Sunday, 18 May 2014

Questions for Candidates

It is somewhat of a truism that religion and politics aren’t supposed to mix. Yet churches participate in many aspects of the civil society we call Ontario and Canada.
We do not have a perceived doctrine of separation of church and state, as it is understood in the United States. Church and state have often been partners in the building of common society, and in the case of residential schools, partners in atrocity.
Recently a group of people who belong to the United Church, who form a community together called Common Life community, developed some questions for candidates in our provincial election.
  Common Life communities are groups of Christians who covenant together ro engage in faith actions such as the study of scripture, prayer, to learn, to pray, to give and receive spiritual direction and growth and to act for justice.
There are about one hundred Christians engaged in Common Life communities across Canada.
The questions which Common Life communities are asking in the current Ontario elections are not the kind of questions politicians are used to answering. At one point, long before the election was called, the questions were put to a member of cabinet. That politician responded that in all their years of campaigning they had never been asked any of these questions.
I think we have a good opportunity to ask them now, to all our candidates from all political parties, in the midst of a provincial election campaign. That’s why I want to share them with you.
Because the United Church has made a strong commitment to right relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples, the questions focus on that area of interest. But they could just as easily lead candidates and voters into other areas of conversation.
The five questions are:
How would your government broaden the school curriculum to make mandatory the inclusion of more aboriginal history; the contributions of indigenous peoples, and the history of residential schools from an indigenous perspective?
How does funding for indigenous peoples work in your party's platform?
What is your response to the "Idle No More" movement?
What kind of fair and informed consultation and legislation would your party put in place regarding resource development on First Nations and indigenous lands?
What steps might be taken to address attitudes of racism in provincial policies?
I recognize that these are questions which have particular relevance to our community. We have two First Nations in Grey and Bruce, as well as First Nations peoples who live outside of those communities. But what steps have we taken to address the matters of those communities in our broader public life?  Are our politicians committed to a respectful conversation with First Nations?
I would not expect any politician to give comprehensive or complex answers to any of the questions Common Life has asked. I think answers require research, thought, consideration and care. Just the same things we would expect from any person running for any political office. I’d even accept an “I’ll get back to you on that.” But I would hold that person, if elected, accountable for both a response and action.
If any candidates would care to respond, I’d love to hear from them. I am sure this newspaper would accept candidates’ letters, too. I only hope the questions which Common Life has asked won’t be met by silence.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County