October 12, 2015

"If need be, a Catholic university must have the courage to speak uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society."

Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities.

Among the various responsibilities of a Catholic university is the call to be faithful to its mission in all its dimensions. This includes the duty to do what is possible to promote a vibrant and just political order.

This particular obligation is especially pertinent for Catholic higher education in Canada in this federal election year, when a period of seemingly bottomless cynicism pervades the ranks of much of Canada's youth about the nature of federal politics.

Among the most obvious signs of this political malaise in our country is the abysmal voter turnout for federal elections. In the last two elections, 2008 and 2011, the voting turnout was a dismal 58.8 per cent and 61.4 per cent respectively.

Of particular concern is the low number of votes cast by younger voters. In the 2011 election for example, only 38.8 per cent of those 18-24 years of age voted.

Of those in the 25-34 age range, only 45 per cent voted, yet this is the demographic that arguably has the most at stake in election outcomes.

That eligible voters have stayed home in droves on election day which is not surprising given the tone of recent federal election campaigns.

They were certainly not about a greater Canada in that no leader and no party offered even a dimly coherent vision for the country.

Instead, these campaigns were characterized by cynical, promise-a-day, niche marketing of specific policies to selected groups.

This noxious pattern of boutique politics is the template for the current federal election campaign, the dominant emphasis of each of the three major parties mostly confined to attending to the so-called "middle class."

While Pope Francis has pleaded for political leaders to "broaden their horizons" to focus on the wellbeing of all citizens, "the common good" has all but disappeared from Canada's political lexicon.

With the one exception of refugee policy that has been forced on to the election agenda by the tsunami of refugees overwhelming Europe, there is little methodical deliberation of major public policy challenges that matter to the wellbeing of all Canadians.


This includes health care, inequities in wealth distribution, the environment and sustainable development, euthanasia, industrial and foreign policy, and youth unemployment.

Canada clearly needs and deserves better.

In the midst of a federal election campaign, Canada's Catholic colleges and universities are obliged to inspire our students to participate in the electoral process by accepting the political and social responsibilities that are requisite for a vigorous democracy.

We are called to encourage students to know governments are our servants, not our masters.

So Canadians have a right to expect public business be transacted in the overall best interests of country rather than on narrower interests of particular groups.


We are obliged to provide opportunities for students to appreciate that this majestically complex country requires insightful and visionary leadership by recalling Proverbs 29.18: "Where there is no vision, the nation perishes."

We are called to provide opportunities for students to understand our currently divisive political discourse and ever widening socio-economic divisions imperil the soul of this nation.

But this can be effectively addressed by respectful deliberations that focus on the broad public interest combined with thoughtful attention to those least able to speak for themselves.

Canada's future demands nothing less.

(Terrence J. Downey, President, St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon, SK: Chair, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada