Archdiocese gears up for federal election

By 
  • August 28, 2019

Something big, free and political is coming live to Toronto Catholics before the Oct. 21 federal election. 

The Archdiocese of Toronto will host what it expects to be the largest live-audience election debate in Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Oct. 3, with room for more than 1,000 people to hear major-party representatives outline positions on everything from refugees to poverty to euthanasia.

The unprecedented event, moderated by veteran TV journalist Don Newman and introduced by Cardinal Thomas Collins, will be live-streamed on the Archdiocese of Toronto website and its social media platforms. The debate participants will be named later.

“We’re seeing a general pattern in society where you’re seeing less engagement in the political process,” explained Archdiocese of Toronto communications and public relations manager Mark Brosens. “There’s also less positivity in the political conversation. As a Church, we have the ability to step into that void and make sure that Catholics are engaged, that they’re informed and that they can have a positive contribution.”

The Oct. 3 Catholic election debate will be just one of a number of efforts to influence the tone, content and nature of Canada’s political conversation throughout the election campaign. Those efforts include:

• A new 32-page guide to Catholic social teaching and the 2019 election from Catholic Charities of Toronto and Catholic publisher Novalis;

• An extensive social Gospel guide for voters by the ecumenical Christian social action group Citizens for Public Justice; 

• An upcoming voter guide from Campaign Life Coalition;

• A Catholic get-out-the-vote campaign by the Toronto-based volunteer organization Catholic Conscience.

The big Toronto Catholic debate will be the capstone on a social media campaign that will inject reliable, verifiable facts and Catholic social teaching into the swirling storm of tweets, posts and videos that are part of Canada’s political life, said Brosens.

“It’s a 21st-century effort that we’re doing,” he said.

Shareable videos and infographics from the Archdiocese of Toronto will speak to campaign-trail issues with snippets from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and papal documents, but they will never mention a political party or push Catholics to vote in one direction or another, Brosens said.

“These are the issues; here’s some facts. Why don’t you think of how you should best discern your vote and use your vote in order to advance the common good,” he said.

All of the material to be shared by the Archdiocese of Toronto has been vetted by lawyers, veteran journalists and an advisory board to ensure it remains politically neutral.

“Being non-partisan is a huge focus of what we’re trying to do here,” Brosens said.

“The big challenge has always been — regardless of the historical period — to encourage people to think with the Church,” said Catholic historian, president and vice chancellor of Vancouver’s St. Mark’s College Peter Meehan. “That’s what tools like this do. The unfortunate thing is that people are so distant from the active practice or engagement with the Church that they’ve lost any sense that it is actually this great moral, spiritual guide and voice and teacher. Done the right way, these things can bring people back to a more active, engaged Catholicism.”

Inspired by the success of The Canadian-Muslim Vote — a campaign that boosted Muslim participation in federal elections from 46.5 per cent in 2011 to 79 per cent in 2015, according to a Mainstreet Research survey — Catholic Conscience is hoping to boost Catholic political participation.

“The duty to vote doesn’t just extend to making sure you go out to vote. There’s a certain duty we have to think about our vote, to inform ourselves before we make that decision,” said Catholic Conscience director Brendan Steven. 

Catholic Conscience will distribute “Conscience Cards,” one page explanations of Catholic social teaching and how it may relate to an issue. The Conscience Cards will be distributed by e-mail to anyone who signs up at their website (catholicconscience.org) and on their Facebook page.

The Catholic Charities voters’ guide, covering everything from abortion to homelessness to the environment, is called “For Heaven’s Sake, Vote!” Single copies are $2.95, available at en.novalis.ca, and cheaper for bulk orders to schools and parishes.

An ecumenical perspective on the state of Canadian democracy, poverty and climate change is available in a 12-page guide from the Citizens for Public Justice at cpj.ca/2019-federal-election. The CPJ is also staging a cross-Canada tour of 11 town halls (cpj.ca/tour2019).

Free tickets to the Oct. 3 Catholic election debate will be available at www.archtoronto.org/election beginning Sept. 3. 

The hope is, this event will not just highlight party positions for Catholics, but will expose the parties to Catholic concerns, said Brosens. 

“There’s two million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Toronto. There’s 57 ridings here. We are a powerful force in those ridings. If we can have politicians see that — if we can see that ourselves — we can move forward,” he said.

Comments (1)

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Given the required political neutrality of a registered charity such as the Archdiocese of Toronto, I am concerned about the mention of a voter guide by Campaign Life Coalition and the manner in which the guide will be distributed. According to...

Given the required political neutrality of a registered charity such as the Archdiocese of Toronto, I am concerned about the mention of a voter guide by Campaign Life Coalition and the manner in which the guide will be distributed. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, ",Any activity that supports or opposes a political party or candidate is not a PPDDA, and a charity cannot carry on such an activity to any degree." Such a voter guide will be odds with how the October 3 debate is to be conducted and the reference to "the common good."

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Michael Teixeira
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