Your right, and duty

  • April 27, 2011
The early months of 2011 have witnessed many hundreds of people killed in North Africa and the Middle East because they dared to demand the right to vote in free elections. In Canada, where freedom is taken for granted, this week’s federal election will be snubbed by 40 per cent of eligible voters.

It is a sad statement about the state of our democracy when millions of citizens give voting day the cold shoulder, particularly when so many people in so many countries are giving their lives for the right to cast a ballot. In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, hundreds have been killed this year alone by regimes that refuse to grant citizens the ballot. Canadian troops are in Afghanistan and our fighter planes are supporting Libyan freedom fighters because we believe their struggle to replace oppression with democracy is just. But at home millions of Canadian citizens, many of whom presumably support the Afghan and Libya interventions, treat their own democracy with indifference.

The explanations for that are varied but none offer a good excuse for citizens to shirk their civic duty. Yes, four elections in eight years add up to voter fatigue. A string of minority parliaments has created an atmosphere of hostility in Ottawa that is off-putting to voters. There have been a series of scandals over the past decade, from the Liberals’ ad-scam fiasco to the Conservative’s Bev Oda affair, which have deepened voter cynicism. Attack ads, commonplace among all major parties, debase our democracy and foster harmful polarization in society. Yet, staying home on election day is not the answer.

Catholics in particular are called to actively promote the common good by engaging in the political process. For some, that means participating in public life by standing for elected office. But for most Catholics it means, at minimum, casting a ballot on election day for a candidate who can best represent Christian values in Parliament. Voting is not an option; it is a duty.

Canada’s bishops urge Catholics to carefully discern their choices. They believe a candidate’s views on life issues is a paramount consideration, as well as their position on a broad range of family and social justice matters. And even when there is no obvious choice — for example, when no candidate reflects the Church’s teaching on life — the obligation to vote remains. But it then becomes incumbent on citizens, acting respectfully, to continuously lobby MPs to advocate for a more just and moral society.

In many countries, people are willing to risk death to be able to cast a ballot in an open and free election. Canadians are blessed to have that privilege. We have a civic duty to vote but, also, we owe it to our less-fortunate world brethren to respect their cause by exercising our right on election day.

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