2015 Canadian Election, a guide for rookie MPs

Welcoming Rookie MPs
Welcoming Rookie MPs. Image from The Hill Times

There is nothing quite like the euphoria that a newly-elected MP feels after the grind of a nomination and then a demanding election campaign. What a privilege it is to be chosen by your constituents to serve them and our country.  However, your life as an MP will likely be less glamorous than it might at first appear. Continue reading 2015 Canadian Election, a guide for rookie MPs

Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable

Spoof on man who accosted reporters at Conservative campaign event, Internet image
Spoof on man who accosted reporters at CPC campaign event, Internet image

During the federal election campaign in the autumn of 1965, dozens of students at my boarding school in rural Saskatchewan traveled in a big cattle truck to hear Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson speak in the Humboldt arena. The building was packed and Pearson gave a fulsome speech which was heard by anyone who showed up. Perhaps those were more innocent times. Or perhaps Pearson cared more about a vigorous democracy than some who have inhabited the office since then. Continue reading Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable

Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Tragedy in the Commons
Tragedy in the Commons

The summer edition of The Catalyst, publication of Citizens for Public Justice, has published a number of books reviews, including mine of a book by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, who lead an organization called Samara. Other books reviewed in this issue include those by ecologist Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein and John Ralston Saul and I encourage you to go The Catalyst  website and to read them. Please find below my review below. Continue reading Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Hill Times and Dennis Gruending on Pulpit and Politics

The Ottawa-based Hill Times carried an interview with me in its October 17 edition regarding my new book, Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public LifeIt was released earlier in October by Kingsley Publishing of Calgary. It is available in Ottawa at Brittons magazine stores: 846 Bank Street or 352 Richmond Road, or from Alpine Book Peddlers on line or toll free at 1-866-478-2280. The Hill Times interview was conducted by Kate Malloy, the paper’s editor and a veteran parliamentary reporter. You can read the story and interview by clicking HERE.   



Dennis Gruending to publish book on Pulpit and Politics

Pulpit and Politics by Dennis GruendingThose of you who follow my blog will wonder why I have not been posting for the past number of weeks. In fact, several of you have contacted me to ask about it. The truth is that I have been taken up with the final edits of a book that I will publish in October. It’s called Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life, and Kingsley Publishers of Calgary will release it. The themes and details that I deal with in the book arise largely from this blog, which I have been writing since late 2007. Actually, many of you have contacted me with constructive criticism about the blog and have provided ideas for stories that I might pursue. Many of those suggestions have made their way into the book but it goes well beyond the blog. I have revised the material, updated and added to it, and the book will also contain a detailed index of names and organizations as well as a comprehensive reading list.

I have been struck over the past few years by the growing competition between religious progressives and conservatives for power and influence in Canadian politics. This is an historic rivalry and one that will become even more pronounced now that Stephen Harper has won a majority government, partly through the efforts of religious conservatives. Their political agenda is anchored in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, publicly funded childcare, a dislike of many social programs, and a general suspicion of government. Since its inception in 2006, the Harper government has courted conservative evangelicals, along with certain Catholic and Jewish voters, to join a political coalition that would change Canada into a leaner and meaner state, albeit it one with more prisons and a larger military.

The book will look closely at the political ideology and tactics of religious conservatives, but that is only half of the story. I will also report on efforts by religious progressives who are struggling to have their voices heard on issues of equality, justice, human rights, and peace. This is an effort that plays out on Parliament Hill, as well in church basements, synagogues and temples. It is not merely a topic of casual interest; the consequences for our future are potentially dramatic. Religious faith informs political decisions about the division of wealth in our society, education and race relations, immigration, respect for democracy, foreign policy, and environmental issues, to name just a few.

The book will also examine religiously inspired ideas and events elsewhere that are having an impact in Canada. We cherish our reputation as a peaceable kingdom, but we are not immune to religious fundamentalism, even extremism. The bombing of Air-India Flight 182 bound from Toronto to New Delhi in 1985 killed 331 people, making it the most widely felt terrorist attack in Canadian history. It was planned and executed by Sikh religious extremists living in Canada. There are no tranquil islands in an increasingly globalized world of ubiquitous jet travel, round-the-clock news feeds, and secured Internet chat rooms. Canada is not an island, particularly given its tradition of engagement abroad and its increasingly ethnic and religious diversity. It is for these reasons (in addition to natural curiosity) that on my travels and in my reading I pay close attention to the links between religious faith and public life in other countries as well as my own.

I have watched this drama unfold from my base in Ottawa, and I have also participated in it: as a writer, a director of information for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and later as a Member of Parliament and a blogger. There is a fine body of research and writing in the United States and elsewhere about the importance of understanding the motivation and tactics of religious groups involved in public life. Far less attention has been devoted to the topic in Canada. I am determined that Pulpit and Politics will help to fill this gap.

