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'Catholic vote' still not on Canadian political radar.

The January 23, 2006, federal election gave the Conservatives 124 seats (37% of the vote), the Liberals 103 (30%), the Bloc Quebecois 51 (10%), and the NDP 29 (10.5%). The voter turnout was 65%. Following are some reflections.

The phenomenon of the "Catholic vote" manifested itself in the U.S. presidential election in 2004, when 52 per cent of Catholics who cast ballots marked them in favour of Methodist George W. Bush over nominal Catholic John Kerry. The development marked the culmination of a trend more than three decades in the making, which saw Catholics--who traditionally used to gravitate to the relatively liberal Democratic Party--vote increasingly for the more conservative Republican Party.

A good deal of the credit for the Republican Party's improved appeal among Catholics, at least during Bush's reign, lay in that party's conscious attempt to speak to issues of concern to the Catholic constituency. As Patrick Basham, senior fellow in the Centre for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, has pointed out, the Republicans smartly employed networking, symbolism,

and substance to maximum effect. Bush met regularly with a conservative Catholic advisory group and his campaign later benefited from the support of well-funded conservative Catholic political action committees. Symbolically, he gave the 2001 commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame and, as president, never ceased to court the Pope, meeting with him several times, liberally quoting his words and awarding him a Medal of Freedom. Substantively, Bush emphasized the issues upon which he and Pope John Paul II agreed, using the Pope's well-known "culture of life" phrase to refer broadly to socially conservative positions on abortion, euthanasia, and marriage.

Canada lags behind

Unfortunately, the kind of political sea-change seen among Catholics in the U.S. has yet to take effect in Canada. As our recent federal election again demonstrated, Catholics--despite making up 39 per cent of the Canadian population and being amply represented in the House of Commons--are not being taken seriously as a voting bloc. This is in large part because federal politicians, and especially our Prime Ministers beginning with Pierre Trudeau right on to Paul Martin, have taken the position that their faith is separate from their political responsibilities. This false doctrine has been propped up by mainstream media coverage, which instantly acts to demonize anyone who dares bring matters of faith, no matter how passively, into the political arena.

Another key factor in the lack of a cohesive and influential Canadian Catholic vote is the 40-year-long exclusive emphasis on economic social justice issues, to the radical neglect of family-sexual social justice issues, from abortion to sodomy. Only with the coming of the same-sex "marriage" question in 2003 did Canadian bishops finally conclude that the spiritual corruption of Canada is far more dangerous than economic imbalances and hardship.

Basham notes that, in the U.S., Catholic leaders have become increasingly active on family-moral issues. They have utilized communications tools at their disposal, especially the hundreds of Catholic publications and diocesan newsletters that have a combined circulation in the tens of millions. This has been joined with concerted congressional lobbying campaigns and support from local parishes.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops published a pro-life guide to the election that drew heavily upon John Paul II's writings. Some bishops asserted that people like John Kerry should have been denied Communion because of their pro-abortion stand.

No national spiritual leadership

In Canada, this kind of activism has been notably absent. By way of illustration, consider the Canadian hierarchy's "Message of the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the 2006 Federal Election" (Nov. 30, 2005).

The statement spoke of the right and duty of "each citizen to be involved in the selection of our political representatives" and identified "the needy, the poor, families, and children" as constituencies to which governments should pay particular attention. It wordily concluded that "political life is undermined in a democratic nation if those involved are obliged to distance themselves from their own religious beliefs, fundamental convictions, and the voice of their conscience. The basic questions which are part of the current reflections and discussions of Canadian society," it said, "require political leaders to use all their personal resources, in order to develop political orientations and legislative options that truly serve the common good and respect, freedom of religion and conscience.

One has to question the use of this sort of bafflegab when the former ruling party in the country publicly defends abortion (110,000 unborn are killed each year), ruthlessly promotes the "gay" agenda for equality and the destruction of marriage, and then prepares for the introduction of euthanasia, legalized prostitution and polygamy. On top of that it allows the Supreme Court a free hand to interpret an unbalanced, feminist-inspired and interpreted Charter of Rights; and conspires with "gays" and lesbians to push their "rights" claims through the courts.

To its credit, a branch of the CCCB did later distribute and post on its website an "Open Letter to Canadian Catholics from the Catholic Organization for Life and Family" (Jan. 3, 2006). This rightly placed "life, family and freedom of expression" at the top of the agenda. The letter alluded to "the loss of respect for human life and dignity" and specifically named the ways in which this is being manifested in Canada today. This statement was reprinted in most Catholic weeklies but, as usual, ignored by the daily media.

