Canada's bishops have provided a guide to help voters prepare for the May 2 federal election.
Canada's Catholic bishops have provided a 2011 federal election guide to provide a "magnifying glass" to guide judgments about party platforms and candidates.
It provides examples of Catholic moral and social teaching in five areas: respect for life and human dignity; building a more just society; the person and the family; Canada's role in world justice and peace; and a healthy environment.
"Demanding the right to life for even the smallest among us - the human embryo and the fetus - since they too belong to the human family, while also providing assistant to pregnant women facing difficulties," is the first of six bullet points in the pro-life section.
The bishops also stress protection for people at end of life and care for people with disabilities, those who are sick or who are poor and suffering.
Under "building a more just society" the bishops call for poverty-reduction measures, echoing a recent interfaith declaration that called for a national strategy to reduce poverty.
The guide specifically mentions ending child poverty, aiding the homeless and providing access to affordable housing. It also calls for "ending excessive, unjustified spending," while at the same time "ensuring a basic income sufficient for the basics of food and housing."
It further calls for "finding permanent solutions" to problems indigenous communities face.
On the family, the bishops call for: "promoting a better balance between familial and professional responsibilities; "pay equity between men and women"; and "guaranteeing sufficient basic income for an adequate quality of life." It calls for family reunification for refugees and immigrants; and combating human trafficking. Access to quality hospital care is also under this section.
The bishops call for Canada to provide world leadership on justice and peace by "striving to reach" the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and working to eliminate nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons.
"Making Our Voices Heard is a wonderful guide to assist Canadian Catholics to consider their Church's views on issues that should be discussed in the May 2, 2011 federal election," said Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice.
"The bishops hit the right tone by noting they will not provide a political platform, but a 'magnifying glass' on the issues we should all consider as we go to the polls."
"I think the bishops have a duty to do this," said Campaign Life Coalition National Organizer Mary Ellen Douglas, who praised the bishops' putting the life issue first in their guide.
"For us, the issue of life is a disqualifying issue," she said. "If a candidate will not take a stand for life, then they are disqualified, no matter what stand they take on the environment or anything else."
"It has to be first and foremost, because without life you don't have the opportunity to do anything else," she said.
"The other issues are important. But the life issue is an overriding issue."
Gunn noted the similarities with the bishops' 2008 guide, though he noted it omitted international development issues. "Happily, the 2011 guide does call for Catholics to support the UN's Millennium Development Goals as a way to reduce poverty and injustice."
The three-page guide cannot address all issues, he said. It does not deal with the importance of health care for Canadians, though it does speak of quality hospital care.
"In their section on the family, the bishops somehow do not mention the issue of early child education and care, leaving the reader to guess their intentions in terms of a federal daycare plan, which the CCCB advocated as long ago as the 1980s.
"In 2008, the bishops' guide called for a process towards peace in Afghanistan, but in 2011 Canada's military involvement in that country and more recently, in Libya, are not mentioned."
"Someone is likely to ask the bishops what their reference to end 'excessive, unjustified spending' means," he said.
"Some might interpret this as concern over the billions to be spent on F-35 fighter jets, or 13 new federal prisons, or even money to be lost in planned corporate tax cuts. . . . We just don't know."
Douglas said the bishops' guide was not clear enough in stressing life as paramount. Campaign Life has posted information at www.campaigncoalitionlife.com based on candidates' responses to a questionnaire, their speeches and their voting records.
The political arm of the pro-life movement is non-partisan, she said, focusing on electing the best pro-life candidates.
(The full text of the Canadian bishops' election guide is available at www.cccb.ca.)