Option for the poor

  • September 18, 2008
{mosimage}When the Catholic Church talks about Christianity’s “preferential option for the poor,” the notion has both personal and political implications. During this federal election campaign in Canada, this principle should help guide Catholic voters in making a wise choice on their ballots.

The Canadian bishops have identified this “option for the poor” as a “Gospel imperative.” In the document, “Election 2004: Responsibility and Discernment,” the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that “Jesus had a special love for the weak and vulnerable; He identified Himself with them and proclaimed the Good News to them.”
He also fed them and cured them of their illnesses. For Christians, there is no escaping this aspect of our faith. We are called individually to help those in need; we are also called to promote the welfare of the marginalized through our participation in civic life.

“Pope John Paul II has said that the moral measure of a society is how the most vulnerable are faring. Catholics are to provide for those in immediate need and to act against injustice. They are called to give preference especially to those who are most at risk, poor or oppressed. How this shapes public policy goals and priorities reflects the character of society,” the bishops wrote.

People of good will can agree on this basic goal while disagreeing on the tools used to achieve it. All the political parties in this current campaign offer a smorgasbord of strategies they argue will help the least among us: tax cuts, grants for families, help for the unemployed, bursaries for students — they’re all on the table.

Some strategies work better than others. For instance, tax cuts are neither good nor bad; what matters is how they help the poorest Canadians, maintain fair taxation and preserve the economy.

The challenge for anyone who cares about the “option for the poor” is to decide which party has a plan that will do the most good for the poor while practising good stewardship on the economy and the operation of government. No one says this is an easy task; election campaigns are fertile grounds for nonsense claims, such as those that say Stephane Dion’s Green Shift plan is a tax grab while ignoring its tax cuts to low and middle income Canadians or supplements to the income of poor seniors. Nor can people deny that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have reduced the marginal income tax rate during their last term.

Voters will have to push those seeking their votes to demonstrate in concrete terms how they will serve those in need. Insist on asking them to produce their national poverty strategy; ask them how they will preserve full access to quality health care for those who can’t afford private care or affordable housing for all; scrutinize their tax promises for fairness to all Canadians.

Let’s use this election to offer hope to all of us, especially those least able to make their voices heard.

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