Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 14, 2004
Faithful Catholics must vote
"Don't vote; it just encourages them." That retort is an attempt to use humour to express a declining public confidence in the political process. But the cynicism it expresses isn't funny - it's a threat to democracy itself.
In their recent guidelines (WCR, May 24) for participating in Election 2004, the Canadian bishops' social affairs commission said, "Engagement in the political process is a constant civic duty, not only during electoral campaigns. We encourage Catholics to increase their awareness of the issues involved, to raise their concerns with the political candidates, to encourage strong civic debates, to run for political office and especially to vote."
Participation is not an option for faithful Catholics. We may not like any of the political parties from which we can choose. We may deplore the negative campaigning that leaves us mistrustful of all politicians. And we may think that all (or most) politicians are, if not crooks, certainly out to feather their own nests.
However, this attitude is understandable. Politicians and their supporters devote considerable effort to telling voters and the media why their opponents' platforms are two-faced, impossible to implement or a road to dire consequences.
Then the media, in a well-intentioned effort to provide unbiased and critical coverage, also hold the parties' platforms up to negative scrutiny.
How can voters who are not full-time policy analysts reach any conclusion than that all political parties are leading them down the garden path?
It only gets worse. When any candidate goes "off message" and raises issues that the party establishment does not want discussed - such as abortion - the establishment scurries into damage control mode while opposing parties' eyes light up over the candidate's "blunder."
Many voters have questions they want addressed in an atmosphere of reasoned debate. The reason and the debate are too often surpassed as parties put a premium on getting the right spin.
Is it any wonder that people are frustrated and opting out of the process? Is it any wonder that many people no longer bother to keep informed about political issues?
It goes further yet. As local philosophy professor Janet Wesselius stated at the recent 40th anniversary of Citizens for Public Justice, an individualistic society is transforming citizens into consumers.
"The replacement of an identity of a citizen with an identity of a taxpayer, or a consumer of government services, is impoverished."
Giving citizenship top priority over consumerism is not going to be easy. It will start at a young age by giving students a greater understanding of our political process, of the responsibility we have to the common good and of what great issues face our nation.
It will have to include a greater recognition that the vast majority of people in public office at least started out with high ideals and most try to live up to those ideals.
And it will have to include political reform with innovations such as proportional representation which mean that every person's vote really does count.
Determining the makeup of the House of Commons by the proportion of the vote each party receives, rather than the current winner-take-all format, will give a greater voice to minority views.
With proportional representation, one might soon have a significant number of representatives willing to discuss abortion, the environment and a host of other issues now swept under the carpet, without their being branded as lunatics.
A representative Parliament, not the prime minister's office, would control the agenda for our country.
Taking these steps would not be a cure-all for Canada's political malaise. But they would get us back on the road to democracy.
And it is in a real democracy that there is the best hope of truth and justice finally prevailing.
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