When places of worship become campaign stops

Pradip Rodrigues

When I saw former Toronto Police Commissioner and now Liberal candidate insikh the upcoming federal elections launch his political career earlier this month at the Khalsa Day parade in Toronto I thought about a piece titled ‘Politics and prayer go hand in hand in Brampton I read in the Globe and Mail on June 20th, 2013 to be precise.
The Khalsa Day parade in Toronto attracts over 100,000 people, mostly Sikhs but also a growing number of political aspirants and politicians who believe that their presence at such events will bolster their secular credentials.

Politicians love places of worship

A couple of decades ago, few politicians needed to shamelessly prostrate themselves in Gurdwaras and other places of worship in order to solicit votes from the South Asian diaspora. But today, as more and more ridings are dependent on the ethnic vote, visiting places of worship, posing for pictures with so-called community leaders has become de rigueur for politicians and political aspirants. They dazzle everyone present with saccharine smiles which I suspect could in part be responsible for the diabetes epidemic raging through the community.
Police Chief Bill Blair said he had been coming to the event for 25 years, as an invited guest or also as part of his duty, he didn’t clarify, but he proudly stated that he had a ‘very special relationship with the community.’ That to me was news, I was under the impression that as Police Chief, he was expected never to play favorites and that all communities were equal in his eyes. So anyone who didn’t happen to be South Asian or more specifically Sikh could safely assume that they were not as special.

Politicians should get to really know ethnic minorities

I think all politicians and bureaucrats should not only visit all places of worship, but they should really get to know their ethnic communities well. One way could be inviting some community members to their homes or cottages. I am not sure if Liberal nominee Bill Blair counts among his close friends members of the community he claims to have a very special relationship with, but since he said that so publicly I will simply assume it to be the case.
In Alberta, Premier Jim Prentice has been courting the South Asian vote and was photographed praying solemnly at a Sikh Gurdwara in Edmonton. Perhaps he was also there to deepen his understanding of the Sikh faith, but clearly he was praying for the Sikh vote or a miracle.

Maintain the sanctity of places of worship

As the Federal elections in Fall approaches, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist places of worship will see a steady stream of candidates come to pray and then meet the congregation and hope they are impressionable enough to fall for their spiel.
In the Globe and Mail piece, a congregant yearned for the days when the Gurdwara was the exclusive preserve for all things to do with spiritual enlightenment. But more and more places of worship are being tainted by politics.
It isn’t unusual for candidates to address the congregation in the Divine Hall after prayers. It is standard practice and often ends up being a place where politicians can garner not just votes but campaign funds.

Catholic churches have strict rules about canvasing

I attend mass at a Catholic church occasionally and I have never seen or hope to see a politician take the mike at the end of mass to solicit votes. In fact the Archdiocese House in Toronto sends out reminders to all parishes about the need to stay neutral in elections. Catholic candidates aren’t permitted to distribute their campaign material outside their own parishes, neither are political leaders allowed to address the congregation after a service. What is permitted are events in a Church hall where all party candidates are invited to talk about issues. No partisan events are allowed as such practices could endanger their charitable status.

Who is using whom?

When politicians use places of worship to campaign and solicit funds and votes, they run the risk of creating un-holy alliances. Perhaps community leaders believe that permitting these practices would buy them political patronage in exchange for their support but what about the sanctity of such places. The foundation of western democracy is based on the separation of Church and State, but there seems to be no barriers standing between politicians and people of faith.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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