OttawaWatch: Some Canada Day highlights

By Lloyd Mackey

THE GOOD folk at Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) are moving from Toronto to Ottawa.

CPJ was one of the 37 groups I mentioned last week in an OttawaWatch about the idea of a future event designed to bring together a range of Christian groups whose presence around The Hill is one of their raison d'etre.

The fact is that CPJ has been contemplating a move from Toronto to Ottawa for several years.

The CPJ announcement of its new address included the following:

To create the kind of layered relationships with federal politicians, civil servants and other policy makers that allow for conversations around values, priorities and faith, you have to be where they are. This is particularly true when the national conversation can simplify policy answers, make easy assumptions about what it is to be a Christian and look for quick answers.

Public justice calls us to be where the conversations are happening and to bring our more than 40 years of insight, analysis and tested positions. CPJ has a vision of Canada that embraces pluralism, that asks who benefits from policies, and that puts forward helpful alternatives. A national office in Ottawa will let us advance that vision more effectively.

Our presence is also needed there to speak to all parties and work to bring together different viewpoints in answers that serve the common good. CPJ will bring our particular understanding of Jesus' love and compassion.

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Time flies. I was just beginning my journalism career when Gerald Vande Zande, from his perch at the Christian Labour Association of Canada, was beginning to develop that vision, which in fairly short order, became the basis for CPJ's core values. In due course, he retired and Harry Kits took over the organization and grew it in influence and competency.

I can well remember, about 20 years ago, stopping at a rest area on the 401, somewhere between Toronto and Ottawa, and encountering Vande Zande. He, too, was on his way to Ottawa to bring CPJ's perspective to the then-brewing abortion debate. (Health Minister Jake Epp was trying to get a compromise abortion bill through the House. CPJ was supportive. At the risk of oversimplification, I would note that ultimately, the bill failed in part because both pro-life and pro-choice people did not like it.)

Increasingly, CPJ leaders and researchers would make that Toronto-to-Ottawa trek, as their ability to respond to public policy issues grew.

CPJ has always been non-partisan to the point that they were able to offer both brickbats and bouquets to politicians of both left and right. Indeed, it was common to hear partisans from both ends of the spectrum criticize the organization for not being where they were at -- mainly on the basis of a selective analysis of their policy positions.

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Now, they are in Ottawa, and defending the move by noting "we've become convinced we can have a greater effect when we are streets away instead of hours away."

Their address is 309 Cooper Street, Suite 501, Ottawa, ON K2P 0G5. They are just around the corner from Laurentian Leadership Centre, Dominion-Chalmers United Church (where I had an office for some years, and where I still pick up some mail each day, as part of my constitutional walk) and Initiate for Change (formerly Moral Rearmament). The Evangelical Fellowship, World Vision Canada and the Institute for Marriage and the Family are closer to The Hill by a couple of blocks but, altogether, these various groups are providing an increasingly cohesive presence.

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Which brings us to last Sunday morning, which happened to be a very busy time on The Hill because it was July 1, Canada Day.

Edna and I took in some of the staged events in front of the Peace Tower, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper's affirmation of the idea that Canadians benefit from the nation's physical attributes that are a part of "God's creation".

Before doing so, however, we stopped in at the church where we have been worshipping for the past couple of years, historic St. Andrew's Church, which happens to be the closest religious presence to The Hill. (St. Peter's Lutheran and Christ Church Cathedral are close by as well and, not much further away are St. Patrick's Basilica and First Baptist.)

Senior Minister Andrew Johnston (sporting a recent honorary doctorate from Presbyterian College in Montreal), was in good form as usual, in relating the scriptures in a most relevant way to things Canadian.

He did so, on this particular day, by featuring hymns by Canadians -- all of which can be found in The Book of Praise.

I knew, of course, that 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus,' by Joseph Scriven, was Canadian, but was surprised to learn that 'Unto the Hills around Do I Lift up,' by John Campbell, was also home grown. Both that hymn and 'From Ocean unto Ocean,' by Robert Murray, link some of our nation's geographic characteristics to references in the book of Psalms.

Johnston put an interesting wrap on our worship by having us sing both verses of 'O Canada.' The second stanza concludes with the words: "Lord of the lands, make Canada thine own."

Of course, that provided an interesting flashback to the days of my youth, when I used to listen to Ernest Manning's National Bible Hour. Manning was, of course, the long time premier of Alberta, father of Preston and, at the time, a great inspiration to Canadian Christians who were looking for ways to make their faith relevant to national affairs.

Altogether, it was a good start to Canada's 140th birthday.

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Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and the author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006). He can be reached at lmackey@canadianchristianity.com.

July 5/2007