Election Resources For Parishes – Ontario Provincial Election
Why should Catholics vote? First, we are obliged. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom… Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community. Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country…” (2239-2240).
Second, because politics matters deeply. Pope Francis has written, “For many people today, politics is a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians. There are also attempts to discredit politics, to replace it with economics or to twist it to one ideology or another. Yet can our world function without politics? Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without a sound political life?”
Finally, voting—and all civic engagement—is an act of Christian charity. In his encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis describes politics as an act of fraternal love: “Recognizing that all people are our brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian. It demands a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end. Any effort along these lines becomes a noble exercise of charity. For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity.” Wherever we can love our neighbours, there Catholics are called to be.
Catholic social teaching is the heart of political charity. The immense wisdom and insight of the Church enables us to partcipate effectively in politics and public life. This is especially true in our age of ideologies, which undermine human dignity by turning neighbours into enemies, ignoring the most fundamental realities of the human person understood in light of Christ.
However your parish decides to approach this election, be sure to include prayer. Our efforts will only be fruitful if we turn to God, ask him to multiply what little we are able to offer, like the loaves and fishes. Elections are an opportunity for Catholics to turn to God in prayer on behalf of all.
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Before we get into the kinds of election activities you can undertake, we need to start with three key principles for all election activities in a parish or other Catholic community.
- KEEP IT NON-PARTISAN.
The Catholic Church is not a partisan institution. It does not endorse candidates or political parties. To do so would be to undermine its ability to evangelize all—the Church has a mission that must transcend partisanship. This doesn’t mean lay people can’t or shouldn’t be partisan! It simply means that when organizing election-related activities in a parish, we can never endorse any party or candidates. This is crucial for spiritual reasons, but also for legal reasons. Parishes are charitable organizations and cannot campaign on behalf of a candidate or party through advertising and other means unless they make a special registration as a third-party advertiser to do so—but no parish would ever do this. As such, it is important all your activities do not make any endorsements, explicit or implicit.If you are a Catholic organization that intends to advertise during the Ontario provincial election in a way that would endorse or support a particular party or candidate, it’s critical you understand the rules for third-party advertisers in elections. Click here to learn more from Elections Ontario.
- HELP PEOPLE DISCERN THEIR VOTE—DON’T TELL THEM WHO TO VOTE FOR.
We must respect the freedom of conscience of parishioners to discern their own votes. This means never telling them, for instance, that there is only one party or candidate a Catholic can vote for. From the perspective of Church teaching, this is not true. Furthermore, this would violate the important principle of non-partisanship mentioned above. Instead, we aim to provide resources and opportunities for parishioners to form their consciences through Catholic teaching and prayer, so that their vote is guided by their faith. This is the core of our approach to election activities in parishes.
- BASE EVERYTHING IN CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING.
Elections are an extraordinary opportunity for Catholics to deepen their understanding of Catholic social teaching, which is often an under-catechized area of Church teaching among the faithful. As the election stirs up conversation and debate about the economy, foreign affairs, cultural concerns, and more, parishioners can turn to the body of our Catholic social vision, which has something to say about every issue encountered—and always with a richness that far outclasses any narrow, ideological consideration. All the resources and opportunities for learning we can offer in an election must be firmly based in Catholic social teaching.
Riding: A geographical area represented by an elected Member. During elections, the voters of a particular riding elect a Member to represent them in federal or provincial parliament.
Candidate: A person who seeks election to public office. Often, these candidates represent a political party within their riding.
Election Day: The day most people go to vote. Also known as polling day.
Elections agency: Federally and in every province, there is a non-partisan public agency responsible for administering elections. For the Ontario provincial election, this is Elections Ontario.
Election period: The period of time between when the election is called and election day, when the majority of people cast their votes. This is usually approximately the length of a month, but sometimes longer.
Political party: An association that is registered through the relevant elections agency, running at least one candidate in a general election. Most candidates seek election as the local riding representative of a typical political party. The party whose representatives are elected to the most seats compared to competing parties during an election typically form government.
What happens before an election starts?
- Most elections happen on predictable timelines. A federal election, for example, happens on a fixed date: the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election. Usually, the election period begins about a month before Election Day, though election periods can be longer than this. Though elections are predictable—usually, around once every four years—certain circumstances make elections more unpredictable. For instance, in a minority government—where no political party occupies a majority of the seats in parliament—an election can happen at any time, as opposition parties can band together and vote no confidence in the government, triggering an election.
