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April 20, 2015

The May 5 Alberta election is one significant opportunity for the baptized to assume their role as prophets and bring Catholic ideals to play in the public realm. A Catholic vote and other participation in the electoral process should express, not one's self-interest or personal tastes, but the values by which we are called to live our faith.

Our actions should flow out of the great commandment – to love God and love our neighbour. Like God who is partial to the poor and marginalized, our first thought should be for those excluded from the vast benefits of living in our blessed society. In dealing with the economic wealth that comes from harvesting our natural resources, our concern should not be narrowly focused on the wants and desires of today, but rather on the needs of our children and grandchildren.

The great scandal of Alberta is that we pay far too little attention to both of these ethical concerns. This scandal far outstrips in magnitude the little scandals that form so much of the news of the day, such as the now-abandoned scheme to build a luxury penthouse for the premier. These little scandals are important mainly because they are indicators of the massive scandal of failing to care for the marginalized of today and the children of tomorrow.

Catholic values can be spelled out more specifically. Our popes and bishops have long been doing that. Here are the main principles:

  • The human person is made in God's image and has a transcendent dignity.
  • Human rights are rooted in the nature of the person. Every person has rights which should never be violated.
  • Each person and family has a right to own private property.
  • The right to private property is not absolute; it is subject to the needs of the common good.
  • God created the earth for the sake of all humanity without excluding or favouring anyone. Every person – both those living today and those to be born in the future – has an equal claim on the earth's resources.
  • The needs of the poor deserve higher priority than the desires of the wealthy.
  • Wealthier nations and regions have an obligation to share their wealth with poor nations.
  • The family and various forms of voluntary association play an essential role in strengthening the social fabric and enabling citizen participation; their freedom should not be restricted without due cause.
  • All institutions of society should strengthen the bonds of solidarity among people and eliminate practices that erode those bonds.
  • Work is both necessary for human existence and a way for people to participate creatively in society. Work is a fundamental right.
  • Workers have the right to fair pay, to humane working conditions, to form unions and, if necessary, to go on strike.
  • Economic enterprises that create wealth and express human creativity should be nurtured. The over-riding purpose of such businesses should be to foster communion among people rather than to enhance economic self-interest.
  • The natural environment must be respected, its resources used prudently and with regard for the needs of future generations, and the relationship of indigenous people to the land should be protected.

The bias of Catholic social teaching, which is rooted in the dignity of all people, is toward equality, community and meeting the needs of the marginalized. Looking at people's needs or desires too narrowly, such as in terms of self-interest, leads to the erosion of the bonds of community.

Provincial governments spend the largest portion of their revenues on health, education and social programs. Lowering taxes is a worthy goal, but not if it means fewer services for the sick and the poor, and not if it undermines protection of the environment and the education of children.

When we participate in the electoral process – and participate we must – we ought to participate not as individuals pursuing our own interests, but as Catholics who are determined to respect the dignity of the human person.