Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 24, 2003
PM - follow a vision, not polls
Paul Martin begins his term as Canada's prime minister with the hopes of a nation behind him. With the Liberals strong and the opposition in disarray, he is likely to be the head of our government for some time.
The Catholic Church has many issues on its agenda, issues which were mostly placed there by court decisions, scientific advances and economic inequality. Those issues each boil down to respect for human dignity - dignity before birth, during a natural life and when death draws near. The Canadian Church has been outspoken on issues of same-sex marriage, using embryo tissue for scientific research, abortion, the growing economic inequality, war and peace, and many others. These are not issues the Church invented; they are issues in society to which the Church, as a guardian of human dignity, has sought fit to respond.
We can only see it as a favourable sign that the new prime minister is a weekly churchgoing Catholic and that he has studied and admired the writings of Jacques Maritain, the great French philosopher who helped inspire both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Second Vatican Council's Church in the Modern World.
That is a favourable sign, not because we expect Martin to give the Church a high place among special interest groups in society. Rather, we hope that he is motivated by that greatest of the council's teachings (and one so often neglected) that the role of the laity is to permeate society with the spirit of the Gospel.
Too many times in the past, Catholic politicians who thought it was their duty to defy Church teachings, rather than to see them as providing the foundation for a just society have disappointed us. We hope Martin will have the courage to walk the path less chosen.
It was Jacques Maritain who wrote, "Too long in modern times 'has the Christian world obeyed two opposed rhythms, a Christian rhythm in matters of worship and religion, . . . and a naturalistic rhythm in things of the profane life, the social, economic and political life, things too often abandoned to their proper carnal law.'" May Martin strive to end that split.
No one should expect or desire that Martin will turn Canada into a Catholic theocracy. One of the many values of our society is that it tries to respect freedom of religion. Nor should anyone expect Martin to attempt the politically impossible. Politics is the art of the possible.
But, given that limitation, much is possible. Canadians have a thirst for social justice. And while most Canadians do not want to see abortion outlawed, a majority are uncomfortable with the current situation where no law whatsoever protects the unborn and the taxpayers pay for abortion.
A true leader would take those basic facts and try to weld them into legislation that takes some steps toward a more humane society.
One of our greatest hopes for Martin is that he be a leader, not a manager and not a robot following the latest polls. A leader is someone with a vision who persuades others to follow him, rather than coerce them to toe the line. He draws forth the best men and women to him to help him guide the country, rather than shovelling out patronage plums to his buddies. He knows that government cannot control everything in the country, but that it should inspire all to live by their highest motivations, rather than pander to the lowest common denominator.
If Martin is a leader, one of his central goals should be to overcome Canada's democratic deficit. Our system of governance has become overwhelmingly one of elites - an elite in the prime minister's office, an elite in the court system, an elite in business and media.
Canada cannot become a more just society unless it takes steps towards greater democracy.
The ascendancy of a new prime minister is always a time of hope. And our hope for Paul Martin is that he will respond to what is deepest and highest in his own self and build a nation that will give greater respect to those who have no voice.
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