Scattered Thoughts on Faith and (Canadian) Politics

Canadian FlagIn our church’s adult Sunday School, we’re looking at the relationship between faith and politics this past week and the week upcoming. Here are some scattered thoughts from the first week:

Voting for the Marginalized

To me, the question for the Christian when considering who to vote is how the candidates/parties help those in need. Rhetoric during the election season is almost always about the middle class. Everybody wants to cut taxes, give more breaks, and provide more services for the middle-class. Nobody talks about the upper class, except indirectly when talking about keeping corporations in Canada. Rarely do they talk about the lower class because we prefer to pretend they don’t exist. (Municipal government do a lot better with acknowledging poverty, at least here in Kitchener)

Because of this, many marginalized groups don’t vote. Under a new law, many of them won’t be allowed to anyway, including those with no permanent residence.

Jesus centred the marginalized in his ministry. His followers should do the same with our lives, including with our votes.

Non-Profit Advocacy

Non-profits are allowed to spend up to 10% of their budget on political advocacy, and I don’t think can ever make direct statements like “you should vote for [Party X].” I think that is a very good rule that keeps non-profits focused on their work instead of binding their allegiances to any party. In recent years, our government has been known to audit several groups who advocate anything remotely critical of their policies, so non-profits need to be careful.

They are, however, allowed to educate. Many groups have put out primers on how each party plans to deal with the non-profit’s specialty. If you want to learn more about how different parties approach specific issues, look at some of non-profits to see how they are educating with regard to that issue.

Party Politics

This is a huge question facing Canada right now as more and more people are seeing our system as flawed. We technically elect our local Member of Parliament, who could be a member of any party or no party, to represent us. The party leader who can command the confidence of the group of MPs is the Prime Minister, which is usually the party with the most seats but isn’t necessarily (e.g. coalition governments).

One problem with this in recent years is that the power of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has grown, making individual MPs less able to do their jobs. The executive is not separated from the legislative as it in in the U.S. Political parties do demand your allegiance and most votes are now whipped so that all party members must vote together (in the big 3 parties). Apparently, one of my riding’s candidates waited to reach a point of financial independence before running so he could say “I don’t need this job” if party demands conflicts with his own values, which is admirable but shouldn’t be necessary.

Strategic Voting

This brings up the question of strategic voting. Suppose your riding is a battleground between the NDP and the Conservatives. Your preferred party is really the Liberals. Do you vote NDP (close to Liberals) to stop the Conservatives, or vote for who you really think is best? This year, there have been a lot of campaigns trying to organize left wing voters to vote for whoever has the best chance of beating the Conservatives – saying things vote ABC Party, Anything But Conservative.

I’ve voted strategically most elections. Probably half of the time it was the party I prefer anyway. Only once I was in a riding where it was known to be a landslide. On one hand, the short-term result is a party you prefer holding power. On the other hand, there’s the principle that this shouldn’t be how our system works and the hope a vote for your real preference results in changes (in the system or growth of that party).

Humanize MPs

We need to humanize our MPs, even when we don’t like what they and their party are doing. It’s easy when you don’t know your MP to treat them as just another pawn in the party games (and sometimes they act like it). They are still people, and usually people who actually do care about their constituents. Regardless of whether you like their party or not, after the election, Christians can help them remember their job is to represent all of their riding with positive reinforcement rather than negative. Thank them when they do something good for the people of their riding, especially for the marginalized. That’s important humanization in its own right but also helps combat the problems of our system.

Visions or Policies

With one arguable exception, the party leaders aren’t really presenting a vision for Canada. Everybody else is mostly bickering about policy – sometimes not even that big of a difference between policies – and demonizing the others. I don’t have a lot to add to that observation. Beyond specific policies, we should be asking, “what kind of Canada do we want?” rather than just things like “how high is too high for a corporate tax rate?”

My life is driven by the vision I see in the life and teachings of Jesus. I want Canada to be the kind of the place that looks like Jesus. Note that I am not saying I want it to be “a Christian nation”; I want to see more and more of Canadians catch on to that vision I find so beautiful. What if we did operate our political decisions on that kind of vision, with love, grace, inclusivity, peace, and joy? Most politicians don’t cast this kind of vision, but does that mean it’s inherently opposed to our political system?

We’re planning a MennoNerds discussion about faith and politics sometime before the Canadian election. I don’t know if I’ll be a part of it or not and we don’t have a set date yet, but stay tuned for what should be a good one.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.