This week Prime Μinister Stephen Harper steps into the 41st Parliament with a majority government of 166 seats. The NDP, of course, begins its first session as the official opposition with 103 seats elected to Parliament. This is new ground for both.
It’s been a while since Canada has had a majority government. What can we expect?
Given the fact that the official opposition has lost their beloved leader who brought them to this point, it will be fascinating to watch how both Government and Opposition function in coming days. Will the Government take advantage of this moment and ram through a bunch of bills that have been difficult to pass in past years? Will the Opposition come out, (registered) guns a-blazin’, with new found confidence in the force of their numbers? It’s too early to tell, but stay tuned!
But here’s another question. What should Christians be doing as this new session of Parliament begins? Is there anything we can do to become actively involved in the political process? Or is all we can do is sit back and let the cards fall as they may? I hope readers opt for the former rather than the latter. But to encourage a more active and responsible Christian involvement, no matter what one’s political stripe, here’s seven things we can do as Christian to keep from becoming politically apathetic in between now and the next federal election some four years hence…
1) Pray for our MPs.
Scripture doesn’t give us direct insight into the kind of political stances we are to take on many issues as a Christians, but it is very clear on one thing: We are to pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim 2:1-3). Indeed, Paul tells us that to do so is “good” and that praying for our leaders “pleases God our Saviour.” How much more direct political instruction do we need?! Praying for our leaders also has the added benefit of keeping the edge of cynicism out of our voices when we speak about politicians. It’s pretty hard to pray for a politician one moment and then mock her or him the next.
2) Find out who your MP is.
I am amazed at how regularly I meet someone who doesn’t know who her or his own Member of Parliament is. Given that our MP is supposed to be our representative in Ottawa, it seems a bit odd that we wouldn’t know to whom we are supposed to turn when we want to be represented. So, if you don’t know who your MP is, and you know what your postal code is, go here to find out. Once you’ve found out who your MP is, why not pray for her or him, too?
Oh, and if you’re interested, you can also find out where you MP sits in Parliament here. While it doesn’t tell you everything, you may be interested to know how far away from “centre” (Prime Minister or Party Leader) the Member sits. This may suggest the level of influence the Member has toward the Leader.
3) Find out what’s on the docket for the next Parliament.
While there are always matters of discussion that come up unexpectedly in Parliament, there is nevertheless a basic plan for what it going to be covered. You can find the proposed bills here. It is worth taking a few minutes scan through the titles and see what catches your eye. I did a quick scan and found Bill C-233 entitled (somewhat optimistically), “A Bill to Eliminate Poverty in Canada” (!). While you’re in the area, you might want also to head over to the Parliament of Canada home page that gives a lot interesting information, including some great educational resources for teachers of primary and secondary students.
4) Do some research on a legislative Bill of your interest.
Whatever your bent, you are sure to find something in the parliamentary docket that piques your interest (or raises your hackles!). Do a bit of reading on the bill to see what is going to be proposed. Are you in favour of this approach or not? Outline two or three things that makes you want to support, or signal opposition to, the proposed legislation. Oh, and while you’re at it, as a Christian it would be good to find out what Scripture has to say on the issue! Scripture doesn’t, as previously mentioned, always give us direct instruction on how we should view any particular piece of legislation. But surely as Christians we would be remiss if we didn’t at least try to discern what the Bible might have to say.
5) Write a letter to your MP supporting or opposing an upcoming piece of legislation.
I think it would be disheartening to know how many people have ever contacted their MP about anything. I suspect the percentage is rather low. This despite the fact that MPs tell us regularly that they consider one letter equivalent to the opinion of several hundred constituents. Indeed, MPs are often asked what their constituents are thinking about a matter, and the communication received from their constituency is one of the main ways they gather this information and pass it on to the party leaders.
So, using the address of the MP you found above, take the time to write a brief letter expressing your opinion. Yes, you heard me correctly–write a letter, not an email.
Now for some of us, we probably haven’t written a letter in years so you might want some tips on how to do this effectively. I’d suggest a couple of sites that describe effective letters here and here.
Why not an email? It isn’t that emails aren’t appropriate, but email is a less formal medium and a letter, complete with an actual envelope and actual paper, communicates just how seriously you take an issue. Oh, and the good news about writing a letter your MP–you don’t have to put a stamp on it! Canada Post guarantees delivery of letters to Members of Parliament and Ministers without the need for postage.
No matter what, don’t be afraid to identify yourself as a Christian in your letter. You have a right to be heard not simply as a citizen in Canada, but as a Christian. Just remember, though, that what you say in the letter will also influence, rightly or wrongly, the MP about what he or she thinks about Christians. Be honest, in other words, but remain polite and respectful.
6) Write your MP a letter of encouragement.
This is a bit different than #5 above, so let me explain. A few years ago I attended a session in Ottawa to listen to several Christian MPs from various parties speaking on their perspective of the intersection of faith and politics. I’ll always remember what Bill Blaikie, a highly respected New Democrat MP who served the House of Commons for many years, said. He spoke of how rarely he had ever received letters of encouragement from constituents. That is bad enough, but worse yet was that he said that the most hurtful–indeed, hateful–letters he ever received were penned by self-professed Christians. How sad!
It is easy for us to criticize and blame at a distance, and we surely shouldn’t automatically agree with everything our MP does on our behalf. But surely as Christians we can remember that we should be the aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15), or to use Jesus’ metaphor, salt and light (Matt 5:13-16), toward our political leaders. Remember that once you’ve identified yourself as a Christian, you are also acting as a representative of Jesus Christ himself itself. Make sure your witness is Christ honouring and faithful to the Good News of the Gospel.
7) See #1 one above!
So there you have it. Seven things Christians can do during a majority government. But now that I think of it, these are things we can do no matter what kind of government we have! So don’t wait for the next minority!