It is doubtful that in most areas, even in parishes, the words of COLF and the CCCB were read. In Hamilton, ON, for example, a guide to voting contained in one church bulletin prior to the election included the statement, "Governments must support life." The lack of specification contained in that assertion was bound to leave many Catholics--uncatechized as they are and relying on secular, mainstream media for most of their information regarding spiritual and moral matters--scratching their heads.

An unscientific survey of a dozen Toronto area parish bulletins during the election shows most parishes failing to report the Church's view on election issues in any detail. In any case, would the average Catholic have known that the statement, "Governments must support life," means that life must be protected from conception to natural death? Would he have known that, in 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical specifically devoted to life issues? Would he have known that abortion is "an unspeakable crime" and that involvement in its committal is grounds for excommunication? Or did the statement even really mean those things to begin with ?

Some bulletins do not hide the pastor's preference. For example, at Toronto's St. Wilfrid's parish, situated in an Italian area, the weekly bulletin carries the advertisements for the local MP (Judy Sgro) and MPP (Mario Sergio). The MP voted for the same-sex "marriage" legislation, and once taunted Stephen Harper for not being pro-abortion enough. The bulletin carried the advertisement right through the election.

The situation was not all bleak. In the Diocese of London, parishes were all sent a three-page letter which included the election messages from the diocesan Social Justice Office and from the Ontario Conference of Bishops (LifeSiteNews.com, Jan. 9). The OCCB message spelled out clearly the leading issues pertaining to human life beginning with abortion, marriage and family; the Social Justice message--as is customary--left that out. It is not known how many of diocese's 144 parishes added this letter to their bulletins.

Other organizations such as the internet's LifeSite News printed Catholic and evangelical election news and views in its daily bulletins, such as a pre-election homily by Father Louis Di Rocco of Marmora, ON (Jan. 18); a summary of Catholic Insight's January editorial (Jan. 16); and Paul Martin's pro-abortion outbursts (Jan. 16). LifeSite also published the candidate evaluations on pro-life issues put together by the staff of Campaign Life Coalition. The Coalition's own national monthly newspaper, The Interim, supported selected pro-life candidates (Jan. 2006), while CLC supported others by mail.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo, ON area, the daily paper The Record reported that "the hot-button topics of same-sex marriage, gay rights and abortion were the ones that energized" the all-candidates' meetings in that region (Jan. 20). Eventually a former evangelical pastor, Harold Albrecht, was elected for the Conservatives.

Carly Weeks of the Ottawa Citizen published a quick national survey on the subject, "Politics and the pulpit," under the title, "Some Catholic leaders aren't mincing words in election" (Jan. 21). This was reprinted in The Gazette of Montreal (Jan. 14) and discussed in Le Devoir (Jan. 16).

Timidity of bishops

Another factor in the Catholic community remaining uneducated on social-moral developments in the political life of Canada is the timidity of many Canadian bishops at the diocesan level. As is now well known, Paul Martin's Ottawa bishop, for example, Archbishop Marcel Gervais, referred to him as "a faithful member of my Cathedral parish," even while Martin was busily ramrodding same-sex "marriage" through the federal legislative process on false premises and using political coercion. In the final days of the election campaign, Martin raised up to fever pitch his rhetoric in support of abortion and same-sex marriage," but there was no Church rebuke.

The question of refusing Communion to Catholic MPs, who only five months earlier voted for the abolition of the traditional definition of marriage and approved same-sex "marriage," was never broached. This was so, even though there were 50 or more Catholic Liberal MPs who had voted in favour--in direct opposition to the Church's teaching; and even though the International Synod of bishops in Rome held in September eventually placed it among 50 resolutions to be pursued. The forthcoming Synod discussion was highlighted in several articles by the Toronto Star at the end of September 2005. Apparently this threat to the Eucharist found little or no resonance among Catholic bishops. The Bishop of Calgary, Frederick Henry, remains the exception.

The fruits of neglect

The fruits of this neglect to educate the Catholic faithful on family-moral issues are plainly evident in the results of the 2006 federal election. Although direct statistics obviously cannot be garnered as to how Catholics voted, given the secrecy of the ballot box and a lack of American electioneering sophistication, a study of areas of the country containing high concentrations of Catholics, coupled with an examination of the winning candidate, reveals an overall picture of the state of the Catholic vote, such as it is, in present-day Canada.

