Canada Family Action Coalition president Charles McVety has no regrets about engaging in politics on behalf of evangelicals: ‘I don’t think it’s helpful to democracy to discourage people from getting involved.’
It’s difficult to pinpoint which version of Charles McVety is most accurate. A powerful religious lobbyist who has the ear of the Harper government, or a mere spokesman for a segment of Canada’s evangelical community concerned with promoting family values? Manipulator or messenger?
Lately, the image of Mr. McVety as a Parliament Hill string-puller prevails as he pushes for Bill C-10, an amendment to the federal tax-credit system that critics say is an affront to freedom of speech and a mortal threat to the Canadian film industry. (MODERATOR’s NOTE: See explanatory link via CBC News website here).
The controversial section of the bill, which would deny tax credits to films deemed offensive by government, has sparked a battle between Canada’s entertainment industry and the 40,000-member Canada Family Action Coalition, of which Mr. McVety is president.
On Thursday, the reigning queen of Canadian independent film and recent Oscar nominee Sarah Polley testified before the Senate banking committee, which is receiving a level of attention almost always reserved for non-tax-related issues.
Ms. Polley told the committee that public money is key to the production of daring, inspirational film and television. Bill C-10 smacks of government censorship, she says.
Next week, Mr. McVety will get his turn with the committee. And he has no doubt the panel of mostly Liberal-appointed senators will see the light.
“This change has to happen. As sure as I sit here, it’s going to happen,” he says.
Under the current regulations, he says it is conceivable that a film could violate the Criminal Code of Canada and still qualify for government funding through tax credits. Bill C-10 is simply good public policy, he says.
Mr. McVety bristles against reports that he boasted of having an instrumental role in getting key changes into the tax bill.
But he says he raised the issue of denying tax credits to offensive films with his old ally Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety. And his executive director at the coalition, Brian Rushfeldt, talked with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson about Bill C-10, he says.
Questions about the extent of Mr. McVety’s clout with the Harper Conservatives are not new. According to former Conservative MP and avid McVety critic Garth Turner, in 2006 during a commercial break on The Michael Coren Show, Mr. McVety claimed: “I can pick up the phone and call Harper and I can get him in two minutes.”
Words he never uttered, Mr. McVety insists, which Mr. Coren backed up. But Mr. McVety says he does have many friends in the current government and is unapologetic about getting involved in politics.
“The expectation that religious people should not have a voice in democracy is undemocratic in its very nature,” he says.
Mr. McVety, 48, was born in Winnipeg where his father, Elmer McVety, a “Billy Graham evangelist,” founded a Bible school called Richmond College, the predecessor to Canada Christian College.
In 1967, the family and the school relocated to Toronto. Mr. McVety took over as college president after his father’s death in 1993 in the midst of a battle with the provincial government over the school’s authority to grant degrees.
The college survived a bid by the education ministry to shut it down and now offers undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs mainly focusing on theology and divinity.
In his political youth, Mr. McVety became involved in the riding nomination of Ken Robinson, a Liberal MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and then-chairman of the board of the college.
In the runup to the 1984 federal election, Mr. Robinson was bumped from his own riding when several hundred supporters of a rookie candidate unexpectedly ousted the incumbent.
For Mr. McVety, it was a realization that a small number of people can make a big difference in the grassroots of Canadian politics.
“We realized not enough people get involved. Canadians are complacent, laid-back people,” he says.
In the 2006 federal election, Mr. McVety and his supporters sought to sway a few dozen ridings across the country in favour of Conservative candidates.
He was not very successful.
In his own riding of Ajax-Pickering, Mr. McVety helped nominate Conservative candidate Rondo Thomas, also an administrator at the college, to challenge Liberal MP Mark Holland, a proponent of same-sex marriage. Mr. Holland sailed to victory in the general election with almost half the total riding vote. Mr. Thomas placed a distant second.
Before the election, Mr. McVety also registered dozens of unclaimed Internet domains bearing the names of several Liberal candidates, like http://www.josephvolpe.com and http://www.donboudria.ca, to inform constituents of those MPs’ views on same-sex marriage.
Although the practice was widely criticized and branded a form of cybersquatting, Mr. McVety still stands by the approach.
