Disagreement is normal, if not necessary, in a healthy democracy. Being intolerant and disrespectful toward those with whom we disagree, however, is fatal to that democracy.
Historically, we’ve had the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (and the Bill of Rights before it) for protection, which is especially important for racial, religious, political, or sexual minorities, among others.
So, it’s worrying to see streaks of disrespect toward some minorities showing up in new Angus Reid Institute (ARI) survey data, collected in partnership with think tank Cardus just after the October federal election.
Take, for instance, the finding that almost one-third of voters say it’s unacceptable for a political leader to be personally pro-life even if the leader’s views don’t influence policy. Granted, the finding came following a campaign in which Conservative leader Andrew Scheer struggled to handle a barrage of media questions and political attacks on abortion.
Even so, almost one in three voters is prepared to tell political leaders not to bother putting their names on the ballot if they aren’t vocal supporters of the status quo in Canada – the absence of any law around abortion.
This view was especially strong among Bloc Quebecois voters, though it also showed up significantly in Liberal and NDP support.
Regardless of where we fall among the spectrum of opinions on abortion, is it not concerning to see some Canadians willing to reject candidates simply based on one of their personal beliefs about what could be a very difficult issue? A tolerant and respectful Canada makes room for disagreement.
Streaks of intolerance and disrespect also appeared when the pollster asked for a reaction to “the idea of a political candidate being a person of faith.” Shockingly, 22 per cent of respondents said the idea “repels” them.
Among Bloc voters, half are repelled by religious people running for office, followed by just more than a quarter of Liberal voters. Thankfully, six in 10 voters say they’re neutral on the question.
Still, there remains a significant portion of voters apparently willing to discriminate against candidates simply because of political hopefuls’ religious beliefs.
Even so, most Canadians seem to have a growing appreciation for one of the best guarantees of a tolerant and respectful society: religious freedom.
It’s a hopeful sign that 62 per cent of Canadians agree that religious freedom makes Canada a better country. That’s up seven per cent since ARI asked about it in 2017.
Meanwhile, just 12 per cent say religious freedom makes Canada worse, which is a two-point drop over two years.
Amid these hopeful signs, it’s possible that Canadians like religious freedom conceptually, but grow concerned when the rubber hits the road in a clash with culture.
So, in the thick of a federal election campaign with hot-button issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage showing up, Canadian support for the Charter-protected, fundamental human right of religious freedom gets softer.