2015 Election Bulletin: A Better Democracy for All Citizens

2015 Election Bulletin | Democracy | Poverty | Climate Justice | Refugees

More from CPJ on Democracy in the 2015 Federal Election

CPJ.ca - "What to do with the Senate?" by Joe Gunn, October 1, 2015

ChristianWeek - "Anti-terrorism bill faces opposition" Allison Barron, July 27, 2015

National Newswatch - "Canada’s churches want next federal election to be about more than tax cuts" by John MilloyMay 13, 2015

Christian Week - "Faith in an election year" by Janelle Vandergrift

 

A Better Democracy for All Citizens At election time in Canada, citizens choose representatives for government. That’s why we call it representative democracy! Elections are good moments to reflect on whether or not our ability to participate in our democracy is fair and equitable. What might we do to increase meaningful participation, especially of those whose voices may be prevented from being heard? The reinvigoration of democracy is always a healthy activity.

A simple marker for gauging the vitality of democracy is to calculate the number of Canadians who vote. Regrettably, in the last federal election in 2011, just six in 10 eligible voters cast a ballot. People are often discouraged by the lack of transparency, accountability, and true representation of their concerns by politicians. Election campaigns in particular can turn people off if advertising is based on “attack ads” and negative messaging.

“How we arrange our common life is central to a healthy spirituality. Politics is simply the means we use to organize our shared lives. It is how we express responsible solidarity.”

— Alan Jones

But democracy is more than a quick trip to the polls. After elections, democracy (and citizens with democratic values) cannot take a vacation. It’s important to engage in political activities year-round.

Christians have always debated political issues and options. In Romans 14, for example, people from various religious backgrounds argued over holy days and the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. The admonition in Romans 15:7 shed important light on how we engage each other in civil and respectful discourse: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Differing gracefully with another person is a trait of faithful citizenship. With humility we may be more open to imagining ourselves in another person’s shoes, and be more willing to learn from their ideas and experiences. As Ephesians 4:15 suggests, Christians should always attempt to “speak the truth in love.”

The current political climate is too often characterized by negativity and fear so it is critical that citizens approach public forums with civility. CPJ also recognizes that our leaders can undertake reforms that would go a long way to increase voter trust and promote participation and healthy engagement in civic affairs.

Learn More

One important way we contribute to our democracy is through paying taxes. In May 2015, CPJ released “Taxes for the Common Good” a collection of fact sheets designed as a primer on tax issues. They cover issues including the high cost of low taxes as well as corporate taxes, carbon taxes, and public services.

Omnibus Legislation

One method of enhancing democracy would be for governments to severely limit the use of omnibus bills in the House of Commons. Omnibus bills put several measures on a diverse array of policy areas up to one vote by parliamentarians. Ten omnibus bills have been presented to the House of Commons since the 2011 election, amending hundreds of Acts.

For example, 2012’s budget implementation bill, Bill C-45, included controversial changes to environmental assessments and regulations for natural resource development, heavily impacting the rights of Indigenous peoples. The 2014 budget bill (C-43, tabled in Fall 2014) amended twenty non-budget related acts, such as the Patent Act, Criminal Code, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, and the Hazardous Products Act among others.

The use of omnibus bills prevents MPs and Canadians from properly scrutinizing and approving legislation.

QUESTION: Will you restrict or eliminate the use of omnibus bills in the House of Commons?

Evidence-based Policy-making

Our public policy-making should always be informed by evidence. Senior researchers in the civil service need to have their opinions heard and government research should be made widely available to the public. CPJ’s own ability to provide insightful research on poverty trends has been harmed by cuts to Statistics Canada and the elimination of the long-form census. Our government has a responsibility to act transparently and ensure efficient access to information and government documents.

The decision to shut the National Council on Welfare limits the public’s access to data and analysis on welfare rates across Canada and the cost of poverty. When the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was shuttered, Canada lost a credible and powerful voice on climate change and ecological concern.

QUESTION: Would you reinstitute the long form census, the National Council on Welfare, and/or the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy?

Truly Fair Elections

A public justice framework calls for everyone (both citizens and leaders in society) to contribute to the common good. This requires accountability, dialogue, and fair representation. Since the very beginning of its work, CPJ has advocated electoral reform that ensures that everyone’s vote counts. For these reasons, CPJ recommends that proportional representation or a preferential ballot system be studied with a view to future use in Canada.

Bill C-23, the “Fair Elections Act,” came under severe criticism from academics and electoral experts. CPJ also questioned several aspects of this legislation that hinder democratic development and more fair electoral rules. Instead, we propose strengthening Elections Canada’s investigative and enforcement powers. This would help to create a level playing field and limit the power of big donors to buy political influence.

QUESTION: Do you propose moving to a preferential voting system and/or proportional representation?

Charities and “Political Activity”

Many Canadians support the work of charities, which together comprise over eight per cent of the national GDP. Recently, concerns have surfaced about audits undertaken by Canada Revenue Agency targeting charities’ perceived political activities. According to press reports, a “chill effect” on democratic charitable activities has resulted. The Canadian Council of Churches, of which CPJ is an affiliate member, has raised this substantial concern in a letter to government.

QUESTION: Would you consult with the charitable sector in clarifying Canada Revenue Agency’s definitions of “political activities”?

 

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2015 Election Bulletin