THE CATHOLIC COMMONS
An Officer and a Prophet
Seeking Human Dignity in a Complex World
Our world is rapidly growing more complex. Individuals seeking to thrive in business, education, retirement, child rearing, or even grade school require ever-increasing and sometimes seemingly unfair levels of moral, technical, and verbal sophistication. We hear reports of rising levels of social anxiety, particularly among children and teenagers. On the other hand, mere subsistence seems ever easier to accomplish, and ever more widely accepted. Social assistance in the form of basic health care, education, and housing are becoming more universally available, and increasing numbers of people in need are availing themselves of them. But more is said to be needed. In various countries there is talk of the establishment of a basic income, which in accordance with some proposals might not be tied to any requirement for attempts to find employment.
While as Mahatma Gandhi famously observed “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed,” the proportion of income received by the top 10% of income earners has risen over the latter half of the past century and the cost of living seems to be on the rise despite overall increases in wealth and reductions in wealth inequality over the past two centuries. Many seem to drift inexorably toward subsistence at the doubtful charity of the rich.
Are these trends sustainable? Why is it ever more difficult for a single wage earner to find fulfilling work that will support a dignified life for a family? And what of the Church’s assertion that fulfulling, creative work is an essential part of human existence?
What will happen as fewer and fewer of us are able to find a balance that brings fulfillment and dignity without harming others, including our own children?
These are not simple questions, and they might be susceptible to any number or variety of solutions if we pay attention and act now. How can we identify answers; and which will we, as a family of human societies, choose?
This month we continue evolution of the format of our newsletter, in the hope of fostering conversation on the role of the Catholic conscience in shaping democratic society.
 See, e.g., https://basicincome.org/news/2014/01/european-union-more-than-280000-sign-initiative-asking-the-european-council-to-consider-basic-income/; https://thehill.com/hilltv/what-americas-thinking/512099-poll-majority-of-voters-now-say-the-government-should-have-a/; https://www.ndp.ca/news/ndp-mp-introduces-national-framework-guaranteed-livable-basic-income
 Max Roser (2013) – “Global Economic Inequality”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/global-economic-inequality‘ [Online Resource]
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 255-266
In Good Conscience
Dwight Eisenhower, an Officer and a Prophet
By any standard, US President Dwight Eisenhower was a remarkable individual. Born into a large middle-class family in the US midwest, he graduated from the West Point Military Academy prior to America’s entry to World War I. During the Second World War he led Allied armies in major military campaigns in North America and France. After the war he served as president of Columbia University, and as the first Supreme Commander of NATO until he was elected president in 1952. While his administration was not perfect, as president he served with the same values of truth and honor that had kept during his military career. He sought non-aggressive containment of communism and the reduction of federal deficits. He supported Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, and opposed invasions of Egypt by Israeli, British, and French troops, and of Hungary by the Soviets. He helped end Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign of domestic terror and division, and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, sending Army troops to enforce integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
|Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.
– President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address
In his farewell address to the nation this career warrior, who in the process of devoting his life to the defense of his nation had witnessed and participated in the exponential growth and power of military technology, reminded the world of the importance of trust between leaders and voters, and of respect and cooperation among political rivals. He also warned the world to be wary of partnerships between government and industry, and of living non-sustainable lives:
|Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.|
“Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them… there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research-these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.”
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is [a] new… experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the… government… We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Likewise, the president warned of giving too much power to technocrats: “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over-shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded…. in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
Eisenhower also voiced concern over misuse of the environment: “As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”
The President closed with an appeal for peace – a peace based on justice: “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”
This remarkable and prophetic speech is less than 2000 words long, requiring 5-10 minutes to read. It remains more valid today than ever. Consider, for example, current controversies concerning the conduct of governments and pharmaceutical companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and controversies regarding banks and unified, virtual currencies.
Of Common Interest
Good Governance, Rights & Obligations
- C-11 – An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act
Still Debated in Canadian Parliament
An act pending in Canadian Parliament, intended to control aspects of internet messaging, continues to be debated. Some parties have called for protection for artists and other content creators, while others focus on protection of free speech rights. Current debate might be well summarized by statements made in debate on March 30. According to the Canadian Parliamentary website:
Mrs. Rachael Thomas, a Conservative MP from Lethbridge, Alberta, said:
Mr. Speaker, what we just heard from the government is that it has moved closure on Bill C-11 and our discussion with regard to the amendments that came back from the Senate. Closure means that the government is shutting down debate. I find this rather interesting because, really, Bill C-11 is a censorship bill, so we have a government that has moved a censorship bill and now is moving censorship on that censorship bill. Let us talk about a government very committed to censorship; it not only wants to censor what Canadians can see, hear and post online through Bill C-11, but the government also wants to censor us as opposition members in our ability to speak to the bill. It should be further noted that the Quebec government, under Premier Legault, issued an open letter asking to be heard with regard to this legislation, because it has significant concerns. It asked that the bill be referred to committee, but it was not.
