Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 5, 2005
Catholic witness in public office
Churchgoers bring faith into politics
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Numerous Alberta Catholics have contributed to federal and provincial politics during the past 100 years.
Perhaps the height of Catholic involvement in the legislature came during the Lougheed era of the 1970s and early '80s. House Speaker Gerry Amerongen, cabinet ministers Julian Koziak, Bill Diachuk and Connie Osterman were all Catholics as were other members of the legislature.
MLA Catherine Chichak also served on Edmonton city council and the separate school board and today remains active in the Ukrainian Catholic community.
But while Catholics have been active in politics, their numbers have never reached a level that might be suggested by the fact that 30 per cent of Albertans are Catholic.
Three Catholics who have remained churchgoers and contributed mightily to the political process are retired Senator Douglas Roche, former Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski and Nick Taylor, a former senator, MLA and Liberal Party leader.
Second Vatican Council
"Faith is the reason I went into political life," Roche said in a recent interview. "I took seriously the Second Vatican Council, which said, among other things, that we are called to work in our own way for the continued development of God's world and that we must foster and promote social justice values."
Author, parliamentarian and diplomat, Roche, a member of Edmonton's Assumption Parish, served as Progressive Conservative MP for Edmonton-Strathcona from 1972 to 1984 when he was appointed Canada's ambassador for disarmament, a position he held until 1989.
He was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1998 and served in that position until his retirement in June 2004.
Roche has long been concerned with the issue of nuclear disarmament. He is also the author of 17 books, his latest being The Human Right to Peace (Novalis, 2003). He is currently concluding a new book on nuclear weapons, Beyond Hiroshima.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II presented him with the Papal Medal for his service as special advisor on disarmament and security matters. In 1998, the Holy See named him a knight commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.
Among the many other public tasks Roche has assumed was that of founding editor of the Western Catholic Reporter (1965-72).
"I believe that public service is a way to bring the social justice agenda forward and that's why I went into political life," Roche said.
"When I was into political life I had to work on many issues, competing strains, but I tried to keep foremost two essential issues - development and disarmament - that could enhance and build a new human security. In so doing I've always been reinforced by my faith and the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus clearly said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.'
"And so I have learned in my long professional career in public life that the fostering of the values of peace are a paramount moral issue of our time and need the full engagement of all persons aspiring for peace in the world."
Roche said faith has always been a positive force in his life, even in those times when he had to compromise.
"Politics is the process of interaction and one has to be sensitive to others' needs," he said. "One of the qualities that our world needs most of all is reconciliation. In the process of dialogue and reconciliation one must become sensitive to the needs of others. It doesn't mean you roll over your own views but in the exposition of your own views you must be sensitive to others' views."
Nick Taylor, a geologist, oil entrepreneur and father of nine, began his political career on the Calgary Catholic school board. In 1974 he became leader of the Alberta Liberal Party. He was leader for 12 years before being elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1986. He served as MLA from 1986 to 1996 representing the constituency of Westlock-Sturgeon-Redwater-Smoky Lake.
"They used to keep changing the boundaries to try to beat me but I kept winning," he laughed.
As an MLA he served as house leader and opposition critic for native affairs, forestry, agriculture and energy. Taylor was appointed to the Senate in 1996 and served in that position for nearly seven years before his retirement in the fall of 2002.
He currently lives in Chestermere, near Calgary, with his wife Margaret.
"Faith I think was very important; it gives you the basic rule by which you measure many problems as they come to you," Taylor, 78, said in a recent interview from Calgary, where he still oversees some small oil and mining operations.
"Mind you, some of the problems were with the Catholic clergy, who quite often, in my humble opinion, are very extremists (particularly in the pro-life field). They weren't practical. They would say they were against certain things and then be angry with you because you weren't."
Everyone born equal
Taylor thinks being Catholic basically makes you a small "l" liberal. "I think it is very easy to understand small 'l' liberalism if you are a Catholic because small 'l' liberalism says everybody is supposed to be given an equal chance," he said.
"If there is anything that (the Catholic faith) preaches, it is that everybody is equal and there is nobody being born to a privilege."
Taylor, a member of Calgary's St. Thomas More Parish, says his faith had a positive effect in his political life.
"I think that if you are known as a Catholic, there is a pretty good assessment by people in the political and business world at what your thoughts will likely be on certain issues," he asserts. "If you are known to support a (religious) group, I think the public is better able to assess what your character is."
Taylor believes one of his contributions to Alberta was being in the opposition. "Opposition influences the party in power more than people think," he said. "If you are an effective opposition you draw the government over to certain lines.
"So I think when I was in the opposition I was able to draw attention to areas such as environment and education, my two favourite areas; environment because I am a geologist and mining engineer and education because I came up to politics by being on the school board. Being an earth scientist I was quite aware how fragile mother earth is and how easily it is wrecked to pillage by rabid capitalism or rabid exploitation."
Added Taylor: "I think I was successful in drawing the government to the left up to a point, not as much as I wanted."
Taylor has been accused of being a bleeding heart liberal more than once. That doesn't bother him. "I'm proud of that as a matter of fact. It is better than being a cold-hearted conservative," he said.
" I've always found it very difficult to understand why putting money into schemes that help the poor help themselves is considered wasting money whereas putting money into schemes that help the rich get richer is supposed to be investing."
See the opportunities
Roche, a world traveller, has always taken the view that it is hard to find a land more blessed than Canada. "And within Canada it is hard to find a place that's more blessed than Alberta," he says.
"We are privileged people and we need to lift up our eyes to see both the dangers, poverty and suffering in so much of the world, on the one hand, and also to see the opportunities for creativeness and helping and leading, on the other hand, that we have here in Alberta.
"The people of Alberta have, in my view, an enormous responsibility to reach out to fellow Canadians and to the rest of the world and not to succumb to a narrow-minded or interior agenda. I have always had that foremost in my political thinking."
Mazankowski, now 70, served as a cabinet minister under Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney. Long interested in politics, he became an important member of the Progressive Conservative Party, and in the 1968 federal election, he was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as the member of Parliament for Vegreville. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
During the short-lived Clark government, Mazankowski served as minister of transport. When the Tories returned to power under Mulroney in the 1984 election, he again became transport minister. In 1986, he was promoted to deputy prime minister and government house leader.
Advocate for free trade
Mazankowski became one of the most widely known public faces of the Tory government. He played an important role as an advocate for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The Mulroney government became increasingly unpopular, however, but Mazankowski was less affected than others. In 1991, he became finance minister, replacing Michael Wilson.
Mazankowski retired from politics in 1993 when Kim Campbell succeeded Mulroney as PC leader and prime minister. He returned to the private sector, and served on corporate boards. He declined an offer of a Senate seat made by Brian Mulroney in his final days as prime minister.
He has remained involved in public life. In 2002, he headed an investigation into Alberta's health care system. He also played an important role in the merger between the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance party.