Discerning Electoral Options: A Pastoral Reflection from the Episcopal Commission for Social AffairsTuesday, October 31 2000
The approach of a federal election presents a privileged opportunity for people of good will to prayerfully reflect on the health of our life together as a caring community. It is also an occasion to ask ourselves what kind of society we want.
But how do we sort through sophisticated, overwhelming and often contradictory messages? What criteria should we use in deciding to support one political candidate over another? What questions should we ask before choosing
a particular candidate?
The Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs offers the following reflections in the hope that they will contribute to enlightening our social consciences and to affirming the deep social values that animate us throughout our daily lives.
This document (also available as a leaflet) does not tell people how to vote. Guided by our own consciences, all of us need to make the best possible choice based on a multiplicity of issues, the programs of political parties, as well as the character of the individual candidates themselves.
We do emphasize, however, each Christian’s moral obligation to exercise their democratic right and to participate fully in building the Reign of God through active and thoughtful involvement in society. Discerning electoral options, although very important, are but one manner of exercising this responsibility.
The Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs wishes to draw your attention
to three important aspects of Church teaching:
1. RESPECT FOR THE HUMAN PERSON
Since each human being is created in the image of God, everyone has the right to enjoy life fully, from conception until natural death. God entrusts to each of us the task of showing reverence for, and promoting, all human life. Respect for the human being demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new lifestyle involving practical choices — at the personal, family, social and international levels — on the basis of the primacy of persons over things, of being over having.
Based on this knowledge that life is truly sacred, how are the different political parties and candidates committed to:
- defending the right to life of the unborn?1
- preserving existing legal prohibitions against euthanasia and assisted
- opposing capital punishment?
- improving healthcare, especially care for the dying? Are they in favour of enhanced homecare and pharmacare?2
- promoting measures to assist parents to reconcile their family and professional responsibilities, at a time when businesses, due to competitiveness, are becoming more demanding?
2. PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR
For those who live the Christian life, concern for those who are impoverished is not just a political option, but a Gospel imperative. As Pope John Paul II has stated, the moral measure of society is how the most vulnerable
In this area, are the proposals of the political parties addressing:
- the human cost of economic and financial policies which keep one in every six Canadians, and one in every five Canadian children living in poverty?
- the reduction of the number of persons who benefit from social programs, or rather, enhancing actions aimed at reducing poverty?
- the reduction of debts, deficits, and taxes by passing the burden on to the more vulnerable, that is, the unemployed, women, children, newcomers and disabled persons?
- the growing gap between rich and poor?
3. ACHIEVING THE COMMON GOOD
The common good can only be achieved by recognizing each person’s human dignity, and by working for the well-being of the poor through gestures of authentic solidarity. The common good is all those social conditions which allow and encourage the full development of the human person. Public authorities work toward the common good when they govern for the advantage of all citizens.
What are the different political party programs saying in this regard?
- Do they give priority to policies that would create stable and well-paid
jobs tied to a socially and economically integrated development strategy?
- Do their policies effectively care for the environment; for example, the preservation of non-renewable resources and sustainable human development in Canada and abroad? How will they meet Canada’s international commitments to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions?3
- Do they promote local and regional development strategies, in the socio-economic, cultural and political spheres, designed to strengthen cooperation among communities?
- As members of our global village, do they propose to increase our contribution to international development assistance, cancel the unpayable debts of poor countries and establish fair commercial trade agreements?4>
SOME GUIDING LIGHTS
During this election campaign the Church’s social teachings aid our discernment. Politics and the economy exist for people, not the other way around. All political and economic activity must be enlightened by moral principles. Economic choices and the ensuing policies must be judged by how well life, human dignity and families are protected and promoted. An economic and political "balance sheet" should indicate a priority for the care of persons living in poverty and the most vulnerable. All persons have a right to life and the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, a healthy environment and economic security. All persons have a right to employment, fair wages, equitable social benefits, decent working conditions, and membership in a trade union.
In addition, each person has a responsibility to provide for the needs of his or her family and contribute to the advancement of society. Together, Canadian Christian Churches have made their voices heard concerning situations they have felt, and still feel, are of priority. We encourage you to become aware of these concerns and then discuss them in your community.5
THE GREAT JUBILEE OF THE YEAR 2000
The 2000 election has a particular significance, since we will choose the federal authorities that will lead us beyond the new millennium. As we celebrate the Jubilee Year 2000 by reflecting on the Scriptures, especially the texts of Leviticus 25 and Luke 4, we invite you to examine the following
- What are the political parties proposing that will enable newcomers to Canada to arrive and settle with dignity? For example, are they prepared to rescind the $975 Right of Landing fee for immigrants?
- Are the parties committed to adopting the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and, in particular, are they prepared to set up an independent tribunal to settle outstanding land claims?6
- What initiatives are they proposing to put an end to the exploitation and
poverty of children?
- What are their programs for promoting women’s rights in the home and in the workplace?
We encourage Christians to join their voices with others of good will in favour of human dignity, in favour of the impoverished, in favour of the common good. Together, the journey of action for justice will enable us to fully celebrate the Jubilee Year 2000!
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Note: On May 8, 1997 the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs released a leaflet entitled Exercising Our Responsibility. The present document draws upon many of the relevant elements of the 1997 text, in the renewed hope that this reflection be of use to Canadians as they participate in the current electoral process.
1. Catholic Organization for Life and Family
2. Catholic Health Association of Canada, Federal Election Kit
3. Inter-Church Committee on Ecology
4. Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
5. Interventions of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on several issues, such as the February 2000 Budget
6. The Aboriginal Rights Coalition