Voting guidance offered by bishops, CPJ

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

Joe Gunn

April 11, 2011

Will you vote on May 2? Are the issues that touch your life being discussed by the candidates in ways that represent your values? Does your faith have any bearing on how you vote?

Canada's Catholic bishops hope your answers to these questions are all a resounding "yes." So they have released a guide for voters eligible to participate in next month's federal election.

In Making Our Voices Heard, the bishops hit the right tone by refusing to provide a political platform, but rather a "magnifying glass" on issues to consider as we go to the polls.

What might we expect in this brief three-page guide?

First, we might each begin to ask ourselves if the bishops "got it right" in terms of signaling the concerns that are truly important in Scripture, the magisterium and to the faithful. Does this guide resonate with the stated roles of the bishops' conference: to "teach, govern and sanctify"?

I think Making Our Voices Heard does a good job of covering the range of issues raised by Catholic social teaching. The guide begins with a section on life issues, followed by mentions of family, justice and ecology.

There is one query that I'm not best placed to answer, however. The Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, which prepared the document, once invited female advisors to sit among their number so that their expert perspectives could be taken into account. I hope women were consulted in developing this election guide.

A second way to read the guide is to discern if our bishops are signaling new priorities in 2011. The best way to answer this question is to compare the new guide with previous offerings.

There are a lot of similarities with the bishops' 2008 guide. However the 2008 guide omitted any mention of international development issues. Happily, the 2011 guide does call on our government to support the UN's Millennium Development Goals as a way to reduce global poverty and injustice.

In 2008, the bishops' guide called for a process towards peace in Afghanistan, but in 2011 Canada's military involvement in that country and more recently, in Libya, are not mentioned.

HEALTH CARE GLOSSED OVER

Third, are there any issues that the 2011 guide missed? A longer document might have made mention of health care issues, which recent polls suggest is the most important issue for Canadians. The bishops' letter only mentions providing access to quality hospital care for all.

In their section on the family, the bishops do not mention the issue of early child education and care, leaving the reader to guess their intentions for a family-friendly daycare plan.

One might wonder if the bishops will one day consider why a historically high number of Canadians are refusing to vote. Reminders of "the right and responsibility to vote" have not been enough to curb absenteeism.

An ethical reflection on the need for democratic reform in parties, the House and Senate, including proportional representation and electoral financing, would be welcome.

Perhaps most intriguing, what do the bishops mean by their reference to end "excessive, unjustified spending"? Some might interpret this as concern over the billions to be spent on F-35 fighter jets, or 13 new federal prisons, or even money to be lost in planned corporate tax cuts . . . we just aren't told.

Citizens for Public Justice, where I work, also prepared an Election Bulletin for wider use among the ecumenical Christian community. This resource is available on our website, or by requesting printed copies for congregational use.

CPJ chose not only to highlight four issues in depth, but to take stands on them: the crying need for government resolve to eliminate poverty in Canada; our responsibility to welcome newcomers to Canada with warmth and generosity; Canada's environmental crisis, especially successive governments' refusals to curb global warming; and proposals for fair and progressive taxation as part of the common good.

ONGOING COMMENTARY

Throughout the election, CPJ will provide background and commentary from a Christian perspective on a range of social concerns, sharing the best of our work and that of colleague organizations working on themes like affordable housing, peace, aboriginal concerns, justice and corrections, among others.

Making Our Voices Heard will start the conversation among Christians and for this reason alone, it is a profitable read.

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)