“A lot of members of Parliament, they like to appease special interests and do things that are against the population, but they don’t like people knowing about it,” he says. “Why not educate people on what their representative is doing? Why should all the education be left to the CBC?”
Come next election, Mr. McVety plans to wage more nomination battles, particularly against Conservative candidates who support same-sex marriage.
Mr. McVety says his allegiance does not lie exclusively with the Conservative Party of Canada. The Liberals, in fact, supported many “pro-family positions” throughout the 1990s, Mr. McVety says. He aims to hold representatives of all parties to account.
Individual ridings are fertile ground to effect change on behalf of his evangelical supporters, he says. And since such a small fraction of Canadian voters get involved in nomination contests, he believes his participation should be welcome.
“In the general population, you make a choice between the two options the one per cent gives you. I don’t think it’s helpful to democracy to discourage any group of people from getting involved.”
It would be a mistake, however, to assume Mr. McVety represents the collective views of Canada’s evangelical community, says Don Hutchinson, a director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
The EFC represents more than three million Canadians, 40 denominations and more than 1,000 congregations. That does not include Mr. McVety, his denomination, or his church, Mr. Hutchinson says.
The EFC is also affiliated with 35 Christian colleges and 89 organizations, but not The Canada Christian College or The Canada Family Action Coalition.
“There’s a broad spectrum on the evangelical meter. Charles may be representative of one end, probably one extreme end, of that spectrum,” Mr. Hutchinson says.
Mr. McVety belongs to a brand of Pentecostalism that sees modern-day prophecies and speaking in tongues as gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Support of Zionism is also key to Mr. McVety’s belief, as a strong Israel is considered by some evangelicals to be the definitive sign of the return of the Messiah. Hence, he firmly rejects a two-state agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This branch of evangelical Christianity, which Ottawa-based Lloyd Mackey, a veteran journalist for several Christian publications, calls “pretty close to fundamentalist,” is much more common in the United States, with adherents such as the firebrand San Antonio televangelist John Hagee and the late Jerry Fallwell.
In Canada, however, those beliefs simply fall well outside mainstream evangelism, Mr. Hutchinson says. “Public-policy development is not based on whether or not there’s a strong Biblical argument for it; it’s based on whether there’s a sound public-policy reason for the initiative.”
Still, Mr. McVety manages to project a public profile disproportionate to the segment of Christianity he champions, Mr. Mackey says.
“It’s easy to get a colourful quote from Charles. Some of the other major spokespersons for evangelical Christianity aren’t nearly as colourful.”
But it wasn’t always this easy for Mr. McVety and his ilk to get a hearing in Ottawa.
The enormous political influence wielded by American evangelicals, combined with what is considered in Canada to be a disastrous Bush administration, soured Canadians to political involvement of the religious right, Mr. McVety says.
“There was a great deal of hostility that developed, especially under Paul Martin’s government, toward family values,” he says.
So when Mr. Harper took the reins of power in February 2006, there was a giddy optimism that social conservatism would no longer be taboo in Canadian politics.
But the relationship between the Harper government and Ottawa’s burgeoning network of evangelical organizations, galvanized by the same-sex marriage debate, soon hit the rocks.
“That honeymoon ended quite quickly,” Mr. McVety says. After Mr. Harper lost a free vote in the House to restore the traditional definition of marriage, he declared the issue closed, much to the dismay of Mr. McVety and The Canada Family Action Coalition.
And not even a Conservative majority government will bring back the spark between Mr. Harper and Mr. McVety’s cast of social conservatives, Mr. Mackey says. “In effect, (Mr Harper is) functioning as if it’s a majority anyway.”
The government won some praise from Mr. McVety last year when it raised the age of sexual consent. And he says Bill C-10 closes a long-standing policy gap that funnels taxpayer money into obscene movies like Young People Fucking, last year’s Toronto International Film Festival hit that Mr. McVety equates to state-sponsored pornography.
“When it comes to the government allocating hard-earned taxpayer dollars, I believe there’s a national consensus on this issue that it should not go to dirty movies.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.Pkr, after an April 12, 2008 article by Tim Shufelt in The Ottawa Citizen