faith is not the concern here. But transparency and full disclosure has become the issue of paramount importance. To date, Harper has refused to answer media questions about his beliefs or which groups inform them. If he answered media queries about his minority creed (and fewer than 10 per cent of Canadians would call themselves evangelicals) he’d have to admit that he openly sympathizes if not endorses what’s known as “evangelical climate skepticism.”

That’s one theory. Another is that he openly sympathizes with public opinion and enjoys winning the necessary number of votes to remain Prime Minister.

Mr. Harper outlined his thoughts on religion and politics in response to a question from Faith Today in 2007. He and Jack Layton seemed to agree that faith could inform public policy. Mr. Layton’s upbringing around the United Church was explained in John Geddes’ 2011 profile. No doubt Mr. Harper is somehow influenced by his own religious experiences as well and further understanding that would further our understanding of him.

So, by all means, the Prime Minister might be asked to explain his faith, his views on climate change and if or how those two things overlap. Indeed, if his religious beliefs have policy implications in this regard it would actually mark a pretty significant break from his handling of other issues. A sidebar to Nikiforuk’s essay, notes that Mr. Harper’s church opposes homosexual relationships and abortion, but the Prime Minister hasn’t given any indication that he’s interested in using his majority mandate to outlaw same-sex marriage or restrict access to abortion.

One other thought: What would it matter if it turned out that the Harper government’s approach to environmental issues was informed by religious belief? Would anyone’s opinion of the government’s approach be changed? Would anyone think differently of the Prime Minister as a result?