Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Church offers election resource unlike any other

I hate it when a candidate says “I will run on my record”. It is, obviously, the incumbent who makes the statement, but what it does is make the electoral playing field very uneven and unbalanced.

Unless you have been asleep in your hammock on vacation, we are into an election campaign; one of the longest in Canadian history.

If there is any benefit to a longer campaign (and I am willing to be convinced) it is that it may result in more in depth conversations about key issues. Not just an electoral record, but it may provide a better opportunity for voters to take the measure of all the candidates and their leaders.

There are those who say that politics and faith should never mix.

To which I say balderdash.

Politics and religious faith have been entwined since before Canada was a nation. Sometimes the effect was salutatory and sometimes not.

Some of our greatest parliamentarians have been pastors. Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles and Bill Blakie were leaders in parliamentary process and debate. David MacDonald was a Conservative member of Joe Clark’s cabinet.

As we begin this election campaign, a number of the usual voices have already been heard. Debate schedules have been proposed and collapsed. Incumbents are trying to set the rules and their opponents are trying not to play by those rules.

So what is a voter to do?

One of the more helpful resources I have found is the Canadian Council of Churches Federal Election Resource. It’s available on their web site.

The election resource is interesting in that it poses questions which invite candidates of all parties to speak clearly about their convictions on important issues.

Those important issues are not the issues the various parties define. We are not playing by their partisan agenda. These are more broad, thoughtful questions which don’t address party bias.

The presumption of the report is helpful. It says, “For people of faith, religious convictions are not purely a private matter. Values, justice principles and moral commitments inform all our actions. They guide us when we speak to politicians and when we vote on election day. Similarly, candidates representing political parties who arrive on our doorsteps or at our community centres speak from their principles and convictions when they ask for our votes.”

The resource has gathered together seven citizen’s organizations and invited them to give a background to an issue and then pose one or two questions.

Issues include climate justice, poverty, prisons, a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and children, welcoming the stranger, physician assisted death, international trade, support for small scale farmers, the arms trade, banning nuclear weapons, the Canadian military mission to Iraq and Syria and Canadian mining companies respecting human rights.

On physician assisted death, the kit asks, “What is your position on physician assisted death? Do you agree that a broadly based, public consultation is necessary? As a Member of Parliament, how would you and your party proceed with a comprehensive consultation to ensure all voices are heard?”

On a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, the question is, “As a Member of Parliament, would you and your party support a national public inquiry and work with Indigenous peoples on the development of a clear action plan to address the urgent crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children?”

You may not agree with all the questions, but if they get us thinking, they can help us get past the party propaganda and petty bickering and into substantive issues affecting all Canadians. For people of faith, our faith should inform our political decisions. These questions help us do just that.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.