Mr. Peter Julian, New Democrat MP from New Westminster—Burnaby, B.C., replied:
Madam Speaker, there is no doubt that Bill C-11 is needed. We have seen a hemorrhaging of our artistic and cultural sectors. We have seen the loss of thousands of jobs. What Bill C-11 would do, in effect, is allow for more support for our cultural sector and more ability for Canadians to find Canadian content, to actually see Canadian artists and hear messages from other parts of Canada. This is absolutely essential. That being said, two parties have approached this differently. The NDP approach Bill C-11 with the idea of improving the bill. We brought in important amendments to uphold the freedom of speech, to ensure indigenous peoples and racialized Canadians would be a bigger part of broadcasting and their content would be more available online. Conservatives have been throwing wacky conspiracy theories onto the floor of the House of Commons, hour after hour, comparing Bill C-11 to what goes on in North Korea. There is nothing about mass starvation, prison camps or systemic torture in Bill C-11.
- Can the rights and legitimate expectations of artists, authors, and other creators, who derive their livelihoods from their works – hopefully at a level that will support a dignified living for themselves and their families – be balanced with the rights of all citizens to free speech, which is fundamental to the preservation of truth in democratic debate? If so, how best to do so?
- Child Services Agencies Threaten Investigation and Possible Action Against Parents of School Children Accused of Using “Improper” Gender Pronouns at School
Parents of schoolchildren in Ontario report having received calls from child-protection agencies threatening investigation, and potentially removal of their children from their homes, on the basis of reports from public school officials that the children have improperly used the gender pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they” at school. The parents have felt compelled to seek legal advice at their own expense.
- According to the Church, who bears primary responsibility for all aspects of the education of their children, including matters of moral and social concern – parents, or the state?
- Do public institutions have a legitimate power of enforcing the use of gender pronouns?
- Does it matter, in answering this question, whether the childrens’ choice of pronoun is supported by demonstrable scientific fact?
- To the extent public institutions have a right to enforce non-traditional use of gender pronouns, does that right extend to the removal of children from their parents’ homes? What legitimate corrective actions might attach to such a right?
Life & Human Dignity
- Canada’s Euthanasia Program Troubles the World – But Hopes are not yet Extinguished
Citing a case in which a 61-year old depressive citing only loss of hearing as a justification was put to death, the Associated Press has joined other voices in reporting that Canada’s laws regarding Socially-Assisted Death (SAD) are troubling to most of the world – even where such laws have been generally accepted. AP notes that even human rights advocates who support euthanasia are alarmed that Canada’s proposals “lack necessary safeguards, devalue the lives of disabled people and are prompting doctors and health workers to suggest the procedure to those who might not otherwise consider it. Equally troubling, advocates say, are instances in which people have sought to be killed because they weren’t getting adequate government support to live.”The article also quotes Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry as saying that euthanasia “cannot be a default for Canada’s failure to fulfill its human rights obligations.”At the same time, the Catholic Register reports that temporary shelving of a proposed expansion by Parliament of access to SAD for those suffering only from mental illness offers an opportunity for citizens to speak up in defense of life, and to minimize social culpability in killing. The newspaper urges Catholics to listen respectfully to others who may support SAD in general, but who join the Church in opposing expanded access to it.
- Palliative Care as Humanitarian and Moral Alternative
Many voices have advocated palliative care as the proper moral and humanitarian alternative to socially-assisted death (SAD). For example, in response to Bill 11, a proposal to expand the definition of “End of Life Care” to include a right to publicly-financed SAD currently before the legislative assembly of Quebec, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec have published a statement detailing their objections on obvious moral grounds, urging instead that the province join them in vigorously supporting both advocacy and measures adapted to improve access to good quality palliative care, particularly in the home, in all regions of the province, noting that “accessible palliative care is essential in order to assist persons to live their last moments in decency and dignity.”
- Palliative Care as Humanitarian and Moral Alternative
As noted in the AP article cited above, opponents of SAD have sometimes accused Canada of promoting SAD as a cheaper and quicker alternative to palliative care. Many observers have noted that palliative care is both underfunded and not equally available across all regions of Canada. The Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI) has begun a series of reports concerning the relative costs and availability of SAD and palliative care, reporting that interim chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission Charlotte-Anne Malischewski “advises the federal government to take a closer look at what has happened since the legalization of euthanasia before extending the procedure for other situations.” Ms. Malischewski is reported to have written to Global News: “In particular, (Parliament) needs to focus on the many worrying accounts of individuals who have accessed or are considering accessing MAiD because Canada is failing to fulfill their fundamental human rights,” (emphasis added), noting that “In an era where we recognize the right to die with dignity, we must do more to guarantee the right to live with dignity.” As CCBI observes, “Catholic teaching… does not condone ‘the right to die with dignity’ when euthanasia is meant, but affirms that a natural, peaceful and as pain-free as possible death – its meaning of ‘dignity’ – is a human and spiritual need.”
Others have noted concerns about failures to fund palliative care as a moral and humanitarian alternative. The charts below, taken from Albertan provincial and Canadian federal annual reports, seem to indicate that although the number of socially-administered deaths in Alberta are rising steadily, and despite the promises of virtually all parties to increase the number of available beds, exactly one (1) new palliative care bed has been made available within the province in the last four years.
- Sign of Hope in Spontaneous “Outpouring” of Worship at Christian University in Kentucky
The Church times reports that a morning prayer service at a Methodist University in Kentucky spontaneously evolved into nearly two weeks of non-stop worship, involving thousands of people who drove hundreds of miles to join. “The so-called Asbury Revival,” the paper reports, began when students stayed on in the chapel, praying and worshipping. Social media posts began to draw others until the university could no longer cope with the influx. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people ultimately participated.
- Detransitioning Transgender Patient Sues Doctors and Counsellors
Catholic rights group PAFE (Parents as First Educators) has noted reports that a woman from Orillia, Ontario, regretting both hormone treatments and “gender reassignment surgeries” she underwent to remove her breasts and uterus in order to express herself as a male, is suing eight doctors and counsellors who guided her through the process, on grounds that they insufficiently promoted consideration of other alternatives. The woman is said to be the first gender reassignment patient in Canada to launch such a suit. The Economist reports that similar lawsuits are being instituted in the United States.
Stewardship of Creation
- Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act S.C. 2021, c. 22
Assented to 2021-06-29
Canada’s most recent major environmental action was the 2021 passage of the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which was intended to encourage corporations and other carbon emitters to adhere to Canadian and international goals for emissions reduction. According to the government of Canada, the Act:
- enshrines Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and provides a framework of accountability and transparency to deliver on it,
- establishes a legally binding process to set five-year national emissions-reduction targets as well as develop credible, science-based emissions-reduction plans to achieve each target,
- establishes the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target as Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement emissions reductions of 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and
- establishes a requirement to set national emissions reduction targets for 2035, 2040, and 2045, ten years in advance. Each target will require credible, science-based emissions reduction plans to achieve it.
Activists within the environmental community have voiced concerns, however. Among other things, as reported in our last newsletter, a growing body of scientific groups are now asserting that in our complacency and fixation with personal comfort, we have passed the point where the reduction of emissions is likely to save the planet, and now need to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. Examples of responses to the Net-Zero CEAA include:
- The Carbon Removal Alliance, an association of companies promoting carbon-removal technologies based on a variety of mechanical and chemical processes, states that “the world needs carbon removal, fast. On top of rapid emissions cuts, the world needs gigatons of permanent carbon removal within the next three decades to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”The Alliance also points out that “new technologies take time to develop; we can’t wait until 2050 and assume permanent carbon removal technologies will magically appear,” and sees the carbon crisis as “a trillion-dollar market opportunity.”
- The Fraser Institute queries whether in effect the Act is a “placebo,”, noting that the Act includes no legally-binding requirement to require emissions targets to be met by the federal government or anyone else, and adds nothing to previous commitments on reduction or transparency other than “enshrining” them as legislation.
- Others assert that ‘net zero’ targets are hopelessly unrealistic, not necessarily effective to begin with given that carbon levels are only one piece in the overall environmental picture, and that catastrophizing and group thinking have become common in environmental discourse to such an effect that challenging consensus and status quo – a key ingredient to the advance of science – can be career limiting. Many climate alarmist arguments rely upon Malthusian thinking – the assumption that a future outcome is inevitable, by confining trend analysis to too few variables. As economist Bjorn Lomborg has argued, even with shrinking land mass, the net effects of these events will be largely insignificant, as they happen over long periods of time, and world wealth will have increased considerably over the next century, thereby mitigating many of the potential negative effects of climate change.
Would it be wise for each of us to consider the wisdom of using massive mechanical-chemical systems to remove carbon from the atmosphere? What would the net cost of such an endeavour and what side effects could it create, including the increase in other forms of technology and pollution required to compensate for potential decreases in productivity and wealth generation? Would that simply misplace the problem while allowing new and continued forms of human abuse of God’s creation and self-indulgent complacency, as pointed out 62 years ago in President Eisenhower’s speech?
The Laudato si’ Movement, joined by activists such a Greeen Party Leader Elizabeth May, calls for immediate and concerted effort by the Church, and offers a variety of suggestions.
Family, Community & the Common Good
- Elder Care – the Option of Multi-Generational Homes
According to the Canadian government, the elderly constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of Canadian society, and three quarters of that segment live in nursing homes. But many observers – including for example the Canadian Health Coalition and the CBC – have expressed concerns about the type and level of care seniors in homes are receiving. According to the CBC, “data analysis of the most serious breaches of Ontario’s long-term care home safety legislation reveals that six in seven care homes are repeat offenders, and there are virtually no consequences for homes that break that law repeatedly.”
The Canadian Health Coalition notes that “seniors’ care often falls outside the scope of the Canada Health Act, which only covers services provided by doctors and hospitals,” and that “there are less beds available in hospitals and long-term care facilities now due to funding cuts. In some regions, people are waiting several years for a long-term care bed. At the same time, many seniors admitted to long-term care facilities could likely remain at home if they had access to adequate home care.” “Canada needs a National Seniors’ Care Strategy,” the Coalition concludes, “to ensure that all seniors can access quality care, regardless of where they live. We must take action now to ensure consistent funding, standards of care and staffing levels across the country. All Canadians deserve to age with dignity and respect.”
Do other options exist? It is the custom of many North American families, of course, that the children move away from home – often hundreds or thousands of miles away – in search of better work and better homes, leaving their parents far behind. It is seldom that senior parents live with their adult children.
Yet there is another option, and it comes with signs of hope: news source Axios reports that as a result of the pandemic and other pressures, nearly 20% of Americans now live in multi-generational homes, and that “people buying new homes are increasingly looking for houses that can accommodate multiple generations of a family.”
Why not? The Fourth Commandment enjoins us to honour our parents, and the Church teaches that the family is the fundamental unit of society. Many other cultures, including many Asian cultures, encourage the practice, and find that their families are stronger and their children less anxious and better prepared to fit into the world.
What, if anything, can or should be done in North America to enable and encourage children to share housing with their parents, and to continue to look after them as they age, rather than consigning them to homes?
An Economy to Serve People
- Artificial Intelligence: Will it Increase or Decrease Work Opportunities?
The World Economic Forum recently advised workers that “they should not fear AI,” as “it will lead to long term job growth.” Although “Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies” driven by AI will fundamentally change the world and the way we work and live, AI “may not” lead to massive unemployment. “Instead,” WEF asserts, “AI technology will create more jobs than it automates.” The WEF admits, however, that “these newly created jobs will require new skills and necessitate significant investment in upskilling and reskilling young people and adults,” and that “businesses and governments can – and must – work together to address this transition and embrace the positive societal benefits of AI.”
Catholic Saint Thomas University quotes Elon Musk as admitting that “computers, intelligent machines and robots seem like the workforce of the future. And as more and more jobs are replaced by technology, people will have less work to do and ultimately will be sustained by payments from the government.”
“This is a scary proposition,” the University observes, “in that what will we do if all the work is done by AI or robots? Isn’t life tough enough? Don’t we have enough economic disparity and can barely make ends meet today? To add insult to injury, many of the analyses seem to center on displacing the low wage workers. As if they didn’t have enough disadvantages already, their entire economic class will be wiped out is the feeling we get from the news cycle. This is evidenced by robotic warehouses and chatbots or automated customer service and we can really feel the changes all around us.”
American University in Washington D.C. seems to agree: “As with past advances in automation, AI will lead to increased levels of productivity, specialization in job roles, and an increased importance of ‘human skills’ like creativity, problem solving, and quantitative skills. Although AI will increase economic growth, these gains will not be evenly distributed. Rural communities that already face high levels of job insecurity will come under additional strain. AI will benefit labor in some industries but threaten it in others. Automation will complement job roles in high-growth fields like healthcare, where there is no substitute for highly skilled practitioners, but replace jobs in industries relying on standard routines.”
The Church teaches that not only is work an essential part of life, but when we work in accordance with our inner passions – our individual vocations – it is a joy. And it is also an obligation to one’s family, neighbors, and nation. Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and in order to respond to the need to maintain and develop his own humanity. We are heirs of the work of generations and at the same time shapers of the future of all who will live after us. (See, e.g., 274, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)
- If more jobs are created, but they are only created for those who have the interest and capacity to work in fields related to artificial intelligence, what happens to those who glory in the dignity of other fields, including agriculture and labor, or routine but essential administrative tasks?
- If all but a few are made dependent on government subsidies, as the quotation from Mr Musk seems to suggest, who will decide on the level of subsidies, and qualifications for receiving them, and the level of living they will support? And what those put out of work do with themselves?
- If ultimately government is expected to support, say, 90% of the population at the expense of the other 10%, how can we be sure that government will continue to govern with the good of all in mind, rather than the few who have employment, or control work or capital?
Interfaith Business Resource Groups. In an increasingly aggressive secular world, it is encouraging to report that we have received direct reports of large corporations fostering interfaith resource initiatives, and that these initiatives can involve Catholics. We hope to follow this as it develops, and to see corporations publish public-facing reports. So far, they are keeping their efforts quiet. Some prayer might not go amiss here.
Seattle Bans Caste Discrimination. According to the US PBS, the city of Seattle, Washington, recently became the first US city to ban caste discrimination. The caste system, PBS explains, is a “complex cultural system that classifies people as upper and lower and lowest at birth.” Quoting expert Guarav Pathania, PBS reports that surnames, skin tones and dialects are commonly used in efforts to determine people’ castes, with the result that members of so-called lower castes are excluded from social gatherings and harassed with casteist slurs.
PBS explains that although the caste system was outlawed in India in 2013, “thousands of years of caste-based discrimination continue to inform and affect people’s socioeconomic status, job opportunities and access to resources in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
The Catholic Church teaches that all forms of discrimination based on anything not entirely within an individual’s free control are wrong. “The unity of the human family is not yet becoming a reality,” the Comendium laments. “This is due to obstacles originating in materialistic and nationalistic ideologies that contradict the values of the person integrally considered in all his various dimensions, material and spiritual, individual and community. In particular, any theory or form whatsoever of racism and racial discrimination is morally unacceptable.” Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 433.
The Church also teaches:
- the principle of solidarity, or acceptance of the truth that the good of one is the good of all, and the other is as important as the self; that injustice done to another is an injustice that affects everyone. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 193)
- the principle of subsidiarity, namely that each element of society should serve its proper purpose and support others in serving theirs, so that each individual, and smaller groups of people, may be allowed to make for themselves all the decisions that can responsibly be left to them, rather than to larger groups or greater authorities. This is one of the fundamental social teachings of the Church, since it helps to ensure that each individual is empowered to find his or her own way to God.
It would seem that the city’s action is unquestionably aligned with each of these principles.
The Church also teaches the importance of good stewardship, including the efficient application of public revenues, and has acknowledged that some functions of government are most efficiently implemented at national or international level, rather than the local level. All recent Popes, for example, have supported the idea that some forms of arms control, finance, and protections for civil rights and the environment are best administered at the national and international level.
It’s worth considering, as an exercise, whether all people in the United States are already under the protection of federal and state constitutions from the types of abuse brought with caste and other forms of discrimination; and that the principle of subsidiarity promotes the idea that each element of society should serve its proper purpose, and support others in serving theirs. What is the proper purpose of a municipal government, particularly in legal regimes that already have adequate protections in place? Is there a need for a US city to add additional protections against abuses that are already outlawed? If not, what might motivate the adoption of such an ordinance? What other uses might be made of resources devoted to developing, implementing, and monitoring such bans?
Of Common Concern
PEI Election – Can Early Election Calls Harm the Democratic Process?
On April 3, Progressive-Conservative candidate Dennis King won re-election as Premier of Prince Edward Island, and a majority in the legislature, after calling the election six months early and giving voters and opposition parties less than a month to prepare. While the victorious King hailed the election as a vindication of “positive politics” and promised humility and kindness in his dealings with opposition parties, some observers have questioned his both motives and the democratic validity of setting the date early and allowing so short a time for reflection and conversation.
CBC News reported that in his victory speech on April 3, Mr. King promised humility and kindness after winning 2nd term as P.E.I. premier, proclaiming “My friends, we should make no mistake… Island voters tonight rendered a verdict and they rendered it loudly and they rendered it clearly. And that verdict is that positive politics is alive and well on Prince Edward Island.”
In a related article, however, CBC reported that fewer than 70 per cent of registered voters had turned up at the polls, by far the lowest voter turnout in the province for the last six decades – PEI is famous for having an engaged electorate. An Island political observer was quoted as saying, “That’s something that I hope this government looks at because, quite frankly, that was a cynical response to an early election call. My gut tells me that they [voters] were not engaged, that this was not an election that they thought was necessary.” CTV news quotes the same observer as saying that Mr. King’s party enters its second term “carrying baggage,” in that it can no longer blame the previous government for problems. “Now they have to take responsibility,” Mr. Desserud said. “The charm of the leader starts to wear a bit thin.”
Premier King was quoted as calling opposition members “very capable individuals,” saying that he has worked with them in the past and looks forward to working with them in the future. “I’ve been the same since I started. I’m not going to change now,” he told CTV. “I’ll seek their input. I’ll try to work with them the best I can, and I think we’ll deliver a good government for P.E.I.”
- Church teaching
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that truth is one of the four fundamental values of Catholic social teaching, along with freedom, justice, and charitable love; and that
The Church values the democratic system in as much as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Society, the Compendium says clearly, has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity.
Truth is fundamental to any just form of government. Without it, no democratic government can survive. Even when – as we always should – we seek consensus in our democracies, that consensus must be founded on truth, if it is to endure, and not on currently-popular fads or preferences. It is the firm conviction of the Church that there exists an eternal, external truth – a truth that exists outside of us and is not defined by humans – and that are bound to it. That truth is God, and is given to us through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Options and preferences based on current circumstances can vary over time, but not the deepest truth. The deepest truth is not subject to political whim or advantage.
Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons.
Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions.
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198, 406-410
It would seem obvious that in some cases, such as electing a government to lead a province over a period of four years, time might be required to develop a mature conversation on the issues, based in truth, and to allow developed social conversation.
- Points to Ponder
- It is commonplace, and apparently accepted by voters, for parties in Canada not to issue platforms more than about three weeks before an election. Presumably, it requires at least that length of time to ensure that they are as up to date and as enduringly relevant as they can be, in the circumstances surrounding an election, and to publish them.
It also takes time for voters to read, digest, and consider them responsibly before voting.
In this case, the platforms – which were all published less than three weeks before the election – total 157 pages in length: the Green is 31 pages long, the Liberal 47, the NDP 35, and the Progressive Conservative 44.
- Is it fair to expect voters, reporters, or others to read and digest 157 pages of partisan material, compare it, and consider it responsibly prior to voting, with less than three weeks time, particularly in these very busy days we live in?
- Who gains from pulling surprise early elections? The voters? The people?
- Even when elections are conducted with ample warning, it is common practice among Canadian political parties to wait until 3 or 4 weeks before an election to publish their platforms. Given that platforms used by voters to elect governments can fairly be viewed as social contracts, and that parties should know their policies and proposals well in advance, what is the purpose of waiting until so close to an election to publish platforms? Who gains, and who loses, by such approaches?
- Catholic Conscience has notice that some parties tend to remove all traces of their platforms and proposals from their websites immediately after an election is completed, thereby making them difficult for voters and other civic students to access. What is the purpose of such a practice? Is it fair to voters?
- What can, or should, be done to ensure that adequate time for developed conversation and due contemplation is available for voters who hope to prepare for elections, and that adequate records of the positions of parties are maintained for public reference?
- It is commonplace, and apparently accepted by voters, for parties in Canada not to issue platforms more than about three weeks before an election. Presumably, it requires at least that length of time to ensure that they are as up to date and as enduringly relevant as they can be, in the circumstances surrounding an election, and to publish them.
May 29, 2023: Alberta General Election
Catholic Conscience resources: https://catholicconscience.org/canada/alberta/election2023/
October 1, 2023: Northwest Territories General Election
October 3, 2023: Manitoba General Election
August 3, 2024: Australia General Election
November 8, 2024: United States Federal Elections
This month’s prayer is taken from President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which can be found at:
We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.
We’re busy, and growing – the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Please consider helping if you can. This year we plan to move into at least four new jurisdictions, and we may face surprise elections elsewhere. While most of our labourers are willing to help us for free, that doesn’t seem right to us. It takes time to do the job right, and we like to offer stipends. As Saint Paul said, “a worker deserves her pay.”