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In the ‘war on Christmas,’ MPs criticize political correctness in public service

Treasury Board President Tony Clement is pictured on Nov.26, 2013. Mr. Clement is one of at least three Tory MPs who received gold-embossed business cards that break long-standing government rules on fancy stationery.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Federal Conservatives have spent a significant part of December mounting a rather lopsided defence in the War on Christmas – lopsided because it didn't seem like anyone was fighting back.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement was one of the first to fire off a volley of Christmas cheer – one that was careful to include Jewish Canadians.

"I would like to inform the House that it is in fact the festive holiday season throughout the land. Whether it is Hanukkah or the advent of Christmas, public sector employees should also be able to decorate and celebrate," Mr. Clement said during a daily Question Period in early December. "Our government has made it clear that the workplace can be a festive zone and we will not be grinched by the forces of political correctness."

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The notion that "political correctness" is running amok over Christmas did not originate with the Tories in Ottawa.

South of the border, the Fox News network has spent years explaining to its viewers that Christmas is under attack from the atheist forces of the left. Every bell being rung in a public place that was silenced because it was too loud, every decoration that was removed because it was a fire hazard, has been ammunition in the fight.

It's an "us verses them" mantra that has formed the basis of political fundraising efforts. The campaign manager for Mitch McConnell, the leader of the minority Republicans, wrote to supporters this year saying: "This War on Christmas is real, and it's unconstitutional. Please take a stand right now and chip-in with $50, $25, or $10 to help us protect Christmas."

Here in Canada, the battle has been less heated, mostly because it's apparently more difficult to find a political opponent.

In fact, when the head of Service Canada in Quebec told his employees last year that Christmas decorations were verboten on federal property, it was a New Democrat from Quebec (that bastion of secularism) who leaped to the defence of holiday cheer.

"Why do the Conservatives want to steal the magic of Christmas from the Service Canada employees?" said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice. "What do they have against celebrating Christmas?"

Conservative ministers were quick to point out that the directive had not come from them and that it would not be tolerated.

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It is a message they have reiterated over and over again this year.

David Sweet, the Tory who represents Ancaster–Dundas–Flamborough–Westdale near Hamilton, Ont., wanted to clarify that it is acceptable for parliamentarians of all religious stripes to hear the words Merry Christmas.

"I hear a lot about political correctness and wishing someone merry Christmas. There are those who will say, 'do not say Merry Christmas; say happy holidays,'" Mr. Sweet said during one Question Period.

"Political correctness is deluding Christmas in a well-intentioned but unnecessary attempt to be inclusive. After all, we deck the halls of Parliament with Christmas trees, not holiday trees," he said. "As we spread holiday cheer this Christmas season, I ask the Minister of State for Multiculturalism if he considers it an offence to wish someone Merry Christmas during the holiday season?"

Tim Uppal, the Multiculturalism Minister who is also a Sikh, assured Mr. Sweet that Merry Christmas is in no way offensive.

"Canada has a long tradition of pluralism and it is truly wonderful that people of all faiths are able to practise and celebrate their traditions openly in Canada," Mr. Uppal assured the House. "True diversity means respecting the traditions of all Canadians, including those of Christian Canadians. I ask all members during this Christmas season to wish our Christian friends a very merry Christmas."

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Meanwhile, Nina Grewal, another Conservative Sikh who represents Fleetwood–Port Kells in British Columbia, was concerned that some Canadians are trying to dampen the Christmas spirit.

"Political correctness and commercialization dilute the true meaning and the spirit of Christmas. Christians must not be denied the right to openly celebrate it. Christmas cannot be Christmas without Christ in it," Ms. Grewal told fellow MPs. "Canada stands as a symbol of tolerance and religious freedom. We must continue to respect and uphold religious rights. Freedom of religion means that all Canadians have the equal opportunity to openly practise their faith, including Christians."

So why fight a battle when no one is punching back?

Trevor Harrison, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge who has studied populist politics, said the War on Christmas targets small-l liberalism and secularism and tells Conservative supporters that the government will stand up to "the people who are trying to trash your traditions."

But because the Conservatives have spent so much time courting Canada's ethnic communities, they have to do it in an inclusive way that appeals to all religions, said Mr. Harrison. They want to suggest that their political opponents, he said, are "anti-religious, wishy-washy types who just want to get rid of these important cultural values such as Santa Claus."

Gloria Galloway is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.

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