Creation groans

  • September 26, 2008

{mosimage}In this federal election campaign, Canada’s Catholic bishops are calling upon all Catholics to consider environmental questions when they vote. In its recent pastoral letter on ecology, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “We hope our elected representatives will remember first of all the heritage we are leaving our children when making important decisions. Because we love our children, what environment, what society do we wish to bequeath to them?”


What environment indeed! It is rated as one of the top three questions Canadian voters are considering in the run-up to the Oct. 14 ballot. And all the political parties have a plan, more or less detailed, for improving the environment. In fact, one of the parties, the Green party, has adopted the official environmental colour as its name to underline that this is its primary focus.

But how do we judge these plans? Are there any guideposts we can use as Catholics? 

The bishops offer some general principles. One is that there should be no false choice between saving the environment or saving jobs. “This kind of dilemma is a symptom of a profound imbalance between economic activities and the place of the human being in nature,” says the Federal Election 2008 Guide published by the CCCB Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs.

The commission points out Pope Benedict’s observation that while “profit is legitimate and, in just measure, necessary for economic development,” but that profit cannot be put before an equitable, sustainable development.

So the question that comes to mind is how sustainable the parties’ “green” policies are. Are they based on careful stewardship of our resources and wisdom concerning the proper role of government and the private sector? In other words, will they work without damaging the economy?

Some helpful information for such questions comes from a study commissioned last year by the Conservative government. The report by M.K. Jaccard and Associates for Natural Resources Canada considered whether a $50-per-tonne tax on carbon, with associated shifts in income tax and government spending, would harm the economy. The Green Party, by the way, promises just such a tax, while the Liberal Party “Green Shift” offers a similar carbon tax and a reduction in income and other taxes to produce a revenue-neutral plan. The report suggests that, contrary to assertions from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, such a plan would have an insignificant impact on the economy.

Most analysts suggest both the Liberals and Greens would reduce greenhouse gases more than the Conservative plan, though by how much is debatable. Meanwhile, the NDP has a similar plan, though not nearly as detailed, thus it is difficult to judge.

All of this means that voters cannot simply dismiss environmental issues or rely on soundbites from the political leaders. It means reading the party platforms and asking them, as the Canadian bishops do, to “remember the children” and the world they will live in a generation from now.

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