3 min

Our Republican Christian-Right mayor

O'Brien not an idea man

Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien angled all summer for a meeting with the man that is already being called the Worst President in US History. Why pursue 15 minutes of chat on an airport tarmac with the likes of Dubya?

Because, well, it seems that Bush is a hero and role model to our new mayor.

Meeting Bush, said O’Brien after his tarmac moment, was “the highlight of nine short months of being mayor.” The president, he told the Ottawa Citizen, is “a remarkable man.”

Well, that’s one way to put it.

O’Brien went on to say he felt a deep connection to Bush because of their common faith-based and family values, notes a Citizen report of Aug 22: “I (said) God bless you and all your actions, because I knew he was a man of faith as I am. Despite the pressures and the magnitude of the impact of the decisions, he counts on the prayers of the people of the United States to keep him at peace.”

Now that put my gag reflex in overdrive.

We learned during last year’s election campaign that Larry O’Brien is a deeply religious man. While most urban Canadians avoid belonging to even one church, O’Brien has two. When interviewed on radio, he finishes off with a “God bless.”

In 2005 and 2006, O’Brien was secretary of the board of directors of the controversial Grenville Christian College. That Brockville private religious school (with $35,000 annual school fees) has been featured recently in Globe & Mail news reports of former students alleging in web postings that they were interrogated in the middle of the night in dark rooms, with light shining on their faces so they couldn’t see the staff and teachers interrogating them.

Of course, we’re all entitled to our personal beliefs and our right to pursue our personal interests in our own time. But the mayor himself has been hinting at something else entirely, something that we’re not really used to dealing with in urban Canada.

In speaking out against the safe-inhalation program that has saved the lives of an estimated half-dozen to dozen crack users over the past couple of years, O’Brien keeps referring to his personal beliefs. Research by Dr Lynn Leonard of University Of Ottawa has proven the crack-pipe giveaway works at reducing the transmission of HIV and hep C among users, improves health generally, and gives users an opportunity to interact with professionals who can help move them toward recovery programs when they are ready. (Handing out the pipes doesn’t cure addiction, but it cost-effectively reduces health risks and creates interactions that can lead to treating a person’s addiction down the road.)

O’Brien, in contrast, talks about his beliefs that handing out the kits is wrong. His beliefs that it encourages people to continue unacceptable behaviour.

It took me a while to get my head around this. Larry O’Brien made his mark as a high-tech entrepreneur — and that’s what voters were attracted to. As an entrepreneur, I figured he’d have a pragmatic mind. As someone in high-tech, I figured he’d have a scientific brain, one that put facts and research first and opinions and preformed beliefs second. Like many people, I’m waking up to realize this man is not a man of ideas, but of ideology. He’s not a man of science, but a man of religious conviction.

In his opposition to crack pipes, we’re witnessing Larry O’Brien bringing his religious and political beliefs into synchronicity. With his reluctance to meet with the gay community, I believe we’re also witnessing some deep-seated feelings at work.

In his comments following the meeting with George Bush, O’Brien spoke frankly about how both his and Bush’s political work reflects their faith-based and family values.

This ought to grab our attention. In Canada, we’re not used to Christian Right ideologues running our governments. Not in our cities, anyway. Is Ottawa now waking up to realize we’ve got a mayor that would be more comfortable south of the border? Do we have a Republican Christian-Right mayor who is going to force his religious beliefs on us? Sure seems that way.