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Paul Wells on what’s wrong with Marci McDonald’s book, The Armageddon Factor

From the print edition, my column about Marci McDonald’s book The Armageddon Factor. I think she overstates the influence of Christian conservatives in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa in a way that saps her book of too much of its credibility. I have said similar things before, when her book was germinating as a long article in The Walrus.

But as McDonald points out on her book’s last page, I admitted last summer, when Tony Clement was making up transparent lies to camouflage the cutting of tourism-promotion grants to gay and lesbian community events, that I often have “second thoughts” about whether she had a point. And indeed, in one of the most-read and most-remarked pieces I’ve written this year, I went on at some length about the influence of social conservatives, including what she calls Christian nationalists, in Harper’s Ottawa. I myself have argued that there’s a real presence with real clout. So what’s got up my nose this week?

Maybe just sour grapes (Can you get sour grapes up your nose? Bet that would hurt). You’ll be a better judge of that than I could be. But I think there’s more to my disagreement with McDonald than that. Two things, I suppose. First, it’s irresponsible to write a book about a phenomenon that systematically overstates the extent of that phenomenon. All the more so if you adopt a constant tone of near-panic. (I note, however, that this is not a new technique for McDonald. Almost my favourite part of her book is the bio on the jacket flap, which notes that “her study of the backstage machinations behind the free trade deal led to her book, Yankee Doodle Dandy: Brian Mulroney and the America Agenda.” Really? Her “study?”)

Which leads us to the second, bigger problem: McDonald nowhere specifies which religious attitudes, or which secular policies derived from religious attitudes, she finds unacceptable. Bill Blaikie ran for the NDP leadership on a platform explicitly derived from the social gospel; is that OK? McDonald quotes Scarborough Liberal MP John McKay saying he finds the Harper gang scary. Wow. Really? Why? What are the specific differences between John McKay’s okay Christian nationalism and Dave Quist’s scary terrifying Christian nationalism? ‘Cause it was kind of hard to tell the difference during the Commons vote on abortion in international development assistance.

The last time I took a hard run at a colleague, it was at Mark Steyn over a column he wrote on the purported rise of extremist parties in Europe. Boiled down, my assorted difficulties with that piece amounted to a concern that Mark was not merely failing to define his terms, he was culpably refusing to. Mark Steyn and Marci McDonald must, I am sure, disagree about almost everything, but when each takes great length to announce that “they” are taking over, I develop considerable curiosity over who “they” are, and what, precisely, my problem with “them” is supposed to be.

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