Ontario

Ridings heavily populated by ethnic Canadians and working-class voters overwhelmingly went with Liberal or NDP candidates. The traditional allegiances of these voters clearly supplanted any Catholic sensibilities they may have had. This was evident throughout the large immigrant communities in the Toronto area, for example, where the Liberals and NDP hold sway. Likewise, in more working-class areas such as Hamilton, Windsor, and Northern Ontario, those two parties dominated. The censure prior to the election by local bishops of MPs such as Joe Comartin (Windsor), Charlie Angus (Timmins), and Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie) over their support for same-sex "marriage" was of little effect. All three were re-elected with handsome majorities, proving that without a wider teaching about the NDP's opposition to Christian principles, not much will change. Nevertheless, one may see it as a first beginning of stirring Catholic consciences.

Another Ontario example is the riding of Newmarket-Aurora, whose Catholics appear to have voted in significant numbers for Belinda Stronach, the prominent party-jumping supporter of abortion "rights" and same-sex "marriage." The riding's candidate for the New Democratic Party, which has support for abortion, same-sex "marriage" and euthanasia as part of its official platform, was a member of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.

In Manitoba, former Manitoba premier and former Governor-General of Canada, Ed Schreyer, a Catholic, tried to re-enter political life through his old party, the NDP. Almost at once he was embarrassed into supporting "gay rights," something he had opposed in the past (Globe, Dec. 22, 2005). Mr. Schreyer was defeated.

In New Brunswick, the Catholic weekly in Saint John, The New Freeman, was the only Canadian Catholic weekly which interviewed all candidates in the four ridings of its area (Jan. 20, 2006).

In Nova Scotia, the Catholic paper The Atlantic Catholic reprinted a radio interview of the Archbishop of Halifax, Terrence Prendergast, in which he was critical of recent Liberal legislation, the attitude of the Supreme Court, and of Catholics who continue to vote by habit rather than find out what local candidates stand for. The paper might have printed it on the front page instead of relegating it to page 8. At any rate and despite that, in Nova Scotia the two Catholic Liberal MPs who supported same-sex "marriage" were reelected, including Geoff Regan and Michael Savage, and so were the three Catholic Liberal MPs in P.E.I. who did the same thing. In New Brunswick pro-life Liberal MP, Andy Savoy, was defeated in New Brunswick.

Were there some silver linings? Eight ridings around Quebec City, once represented by the very Catholic Creditistes in the late 1960s, and today dominated by the Quebec party ADG, went Conservative rather than the secular anti-life Bloc Quebecois; we must await future results.

In Western Canada, apart from British Columbia, voters sided with the Conservatives, in many cases by overwhelming margins. The fact that the West is represented in greater proportions by Protestant and evangelical Christians gives pause to consider once again the necessity of work being done in the Catholic camp to become a counter-culture in the political realm. The Catholic population of the three Prairie provinces is approximately 30 per cent, with a smaller percentage in British Columbia.

Conclusion

Catholic principles may have begun to play a role in switching Catholic voters from supporting aggressive, secularizing forces such as the current Liberal and NDP ideologies, to a more moderate platform. This would mostly be due to the work of such groups as Campaign Life Coalition, REAL Women of Canada, and the Catholic Civil Rights League, whose evaluations could be downloaded from the internet.

These organizations joined non-Catholic groups, such as Canada Family Action Coalition, to raise the profile of life and family issues through alliances including the Defend Marriage Coalition, which issued a pamphlet entitled, "Returning Stability to Canada" (Jan. 1, 2006).

Also to be noted is that, for the first time, the Knights of Columbus took a public stand in defence of the family and sent a one-page letter to its more than 200,000 members in Canada (LifeSiteNews.com, Jan. 5). Still, large areas in Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec, with considerable numbers of Catholic voters, apparently remained untouched by Church teaching. It indicates that a much more vigourous education programme is required from the Catholic community.

The bishops, especially, must act more vigourously in the defence of Catholic teaching by facing up to the large number of nominal Catholics who publicly scorn it. Otherwise, even active Catholic laymen and women will be left isolated and held up to ridicule in the public arena.
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Title Annotation:CANADIAN ELECTION
Author:Gosgnach, Tony
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:2497
Previous Article:No Catholic Prime Minister.
Next Article:Message of his holiness Benedict XVI for lent 2006.
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