A shuffle in the Prime Minister’s Office has put another evangelical Christian figure near the top political post in the country.
Darrel Reid, the former head of Focus on the Family Canada, has moved from the position of director of policy to become the new deputy chief of staff.
Replacing Reid as director of policy is Paul Wilson. Wilson is the former executive director of Trinity Western University’s Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa. In 2006, Wilson moved to the Hill to become the senior policy advisor to Conservative cabinet minister Vic Toews, and in March of last year moved over to the role of senior special advisor to then-Human Resources and Social Development minister Monte Solberg.
Prior to his time at Trinity Western — a Christian-focussed university based in the Bible-belt of Langley, BC — Wilson had worked for both Preston Manning and Stockwell Day in both the Reform and Alliance parties. While at Trinity Western, he was responsible for coordinating the internships of Trinity Western’s students on the Hill and among various non-governmental organizations. At the time, Wilson also studiously avoided being labelled a big-C Conservative and denied that he was running a political training program.
“It’s about understanding citizenship and faith,” Wilson told the Ottawa Citizen in 2006, downplaying the comparisons between Trinity Western and Patrick Henry College in the States.
Wilson has previously said that his message to Christians was that they needed to be cautiously engaged in politics, lest their cause blow up and be discredited in the pubic eye, pointing to the conservative Christian community’s failed attempt to block same-sex marriage legislation.
“We need to be temperate, we need to be restrained, we need to be respectful,” Wilson said at the time. “Maybe the debate sometimes wasn’t held with that tone. And in a sense, we not only lost the particular legislative battle, we lost the broader battle by effectively being marginalized and just basically discredited.”
In some mainstream circles, Wilson’s appointment is being seen as a move towards less partisanship in the PMO, given Wilson’s previous attempts to eschew the big-C Conservative label and his willingness to work with MPs from other parties in his faith-in-politics work.
But the move to place more overt conservative Christians in the upper echelons of government raises concerns with the queer community.
“It’s something we’ve suspected for a long time — that Harper has deep roots with the religious right, and this just further acknowledges that that is in fact the case,” says Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy. “This is pretty overt though — we haven’t really seen that in the past.”
Kennedy cites policies like health, Canadian Blood Services and aid linked to queer human rights as potential victims of policy driven by religious right ideology.
“We don’t expect to see a lot of favourable recommendations coming out of the PM’s office with respect to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans human rights,” Kennedy says. “It’ll be more of the same, although more entrenched.”
Ottawa activist Ariel Troster is also quick to remind people of Reid’s record as head of Focus on the Family Canada.
“Focus on the Family actively advocates reparative therapy for gays and lesbians,” Troster says. “They’ve run these ‘Love Won Out’ seminars which essentially encourage gays and lesbians to marry members of the opposite sex, so that everyone is miserable. They’re against universal daycare, and they’re explicitly anti-feminist.
“You can tell a lot about a government by the people they hire to do their dirty work. When we take a look at who they’ve hired to run their policy shop, it’s a good indication of where this government is going.”