The brief and controversial era of Stockwell Day, a former lay Pentecostal minister, is over for the Canadian Alliance, the leading opposition party.
Stephen Harper, a Christian & Missionary Alliance church member, took office in May as the opposition leader in Parliament after soundly defeating Day in a bitter contest for the party leadership.
"You have just voted to move our party forward into the future," Harper, well known as a fiscal conservative, told cheering supporters at a spring rally in Calgary.
That future will almost certainly include a change in the party's approach to divisive moral issues. Canadian Alliance enjoys its strongest support among evangelicals in Canada's more conservative west.
Day endured intense public criticism last year for his evangelical beliefs and his efforts to have the party become more conservative on social issues. Under pressure from party members, Day resigned last December, barely a year after taking the reins (CT, Sept. 3, 2001, p. 33).
Harper, 42, says he will try to change the way Parliament works. Party-line votes dominate Canadian parliamentary procedure. Harper wants to promote the increased use of free votes in the House of Commons. In a free vote, individual lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, vote according to their conviction or their constituents' views, not by party.
Harper wants to make members of Parliament more accountable to voters through recalls or referenda.
On moral issues, Harper resists "litmus tests." As a Reform Party member in 1994, for example, Harper opposed his party's resolution against gay marriage. Harper opposes same-sex marriage but says a political party should permit its members greater freedom. "People have to be able to belong to political parties ...1