Fulfill our duty

By 
  • March 30, 2011
A sorry trend of modern times is that election campaigning often exposes the ugly side of democracy. As voters, we should stand on guard to prevent that ugliness from overtaking us.

Instead of a busy spring session of Parliament the nation has been dragged into an election campaign that already is typified by anger. Many voters are rightfully peeved to be called to the polls for the fourth time in seven years at a cost of more than $300 million for a five-week exercise that portends the status quo, another Conservative minority. Canadian armed forces are fighting in Afghanistan and Libya and the country faces a lengthy list of social, environmental and economic challenges as it climbs out of the recession.  The times call for strong leadership but instead our MPs, just 29 months after the last election, are out on the hustings and Ottawa is all but deserted.

Piled on top of all that annoyance is exasperation at the schoolyard behaviour of many candidates, particularly the party leaders. The campaign was less than an hour old last week before the honourable members were calling each other liars.  That was followed by the inevitable attack ads that individually offend candidates and collectively degrade our democracy. It’s enough to drive any voter to despair and cynicism.

Yet Catholic voters are called to rise above the acrimony and become engaged in the political debate in ways that are civil and charitable. We are to be passionate about issues but not hot-headed, fervent about debate but not bad-tempered, partisan to a cause but not ill-willed. Election air is heavy with bitterness but our duty as Christians is to breathe dignity and grace into this charged atmosphere.

Disengaging from the political process is, of course, an increasingly popular option. The 2008 federal election had a 59-per-cent voter turnout, the lowest in Canadian history. But Catholics are obligated to become involved in the process. The Church calls us to nourish the common good by becoming a positive force in society and by exercising our moral responsibility to vote.

In their 2011 Federal Election Guide, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us that voting is a right and a responsibility. Citizens have a duty, the bishops write, to choose a government and send “a clear signal to the candidates” by applying the Church’s moral and social teaching as a “magnifying glass” to scrutinize party platforms.

Catholics have a fundamental obligation to become politically engaged and a Christian duty to contribute to elections in ways that are civil, positive and tolerant. Amid the shrill of attack ads and negative campaigning, we are challenged to reject mud-slinging tactics, to discern the issues and to demand that candidates adhere to high standards of conduct and integrity. To be lights in the darkness.

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