Canada, like the US and Mexico, continues to reflect troubles with democracy. In the province of Ontario, each of the major parties – Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and New Democratic – appears to be encouraging parliamentary candidates to step back and stop talking, apparently with the idea of allowing leaders to keep party communications strictly ‘on message.’ Obviously, this severely limits the abilities of voters to explore broader ranges of parties’ positions on issues of importance to them.
However, it is important that Catholics follow up with individual candidates during the campaign process: across all parties, some nominees, generally driven by a sense of civic duty, will ignore instructions and respond to requests to meet with voter groups. Our own meetings, for example, which are purposefully non-confrontational, seem to be appreciated by voters and candidates alike. And while, for the first time ever, none or our meetings in Ontario has had representation from all parties during the current campaign, we do have commitments, at different meetings, from candidates from all parties.
It is contrary to principles of federal or parliamentary democracies for party leaders to attempt to horde all attention to themselves, to set themselves up as sole points of party communication and contact. Obviously, this puts them in the position of deciding what information is to be shared, with whom, and when, and it can be used to avoid answering uncomfortable questions – even when the questions are entirely proper. In April, for example, we proposed a Q&A session for Ontarian party leaders, and were utterly ignored by all parties – despite the facts that our meetings are entirely non-confrontational and that most of the leaders met with leaders of other community groups shortly thereafter, in the same geographic area.
The problem is aggravated by new tactics of all parties to make both their platforms and direct contact information for candidates difficult to find. It’s not always possible for candidates to accept all invitations. But it is possible for them to acknowledge invitations and explain why they can or cannot accept, and it is not only possible, but is a positive duty for them to make their platforms easily available to voters.
As Catholics, we have a duty to participate in society, in order to ensure that all people are given opportunities they need to fulfill themselves and their duties before God. Get involved. Speak up. Vote – and when you vote, stop to think for a moment about which individual candidates are willing to spend time speaking to you, and listening to you.