As you plan election activities in your parish, it is good to begin coordinating among your organizers and your pastor in the weeks leading up to the election period. Keep an eye on the news for a better sense of when the election will happen.
What happens during an election?
There are several key milestones you need to know:
- Campaigning: Candidates for each of the political parties in every riding campaign both during and prior to the election. Campaigning involves several activities:
Door knocking and phone-calling: Candidates will canvass neighbourhoods in the riding or call residents, asking for their support during the election. For voters, this is an excellent opportunity to ask questions and raise issues of concern.
Debates and forums: Candidates will appear at local debates and other forums where they will take questions from voters and engage with other candidates on issues raised in the election. One great way to engage the parish community is to organize one of these forums at the parish itself—more on that later in this kit.
- Voter registration: If you’re a Canadian citizen, you’re registered to vote. That said, the relevant elections agency might not have an up-to-date address for a particular voter. You’ll know they have the right address if you receive a voter information card in the mail—voter information cards are mailed to every voter, and they can be used to vote, featuring information about where a voter’s polling station is and more.
If a voter does not receive their voter information card in the mail within a couple weeks of the election period beginning, it would be prudent for them to reach out to the relevant elections agency.
- Voting: There are multiple ways to vote during an election, and voters can vote before the day of the election. All these methods are explained when registered voters receive their voter card in the mail. Alternatively, they can visit the website of the relevant elections agency to learn more. Here are some other options available to voters:
Vote during advance polls: Advance polling days are multiple days prior to the election day where a select number of polling stations will be open, where voters can go and vote in-person. Informing parishioners about the advance polling days is a great way to encourage them to vote—many people aren’t aware that they can vote in-person prior to election day.
Vote by mail: At any point during the election, a voter can go mail in their ballot directly to Elections Canada (in the case of a federal election) or the relevant provincial elections agency (in the case of a provincial election).
- Election Day: The entire process culminates on Election Day. Polling stations open and most voters cast their ballots in-person. Election Day presents special opportunities to assist parishioners seeking to vote, but that might experience physical barriers like mobility—more on that later.
It’s important to begin preparing for an expected election before the election period begins. Election periods are quite short, usually about a month. To have sufficient time to plan and promote your parish-based activities, and to ensure maximum participation across the community, you want to give your team as much time as possible to organize everything.
Here is a strong way to start:
- Organize an election committee. Consider reaching out to leaders or volunteers with other parish ministries, like your Knights of Columbus council, Catholic Women’s League council, or Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference. Bring them together to plan and coordinate your election activities. Be sure to involve your pastor, deacon, or other member of your parish leadership team.
- Alongside your committee, put together a specific plan of activities and key dates. For instance, will you invite your local candidates to an all-parties forum in the parish? Set a date so you can begin inviting both the candidates and the parish. Decide on what kinds of activities make the most sense in your parish and set dates where appropriate.
- Put together a plan for how you will promote these activities within the parish. We encourage using every available means—including the parish bulletin, homilies, pulpit announcements after Mass, mailouts to parishioners, email newsletters, and more—to get the word out. Later in this kit, you will find resources you can use for your marketing materials.
Why do people vote? It might seem obvious, but when considering how you can encourage parishioners to vote, it’s important to understand why people vote. The Samara Centre for Building Democracy summarized the research into voting and offers the following reasons:
- They feel obligated to vote;
- They feel social pressure to vote because friends, family, or others in their social life encourage them to vote;
- They see that something is at stake, like when an issue they care about deeply is an important issue in the election;
- They have made a habit of voting, having voted in multiple elections; and,
- They have been contacted, meaning someone has directly asked them to vote.
A Statistics Canada study analyzing why non-voters didn’t vote in the 2019 federal election found that the number one reason was a lack of interest in politics.
Keeping these in mind, here are some impactful ways you can encourage parishioners to vote in a non-partisan way that respects their personal discernment:
- Talk to them about voting and encourage them to vote. Personal conversations about the importance of voting through all available avenues are a big help. Consider encouraging parishioners to vote through the lens of Catholic social teaching via:
- Pulpit announcements after Masses, most especially on Sundays before Election Day and Advance Poll days;
- Bulletin inserts or email newsletter blurbs, drafts of which can be found in the Resources section of this package; and,
- Hosting a special event where you can encourage them to vote, like an all-candidates meeting for your church’s riding or a workshop on how to discern your vote through Catholic social teaching. You’ll find in this package some tips on how to organize an all-candidates meeting, and Catholic Conscience provides workshops during elections on voting discernment. You can send us an email if you’re interested in having one in your parish – click here to contact us.
