Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrates victory in the 2011 elections. Elections Canada has fielded 31,000 complaints from voters who say they were on the receiving end of telephone dirty tricks on or around federal election day last May. CNS photo

Ethical engagement

By 
  • March 6, 2012

If it is possible for something to be shocking but not surprising then the so-called election robo-calls controversy fits the bill. Elections Canada has fielded 31,000 complaints from voters who say they were on the receiving end of telephone dirty tricks on or around federal election day last May.

The revelations are shocking because widespread deception may be expected in fledgling democracies or authoritarian states that masquerade as democracies, but surely not in a country like Canada. Then again, the allegations are not surprising because, sadly, Canadian politics have been travelling a slippery slope for many years when it comes to declining moral standards and ethical practices. Maybe we should have seen this coming.

Elections Canada and the RCMP are investigating exactly what happened and, if the allegations are true, will try to determine who is responsible. It is alleged that many voters received phone calls directing them to bogus polling stations on voting day. If authorities discover an illegal campaign to alter election results, then the responsible parties, particularly those who gave the orders, could rightly be facing jail time.

But regardless of what the investigation reveals, the outcome of this story should be a demand by Canadians for a cleansing of the political process.

Unfortunately, it does not require a stretch of the imagination to envision electoral wrongdoing occurring in Canada. That’s because Canadian politics are increasingly uncivil. The evidence is seen in unruly Parliamentary behaviour when the House is sitting. It’s seen in snarly partisanship year round, in nasty attack ads and in scandals like the Adscam sponsorship affair that discredited Liberals or the In-and-Out election funding controversy that hangs over the Conservatives.

The one heartening aspect of the robo-calls affair is that it has engaged Canadians. Maybe this will be the tipping point when voters decide they’ve had enough. The May election had a voter turnout of just 61 per cent, a dismal showing at least partly blamed on popular discontent over the way politics in Canada are conducted. It’s time voters turned the tables and demanded ethical accountability from our political leaders.

Catholics in particular have a duty to become engaged. Canadian politics appear to be experiencing a shortfall of such Christian values as truth, charity and integrity. These were once fundamental to Canadian institutions but seem less so now at a time when secular politics make little accommodation for religion. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Still, people of faith have a responsibility to make their voices heard in the public square and to oppose the creeping moral collapse of political society.

Religious values warrant a prominent place in the national conversation. They are the antidote to the reigning political mentality that suggests anything goes, just don’t get caught. It’s time to speak up.

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