Two MPs, both serious Christians, stepped on to the little green bus that runs between the various parliamentary buildings in Ottawa.
One, we will dub “Mr. Liberal”, the other, the other, “Mr. CA”, to accurately reflect their party identities.
Your humble scribe turned to one and said: “Hi, Mr. Liberal. Has Mr. CA persuaded you to join the new party yet?”
He replied, affably, “No, Mr. Humble Scribe. I will wait to see what happens.”
Quickly, I moved my hand to the pocket where I keep my trusty pen and notebook. “Oh, I think we have a story, here!” I enthusiastically exclaimed.
Mr. Liberal caught himself just in time. “The fact is,” he said, “It (the merger) ain’t gonna happen.”
With that, Mr. CA launched into a vigorous defense of his belief that the merger will happen.
When there came a pregnant pause in the conversation, I put my pen and paper away and suggested diplomatically that “it looks like I’ve started something here.”
I am not comfortable with “gotcha” journalism. That is why I have not named the two MPs. They are both Christians who are loyal to their own parties. But they both have frequent opportunity to share and bear witness together to their Christian faith through such cross-party activities as the various Bible study and prayer groups on the Hill, and through the Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus.
But the way the bus conversation went was illustrative of the political realignment we can expect over time, because of the change, both in Liberal leadership and the prospect of the CA and Tories coming together.
Right now, prior to the party merger votes, a lot of the talk is about who will run the new party — with the Red Tories expressing the fear that the social conservatives are planning a takeover.
Little is being said about what the social conservatives in the Liberal party will do. My friend, Mr. Liberal, whenever he has talked about his relationship to his party, has maintained that Liberals make room for their social conservatives, particularly if they know that the ridings they represent have a lot of socon voters.
But the Liberals know that their own leadership change and the prospect of a merged party across the aisle in Parliament create a fair number of ifs, ands and buts.
The most strident socons have always made clear that, if they have the opportunity of taking over a party, they will do so. They have made no secret, in past that, if they could, they would take over, in succession, the Tories, the Reform and the Canadian Alliance.
Those who are more measured maintain that if they could work within the party structures — CA, Liberal and Tory, and to some extent, the Bloc and the NDP — their socon policies can help shape whatever party they art a part of.
Now, Paul Martin has given some hint that he might be more flexible than his predecessor, in coming up with a resolution to the gay marriage issue. Everything Jean Chretien has done has been bent toward the belief that to conform to the high court decisions in several provinces, gay marriage must be legally recognized and there is no room for civil unions that are not marriages.
Martin let it be known, through Health Minister Anne McLellan, that the status of civil union as such could still be up for parliamentary discussion.
Now, understandably, Martin wants some wiggle room on several fronts, because he has an early election to call. He does not know, today, the shape of his opposition. But he will know by the day his cabinet is sworn in.
And, before the election is called, the question of political realignment among voters will come into play — on several levels.
Several polls show that if the two conservative parties come together, there will be a shift of small-c conservatives who have, for years, parked their votes with the Liberals. They will be acting on the rationale that “the right has finally gotten its act together.”
Conversely, red Tories who think that the strident socons have some way of taking over the new party and choosing its leader, could well shift to the Liberals or even the NDP.
Some left-wing Liberals will shift to the NDP, fearing that the prime minister who behaved — in their view — so conservatively, as finance minister, will take the party too far to the right.
Some of the more moderate NDPers, including supporters of its traditional social gospel wing, could go Liberal, because they see their new leader, Jack Layton as being too much a “class struggle” type of politician.
In putting forward these scenarios, I would caution on two points.
Firstly, I am talking about voter shift, not any wholesale change in the party affiliation of Christian MPs.
Secondly, I am well aware that serious Christians are found in all parts of the political spectrum. A Calgary Christian, identical in every respect to a Toronto Christian, on theology, worship style and commitment to gospel outreach, will likely vote differently. And the same differentiations hold true in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax.
So the voting shifts will likely begin in the next election and the more obvious realignments among MPs could take place later.
Are there any bellweathers?
Just keep an eye on David Kilgour and Alexa McDonough.