- Offer to help parishioners who struggle to vote for logistical or accessibility reasons. For instance, some of your elderly parishioners might live with mobility issues and might need help going to the polling station. You could have volunteers offer to drive parishioners to vote. Alternatively, the local campaigns of each of the political parties will often offer to drive voters to the polls. Encourage parishioners to contact the political party they support and see if they can offer a ride.
- Provide opportunities for parishioners to learn about Catholic social teaching, and how it can be applied to the most urgent issues of the day. A core theme of Catholic social teaching is our duty to love and serve our neighbours by helping to address challenges to human dignity. By learning about Catholic social teaching, our experience is that parishioners naturally become more engaged and interested in political and civic life. During elections and between elections, Catholic Conscience offers opportunities for Catholics to go deeper into Catholic social teaching and its concrete application to real issues. Click here to go to the How Catholic Conscience can Help section, where you can learn more about what we can offer during elections to your parishioners.
One of the best ways to engage parishioners in an election is to host an all-parties forum in your parish. During a forum, you gather your local riding candidates from each of the parties and ask them questions from a Catholic perspective, followed by a social where they can meet with parishioners and have conversations. Here’s how you can organize one:
- Select a date and time. We recommend a weekday evening event as, in our experience, these events are more likely to be attended.
- Put together the structure of your event. Who will conduct the opening prayer and introduce the candidates, as well as the ground rules of the conversation? Who will ask questions? How many questions will be asked, and how long will candidates have to respond to each question? It’s important to put together this structure well ahead of time, so you can share it with the candidates and so your event will run smoothly.
- Invite your local riding candidates—and make sure to invite all of them. To remain non-partisan, it’s important to invite all the candidates, most especially from each of the parties that are currently represented in parliament. You will have to decide as an organizing committee whether you choose to invite candidates from minor parties—there are many minor parties, and most do not garner more than several hundred votes. Tips on inviting local candidates:
- Share the questions you’ll be asking them in advance. This will give them a chance to prepare more thoughtful answers for your parishioners.
- Be warm and welcoming, even if they represent a party you do not personally support. Remember that hospitality is the heart of evangelization.
- Be very clear with them the structure of the event, so they know exactly what they will be participating in with them.
- Provide your personal contact information so their team can follow-up with you.
- Promote the event in your parish. Use every available means, like pulpit announcements, the bulletin, homilies, social media, email newsletters, and whatever other channels are available to you. Try and announce the debate several weeks in advance of the event. That way, you have as much time as possible to invite parishioners to attend.
- Create a hospitable event experience for your guests. Consider bringing tea, donuts, or other snacks for guests to enjoy.
- Introduce the forum with an opening prayer, and by laying some ground rules for participation. Most importantly among these is to share the rules of the conversation—how long each candidate will have to respond to the questions, for instance—as well as encouraging the audience to listen respectfully, and not to boo the candidates. It is important that everyone be respectful to all the participants.
- Thank the candidates for participating. You want all participants to leave the event appreciative of having been part of it, and with a positive impression of the community and of the Church. Remember: it is very likely that several candidates will not be Catholic, and that participating in a Catholic event like this is an act of evangelization. Make them feel welcome and show the love of Christ—most especially where we disagree with them!
- Host a social after the forum. This gives parishioners the chance to have a one-on-one discussion with the candidates, and the chance to deepen their community with one another.
During elections, candidates from each of the political parties spend their time talking to voters, to identify their supporters and persuade people to support them. One of these candidates will be your next elected official. As such, elections are an excellent opportunity to build relationships and to share you and your parish community’s most critical concerns and ideas with them. Here are some tips for how to communicate effectively with candidates.
- Always be respectful when engaging with elected officials. Unfortunately, today’s politics have reached such a level of hostility and polarization that many people would rather shout at their politicians then talk to them. This is not the Catholic approach. As Christians, we see the face of Christ in every person we meet—and always work to bring out the good in those we encounter. Even when addressing a candidate whose politics you virulently disagree with, be respectful and conversational—most especially when explaining your disagreements with them.