Pulpit and Politics will sell for $22.00 and will be available (in October) from Kingsley Publishing or Alpine Book Peddlers.  It will also be available as an ebook. I hope that you will consider buying a copy for yourself and perhaps another for a family member or friend. I’ll let you know when Pulpit and Politics becomes available. And now, I will get back to writing for my blog. I promise.

Remembering my friend Allan Blakeney

By Dennis Gruending

Dennis Gruending with Allan BlakeneyMy friend Allan Blakeney, the former premier of Saskatchewan, died recently at age 85. I describe him as a friend and he was, although I am aware that he had many friends of longer duration and also many admirers. I was an adolescent when he was involved as a young cabinet minister in giving us medicare in 1962. By 1971, when he became premier, I was a newspaper reporter and my specialty at the time was in covering agriculture, not politics. Later on I became a CBC Radio host and interviewed him on numerous occasions but did not know him well. His closer relationships with journalists were with some of the veteran political reporters. He played small chip poker regularly with a number of them over a period of years and he almost always left with the loot in his pocket.

He was a remarkably good premier even though the hand-pumping side of politics did not come easily to him. Although he liked people and was genial and quick witted in private, his public persona was one of someone buttoned up and cautious. He told me in an interview after he left politics that when he was premier he kept in mind the image of a giant reel-to-reel tape that was always recording. He did not want to commit any embarrassing bloopers that would threaten his government and its social democratic projects. Continue reading Remembering my friend Allan Blakeney

Best books 2010, Harperland:The Politics of Control

By Dennis Gruending

[This brief piece was published in the November 22 edition of The Hill Times newspaper in Ottawa. The paper asked a number of us to choose a political book that we liked in 2010].

Pulpit and Politics UpdateJournalism is commonly called history on the run. Often it is filled with events but no one really connects the dots. Harperland: The Politics of Control, Lawrence Martin’s book on Stephen Harper’s first four years in power does a good job of making those connections. What emerges about the prime minister is his enduring pattern of flinty, hard-core conservatism and his mania for control. Of special significance were Martin’s interviews with people such as Tom Flanagan, who are, or were, close to the PM. They are starting to talk. The Conservatives dismiss the book as the work of a Liberal sympathizer but Martin’s two volumes on Jean Chretien were not hagiographies either. What likely rankles Conservatives is that Martin is one of the few columnists in the mainstream media who writes from anything approaching the left side of the political spectrum.

Pulpit and Politics wins in 2010 Canadian Blog Awards

By Dennis Gruending

cba_2nd.jpgMy Pulpit and Politics blog placed second in the Politics category of the 2010 Canadian Blog Awards. Winners are based entirely on the number of votes they receive from readers, so thanks to everyone who took the time to cast a ballot. You can find the list of winners in all categories by clicking here.

I began to publish Pulpit and Politics almost three years ago, in November 2007. I wrote this in my first post on November 9th of that year: “I plan with this blog to explore the growing influence that religion is having upon politics and society in Canada and elsewhere. This relationship is not merely a topic of interest but rather it has an effect upon the lives of millions of people.”

I have posted 85 pieces in these 36 months and written 95,000 words, enough to fill a modestly sized book. I passed a milestone a few weeks ago when my blog received “hit” number 100,000. That means that Pulpit and Politics has been visited 100,000 times. Of those hits, 27,000 have been what is called “unique” – in other words the blog has been visited by 27,000 different individuals. This is perhaps a modest number of visitors when compared to some of the megablogs out there but significant nonetheless.

I have had posts to the blog’s Comment section from many of you and I thank you for them. Please keep them coming. My blog postings eliciting the greatest number of comments were two that I wrote on Canada’s gun registry, and another on an event called The Cry, which is organized by a religiously conservative youth group and staged on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I was surprised that interest in those events appeared greater than in other pieces I have written about Canada’s war in Afghanistan or the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi to name just two. There was also keen interest in a piece that I wrote about the positions being taken on the issues by Canadian churches in the 2008 federal election. I also received numerous comments in response to another posting about the questions I would ask if I were the journalist moderating the televised leaders’ debate in that 2008 same campaign.

It has all been great fun and I am committed to continuing with the blog. Researching for it gives a focus to much of my reading and for many of the events that I attend in the community — in Ottawa, the world comes to you if you are patient enough to wait for it. And I now find that when traveling abroad I am constantly observing people and events with blog future postings in mind.

So, thanks for reading and for your comments. Stay tuned for my next post, an analysis of a book written by American writer Mark Juergensmeyer. It is called Religious Challenges to the Secular State, from Christian Militias to al Qaeda, a topic that has implications for us in Canada as well.