Compared with their southern neighbours, Canadians are quite wary of mixing religion and politics. Admittedly, Stephen Harper is probably the nearest thing that Canada has had in recent times to a prime minister from the religious right. He is an evangelical Christian of a strongly pro-Israel persuasion. And he has been accused by some of appealing to Islamophobic sentiment by, for example, telling Muslim women not to wear a face-covering niqab at the ceremony when they receive Canadian citizenship. But even Mr Harper treads warily, knowing how allergic some Canadians are to religious slogans, especially in federal politics. For example, his habit of saying "God bless Canada" will appeal to some voters (Canada faces an election on October 19th) and alienate others. This year, his Canada Day message on July 1st cautiously avoided reference to God; last year he made two such allusions in a Canada Day tweet.
And yet religion does have a way of surfacing in parts of the country where feelings run high. Take a row that erupted in British Columbia after one of Mr Harper's parliamentary supporters compared the work of his ruling Progressive Conservative Party to that of Jesus Christ. The politician in question is Wai Young, a member of Vancouver's thriving community of ethnic-Chinese evangelical Christians, who is pictured (above) in a moment of inter-ethnic emollience.
Born in Hong Kong but raised in Canada, Ms Young made two startling statements in an address to an evangelical church, in which she focused on the anti-terrorism law which her party has enacted. One was that the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by Canadians, the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985, could have been averted if such a law had been in force. She claimed that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had known about the bomb plot but were unable to tell the police because their hands were tied by then existing legislation. Warming to the theme, she said her government's firm stance against crime and terror was comparable to the mission of Christianity's founder. "...We are here because we believe that Jesus served, he saved, but he acted as well," she told worshippers at Harvest City church. She added:
I wanted to share with you what I think our government is doing in the same vein. Jesus served and acted to always do the right thing, not the most popular thing. I want you to know that our government will stand firm, we will always act and always do the right thing.
Later, she admitted that she "mis-spoke" about the Air India attack, but she did not withdraw her claim that the government's mission was Christ-like.
Given the strength of the Chinese Christian contingent in the Vancouver South area which she represents, this is unlikely to be the last time that religious themes come up in local debates. But a warning about danger of wooing voters with appeals to faith has been sounded by a nationally respected figure who is also an old adversary of Ms Young: Ujjal Dosanjh, a secular-minded Sikh and veteran of Canadian politics. It was by defeating him that Ms Young entered parliament in 2011.
Mr Dosanjh, a former premier of British Columbia and federal health minister, says he is troubled by a growing tendency to mix belief and the ballot box.
Over the last 10 years, it's become increasingly common to talk about religion during election campaigns and all political parties pander to religious groups more than they ever did before. I think religion plays more of a role today in Canadian politics than it did when I came to Canada in 1968...I'm not happy as a secular politician that religion continues to have so much influence on politics...If we start appealing to people based on different religious factions, we will create a stew of contradictions.
If Mr Dosanjh speaks with passion, it is because he knows where strong ethnic and religious sentiments can lead. As a moderate Sikh, he has often been targeted by hard-line members of his own community, at least since 1985 when he was attacked with an iron bar and received 80 stitches in the head. All that may seem a long way from a few intemperate remarks in a church sermon; but when he speaks of the need for law-makers to represent all citizens, not just particular ethnicities or creeds, he does so with real moral authority.