May 12, 2004) OTTAWA
- Even though his party has conducted a "push poll" with a question about evangelical Christians, Prime Minister Paul Martin said today that religion has no place in politics.
The prime minister made the comment in question period during a dust up with Conservative MP James Moore, who blasted the Liberals in a preamble to a question about a poll the
party conducted in Ontario recently that included the question would you be "more or less likely to vote for the Conservative/Alliance if you knew they had been taken over by evangelical Christians."
"The preamble of the honourable member's questions is as vile as it possibly could be," said the PM. "Let me say that faith, religion has no room in politics. The fact is that this government would never allow that."
But the prime minister went further than to criticize practices of his party's own pollsters and suggested that for Moore to even "raise that kind of issue in this room is the ultimate in prejudice and bigotry."
But despite the prime minister's outrage, his party has stood behind the inclusion of the question about evangelicals in its poll since it was reported in the Globe and Mail earlier last month.
The Canadian Press reported on the weekend that Steven MacKinnon, the Liberals' deputy national director, defended the question and said the question was not an attack on religious beliefs but a way for the party to expose the Tories' "social conservatism" and their tendency for "blurring the lines between church and state."
CP also reported that a number of Liberal MPs are opposed to the questions and are not comfortable with some Liberals' attempts to portray the Conservatives as being hijacked by religious zealots.
After question period, Moore said the prime minister is one to talk about the politics of polarization and bigotry.
"That kind of polling, that kind of question is itself precisely negative bigotry," he said. "Finding out whether or not faith should be used against people as a weapon I think is deplorable.
"Paul Martin has to be clear and unequivocal about this that he's not going to use people's faith against them as a political tactic. And
he hasn't been clear about that."
Moore said the very fact that the poll went out means the PM and his team are considering using the tactic.
"It's not just deplorable because it's a bad idea, it's deplorable because it's hypocritical," he said, given the Liberals' claim that they are the party with the patent on openness and inclusiveness.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said despite the fireworks in question period today, he does not expect religion to become a major issue in the coming campaign.
"I don't think it's relevant," he said. "I don't think Canadian voters will
think that it is, but ultimately it's up to Canadian voters on something like that."
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