Election 2011: Some More Issues

Over the years, Canadian churches, Christian organizations, and other social justice advocates have provided valuable analysis on a range of issues of concern to Canadians. Throughout this election campaign, CPJ has shared our perspectives on a number of key issues. Now, recognizing that there are issues of interest beyond the scope of our work, we’ve compiled a survey of some of the major themes worthy of consideration that are being highlighted by our colleague organizations.

Every Voter Wants to Make a Difference

Every voter wants to make a difference, or at least be sure that their vote counts. In the last Canadian federal election, however, the number of votes for the party winning power was dwarfed by the number of voters who abstained. We must increase meaningful participation and encourage the civic responsibility to vote.

In the “winner take all” or “first past the post” electoral system currently in place, a majority of voters may end up with a representative (or a party in power) that they actually voted against. With proportional voting systems, every vote counts. More than 80 nations already use proportional systems to strengthen their democracies. Canada should too.

Political parties could also democratize their internal operations, allow more free votes in the House, and encourage more participation by women and ethnic minorities in all levels of politics in order to better reflect and engage Canada’s population. Measures to cancel the per-vote subsidy for political parties must also be critically examined.

For more information:

Tough on Crime, but at what Expense?

In a time of drastic cutbacks to healthcare, education and social welfare programs, the federal government is set to spend an estimated $9.5 billion on the construction of new prisons and the retrofitting of old ones. Why, when crime in Canada is at a 25-year low? The answer: Bill C-23, An Act to Amend the Criminal Records Act, Canada’s new proposed “Tough on Crime” legislation. Bill C-23 would see longer mandatory sentences; an extension of the time following the completion of their sentence when a person can apply for a pardon; “absolute discretion” given to the National Parole Board to “order, refuse to order, or revoke” a record suspension and introduce a 3-strike rule barring those who have committed three criminal offenses from receiving a pardon. Opponents to Bill C-23 argue the legislation will divert resources from restorative and prevention programs, programs which strengthen communities and target at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations. With violent crimes on the decline and the costs associated with incarceration continuing to rise, Canadians need to ask themselves if “Tough on Crime” legislation is really necessary and if it is a priority for taxpayers, to foot the bill.

For more information: The Church Council on Justice and Corrections

Canada’s North

In recent years, there has been more and more discussion of “Arctic Sovereignty.” Often, it has been defined as the need for armed presence. Simultaneously, but with less publicity, the advent of climate change and its consequences have been felt in Canada’s North to an extent far beyond the rest of Canada.

Alternative approaches to Arctic Sovereignty have begun to increasingly emphasize the importance of community development. Serious issues of poverty, housing shortages, food security and unreliable infrastructure, along with all the problems that have come with climate change, have put a whole new perspective on the question of “sovereignty.” Inuit groups emphasize the need to respond to these issues, but also that they be included as partners in any discussion of Northern development or Arctic Sovereignty.

For more information:

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the second largest industry worldwide. The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 12 and 27 million people are trafficked each year. Human trafficking includes those trafficked for physical labour as well as for sexual exploitation. Canada is both a source and destination country. Those at greatest risk within Canada are Aboriginal women and girls.

Human rights groups and service providers across the country are calling for a national strategy to respond to this international issue. The past year has seen some debate over exactly what such a strategy should include – but the issue is far from settled.

For more information:

Afghanistan

Since 2002, Canada and the international community have made many commitments to building peace in Afghanistan. The promises include: support for human rights and development, transitional justice and good governance, and support for the Afghan Army and police. While some progress on the promises has been made, there is clear evidence that human security – in the fullest sense of the term – is slipping in Afghanistan today. Canada has committed to a presence in Afghanistan until 2014. Though our commitment is centred on providing training to the Afghan Army, Canada has also committed to supporting human rights and development.

Another key element is the role that Canada will play in terms of diplomatic support for reconciliation and political stability. Without a well-supported peace process, all of Canada’s other efforts could well be in vain.

For more information:

International Development

In 2000, Canada signed the Millennium Declaration, which committed signatory states to eight goals, related to ending hunger and extreme poverty, providing universal access to education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, and guaranteeing environmental sustainability. All of these goals were to be achieved through means of a global partnership and fulfilled by 2015.

While progress has indeed been made, it has not been nearly enough to meet all these targets in all regions of the Global South. Any further steps forward clearly require more and better aid. Since 1969, the internationally agreed upon target for aid spending has been 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product. However, the Canadian aid budget was frozen in 2010 at a mere 0.3% of GDP.

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Coalition Government

The spectre of coalition government has loomed large during this election campaign. But is it as scary as some would have us believe? Coalition governments are in fact the norm in a number of European democracies. Why? Because they are seen to provide greater stability and to more effectively accommodate multiple viewpoints.

As we head to the ballot box on May 2, Canadians should carefully consider what a coalition government would actually involve – and whether or not it would necessarily be a bad thing.

For more information: