Effective Participation in Political Parties

Catholic Conscience and the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto presented a panel discussion on effective participation in politics and political parties on May 30, 2019 at the Newman Centre.

Members from each of the major political parties discussed the proper roles and purposes of political parties.

Political parties and civic engagement matter. The visions for society that parties support have an enormous effect on nations, particularly when they take up the reins of power. How do we, as citizens, engage with parties, and help shape those visions? How can engaged citizens make a difference in the political process?

Panelists include:

  • Jo-Ann Davis, former TCDSB chair and 2018 Liberal MPP Candidate for University-Rosedale
  • Brendan Steven, former speechwriter for Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver
  • Dave Szollosy, former president OECTA, and 2018 NDP MPP candidate for York Simcoe
  • Nick Wright, member of the Governing Board of the Law Society of Ontario and 2014, 2015 Green Party candidate
  • Moderated by Matthew Marquardt, Executive Director Catholic Conscience

Canadian Bishop urges Renewal of Catholic Education

Accepting Pope Francis’ invitation for bishops to be bold at the Synod of Bishops underway in Rome, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd of Montreal told the assembly Oct. 16, “If I was pope – I know I’m not, but if I was – I’d write an encyclical on four basic questions” all human beings ask in one way or another.

The four, he said, are: “Who is God? If God is good, why is there evil in the world? If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it? If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?”

The answers, Bishop Dowd suggested, should be the foundation of Catholic education.


More signs of trouble in Ontario

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.

We live in dangerous times for democracy.

TRUTH, WISDOM, AND RESPECT FOR ONE ANOTHER. We live in dangerous times for democracy. The assumption that elections in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere will continue to produce wise and effective leaders, who are willing to work with members of other parties when it makes sense; or that parties in such countries will offer platforms or candidates that are in the best interests of the people, is no longer a safe assumption

We have been warned throughout history – by Plato and Washington, for example – that democracy will not work if voters decline to understand and face the issues, of if we fail to participate in the process of selecting and supporting leaders.

Look at recent elections in the US and Canada: it is no longer true that political parties offer comprehensive, balanced plans for building what they believe to be fairer, wiser governments. Rather, their sole preoccupation is to acquire power, and then keep it, at whatever cost to truth or wisdom. Too often, their party conventions focus on discussions of ‘how we can beat the other guys’, rather than affirming those things which are wise and just, and working with other parties toward improvement of that which is not. When was the last time any party or politician acknowledged those parts of its vision that were consistent with those of the other side, or worked in quiet cooperation when it was in the interest of the people to do so? Instead, they criticize one another relentlessly, and turn elections into hideous popularity contests.

We citizens, we voters, can and must insist that those who seek office begin formulating and cooperatively implementing visions that are in the best interests of the people, rather than themselves.

We can do it. In a democracy, it can be simple.