- Don’t just tell them why they are right or wrong—ask questions. Every great conversation is more than a monologue—it’s a dialogue. Share your views with the candidates, but also ask them questions. Ask them to clarify their party’s positions on issues you care about. Ask them why they are running. Ask them about their involvement in your community before running for office. Learn about them and pay attention for opportunities to share a Catholic perspective on what they are passionate about.
- Whether you plan on voting for them or not, share with them what you like about their party’s proposals, and what you don’t agree with. Catholic social teaching totally transcends the binary of left-wing and right-wing politics. It doesn’t fit into any ideological category, because it encompasses the beautiful fullness of the truth of our faith, and the dignity of every human being that comes from our mutual status as God’s daughters and sons. Catholics can undoubtably find proposals they can like or dislike in every party, up to each person’s discernment. Share the pros and cons of their party’s proposal with the candidates you meet. Don’t just tell them “I plan on voting for you!” They’ll move on to the next person. Instead, help them understand how their party can improve, or how their party has earned your vote.
- Tell them that you will pray for them! It is good for our elected officials to know that they are in our prayers, and that we are wishing for them to have all the graces and strengths they need to serve the common good. Indeed, the Pope and other Catholic leaders for many years have encouraged us all to pray for our politicians. Share with them why you are praying for them. Help them see clearly how critical their vocation is for the good of society, including and most especially the many vulnerable, poor, sick, isolated, or suffering neighbours of ours.
Thank them for putting their name forward to serve in elected office. To seek elected office is an enormous commitment of time, energy, and passion, no matter the politics of the candidate. The vocation is incredibly time-consuming, and many politicians spend long hours and days aware from their families, especially if they are elected. Show them gratitude for running, even if you disagree with them. To quote Pope Francis in Fratelli tutti, “For many people today, politics is a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians. There are also attempts to discredit politics, to replace it with economics or to twist it to one ideology or another. Yet can our world function without politics? Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without a sound political life?”
One of the best things Catholics can do during elections is pray. To that end, we welcome you and all your parishioners to join our rosary novena for the election. During federal and provincial elections, Catholic Conscience organizes a rosary novena, gathering people together online to pray together. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, the Catholic Commons, you’ll receive information on how to register and join these events.
During elections, Catholic Conscience offers a workshop on discerning our votes as Catholics. In this workshop, we share Catholic teaching when it comes to voting, and offer techniques for Catholic voters to discern their votes thoughtfully and prayerfully. Our experience in offering this workshop is that it offers a great opportunity for parishioners to charitably discuss their challenges in discerning their votes, and offering gentle encouragement to them to more positively engage in the democratic process.
If you’re interested in this, please reach out to our team. Email our executive director, Brendan Steven, at email@example.com.
If you’re a pastor or deacon, we’ve put together this homily-writing guide which includes a number of key quotes and themes related to Catholic social teaching, sourced from authoritative Church documents—including references to the Catholic duty to vote. We offer these resources as a helpful tool for you in writing your homilies in the lead-up to the election. Usually elections are held on a Monday—as a result, we find it to be fruitful to encourage parishioners to vote at Masses on the Sunday preceding election day.
Writing Guide for Homilies encouraging Catholics to Vote
Every election, Catholic Conscience produces a tool which compares the political parties’ key policy proposals across a range of issues, alongside relevant Catholic social teaching. The aim of this tool is to help Catholic voters discern who to vote for by looking at the parties’ policy platforms, all through the lens of Catholic social teaching. It is also a great resource for learning about Catholic social teaching in a variety of ways. We encourage you to share this tool with parishioners to help them discern their votes.
Our mission is civic evangelization through Catholic social teaching: forming citizens in the full breadth of our faith’s social vision, and thereby forming our Catholic community into a diverse, influential, and gently persuasive family of voices within Canadian civil society and politics.
Much of our work is focused on politics and public service, in which we take no sides. We simply promote reflection on the Christian duties of love, charity, good stewardship, and the principles of Catholic social teaching, and send our members out to participate in public life—in whatever way best matches their abilities and vocations.
During elections, we offer a number of special initiatives. Beyond the resources for parishes you have read about in this kit, we are also happy to host special election events like:
- Rosary novenas for voters and for the people of the province or nation;
- Workshops on a Catholic voter discernment process;
- Printable and shareable resources for election activities in parishes; and,
- Assistance with organizing local parish all-candidates forums.
We are also open to helping in other ways, and love to hear the ideas of others in identifying new ways to help local Catholic communities. If you’d like to connect about support for your parish election activities, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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