New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason, Wildrose Alliance Party leader Danielle Smith, Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford and Liberal leader Raj Sherman take their positions prior to a televised debate in Edmonton, April 12. Albertans will go to the polls April 23 in a provincial general election.

CNS PHOTO | DAN RIEDLHUBER, REUTERS

New Democratic Party leader Brian Mason, Wildrose Alliance Party leader Danielle Smith, Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford and Liberal leader Raj Sherman take their positions prior to a televised debate in Edmonton, April 12. Albertans will go to the polls April 23 in a provincial general election.

April 23, 2012
FR. DON MCLEOD, CSB
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

To say the least, it would be difficult at present for any Albertan to be unaware that a provincial general election campaign is underway. Since the writ was dropped, the proliferation of campaign-related news stories and of signage that sprouts on lawns and boulevards like some invasive super plant has increased exponentially.

The same can be said of the promises that party leaders are dangling in front of the electorate as incentives to cast a ballot supporting each party's candidates. Indeed, it appears that we electors will on April 23 have to make some difficult choices from an increasingly bewildering array of these commitments.

What will our choice be: free university and college tuition, dramatically reduced wait times for certain medical procedures, guaranteed reimbursement of any costs incurred for these procedures, dozens if not hundreds of new schools, millions and even billions of dollars for new public transit, and even a possible cash "dividend" to every citizen once the provincial coffers are back in the black?

Viewed from one perspective, this proliferation of promised handouts might appear to be quite understandable and even justifiable - after all, isn't the basic objective of running in an election to be elected and thereby be given the opportunity to serve one's fellow citizens? And if electoral success requires one to promise the electorate the moon (and beyond) isn't that simply part and parcel of the game?

However, this presupposes a troubling presupposition: that the desired end (winning elected office) justifies the use of any strategy that will assist in gaining that end, even if this means making commitments that may never be achievable but which appeal essentially to the self-interest of segments of the electorate.

This thinking flies in the face of one of the pillars of the social teaching of the Church, namely, that all political activity must serve the common good.

This concept, originating in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, was introduced into Christian ethical thought by Augustine of Hippo and later refined by Thomas Aquinas.

PAPAL INSISTENCE

More recently, Pope Benedict in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) insisted that the common good must be one of the principal objectives of all political and economic activity.

The common good has been described as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment."

A web article composed by members of the faculty of Santa Clara University further describes it as follows: "The common good, then, consists primarily of having the social systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend work in a manner that benefits all people" (www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/commongood.html).

Achieving the common good depends ultimately on citizens and their elected representatives working together to ensure that essential social institutions are structured so as to serve the wellbeing of all.

Whether that is possible in the present political climate, in which appeals to narrow self-interest appear to be the order of the day, appears doubtful at best.

DEBATE, DISCUSS

But this does not mean that a socially conscientious believer should simply refuse to participate in the process, as nearly 60 per cent of eligible Albertans did four years ago.

To the contrary, the tradition of the common good imposes on each of us a genuine obligation not only to vote on April 23 but to engage our fellow citizens - especially those who are running for office - in debate and discussion as to how, in the wealthiest and most resource-rich province in this country, we as a community of citizens can achieve the genuine good of all.

As Catholic Christians, we can and must do no less.

(Basilian Father Don McLeod teaches theology, religious education and Scripture at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta.)