Evangelical voters have been turning away from the Liberal party in droves over the past dozen years, with about two-thirds of the former Liberal voters turning to conservative parties and one-third turning to the New Democrats, according to a research paper published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC).
The paper, entitled ‘Canadian Evangelical Voting Trends by Region, 1996-2008,’ was written by Don Hutchinson, the EFC vice-president and director of its Centre for Faith and Public Life, and Rick Hiemstra, the EFC’s director for research on Canadian evangelicalism.
Senator David Smith, a Baptist and a major Liberal strategist for three decades, allowed that, in more recent years, his party has lost a lot of support from evangelicals. Much of the party’s difficulty, he said, has related to evangelical mistrust of Liberal policies and actions through the years, with respect to abortion and same sex marriage.
“These have been polarizing issues. I would hope that with the work (Toronto Liberal MP) John McKay is doing, (many former Liberal voters) will come back,” said Smith, who, as a member of the Trudeau cabinet in the early 1980s, once persuaded the late Liberal prime minister to include a reference to God in the preamble to the Canadian constitution.
Smith said he has seen a number of churchgoing Catholics abandon their support for the Liberals over these same issues.
He also suggested that the “adscam” scandal and the resulting Gomery inquiry did not help Liberal standing among evangelicals who held to high fiscal moral values.
Bill Blaikie, a United Church minister and former New Democratic MP who now serves in the provincial Manitoba legislature, said many young evangelicals have “moved beyond the culture wars and see their commitment to be acting out the gospel, preserving the environment and fighting AIDS.”
Evangelicals, said Blaikie, are “principled voters” for the most part. If they are strongly opposed to abortion or same sex marriage, they will find more acceptance for their views in the conservative parties. Conversely, if their principles leaned toward poverty reduction and social justice, they would naturally seek out a home in the NDP.
No Conversatives or former Reformers had answered CC.com’s request for comment by press time, but Conservative leaders with evangelical ties, from the prime minister on down, often quietly go out of their way to encourage evangelical Christians — and devotees of other faiths, as well — to bring their perspectives to the public policy table.