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How Do We Rate Our Government? It Depends on Our Values

Where is the public discussion of what we value in Canada? Of what binds us together as a country? Of our responsibilities towards one another?


This letter to the editor is a response to Dr. John Redekop's article, Harper's Conservatives Earn an A-.

As members of a democratic society, Christians, like all Canadians, have a responsibility to actively monitor the performance of their governments.

… Christians—and others—need to be careful about taking positions on political parties or policy platforms without first defining the values …

John Redekop's recent article in these pages is therefore a welcome step in encouraging us to consider the performance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government during their first five months in office.

However, Mr. Redekop's report card has a serious weakness—it fails to clearly articulate and defend a set of standards against which Mr. Harper's government should be assessed.

American political scientist Harold Lasswell defines politics as "who gets what, when, where and how."

Indeed, most government decisions are informed by implicit values-based positions about who deserves what, and who should give what.

Therefore, Christians, indeed, all Canadians, need to keep their values in mind when assessing government policy and practice.

Mr. Redekop chooses thirteen areas for his report card—including social, economic, environmental, defence, and foreign policies, and Parliament and cabinet performance—but he gives no indication of what Christians should be looking for in each of these areas.

The descriptors Mr. Redekop uses—competence, discipline, focus, public approval, timeliness, effectiveness, and goodmedia relations—are certainly important technical aspects of governance.

But missing is an articulation of values, and an assessment of the government's overall policy direction based on these values.

What is it, after all, that we want our government to strive to achieve, with their policies and programs?

This values-based question (the "ends" which we desire as a society) has been largely ignored in recent polarized political debates which have focused on means and mechanisms: equalization or no equalization, sales tax cuts or income tax cuts, in or out of Afghanistan, the Kyoto Protocol or no Kyoto Protocol, the Kelowna Accord or no Kelowna Accord.

Where is the public discussion of what we value in Canada? Of what binds us together as a country? Of our responsibilities towards one another?

Christians, and people of faith more generally, have an important role to play in raising these questions, and in giving voice to the values that should inform government policies and societal beliefs and practices more broadly.

As people of faith, we may not fully agree on the precise articulation of core values, but surely they have to do with giving, rather than getting, and with charity, compassion, justice, grace, and stewardship.

If Mr. Redekop were to have assessed the Conservative government's performance based on these standards, the government's final grade-point average may have been quite different.

In any case, the main point here is that Christians—and others—need to be careful about taking positions on political parties or policy platforms without first defining the values that should inform the policies and practices of government. Otherwise, we are unlikely to find common ground.

Christians can make an important contribution to political life in Canada today by encouraging a more explicit consideration of values—and the articulation of a societal vision that includes all people—in political discourse and public policy-making.

Michael Polanyi is the coordinator of Canadian Social Development with KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.

Originally published on www.christianity.ca, July 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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