There are many constant features of all election campaigns that create their own interesting quirks. One of those in communities, big and small, across the country is all-candidates debates. Various groups put them on, from community associations, to labour, to farm groups and other advocacy groups. Depending on where you live and the level of activity in your riding, there can be lots of different all candidates’ meetings to attend.
But when it comes to events like these there are usually some groups that would never host such an event. As someone who was raised Catholic, in my lifetime I’ve never heard of the church itself inserting itself into a campaign in such a way. Yes, the church has, from time to time, let their feelings be known about certain issues but beyond that, they usually stay outside the political fray. And in past generations the Catholic Church did insert itself more, but in the past few decades we just haven’t seen that. We’ve seen the church go the other way, going so far as to try to stop clergy from running for elected office, like they did with former Bloc MP Raymond Gravel, who was forced by the church to choose elected office or the church. So I have to admit I was very surprised to stumble across this Tweet today, something that I wouldn’t have expected to see in 2019:
Yes, the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto will be holding their own All-Candidates debate, which they claim is the first one they have ever held. Personally I cannot think of any other archdiocese that has ever done this, and there are probably many good reasons for that. But that aside, the release for the debate say that the event will ask the various parties to “address issues of importance to Canada’s Catholic community” including “poverty, life issues, Christian persecution and climate change.” Read into that list of topics what you will. And amazingly none other than Don Newman will be the moderator, which is a big name to attach to such an event.
This news left me with a few interesting questions, ones that you might not normally ask about such an event. Firstly I wonder who will get invited and how many parties will get an invite? Will the pro-choice, progressive parties get an invite? Will the People’s Party be there? How about fringe parties like the Christian Heritage Party? I ask this because I honestly wonder how representative of Toronto and the catholic community in general will this be.
Secondly, I find it a big break of tradition for the archdiocese to take this step. This is not some random parish community deciding to do this, but the Cardinal of Toronto himself. It seems like a big step towards the political for an official of the church to take, which is likely why we’ve never really seen this in recent memory.
Finally, we have a real 2019 issue that I think this news raises. Given the recent interpretations of the electoral law by Elections Canada and the involvement of third parties in the election, will the Archdiocese of Toronto need to register as a third party? If this were just a debate, I’d say no. But according to the release from the Archdiocese Cardinal Collins will “reflect on the election at the beginning and the end of the evening.” This is not going to just be a debate, it sounds like there will be some opinions being given by the Cardinal, more than likely on issues spoken about during the debate, which are issues that would be guaranteed to trip Elections Canada definitions of issues that could be treated as partisan. And given that renting space at the Toronto Convention Centre isn’t cheap, it feels safe to say they would trip the $500 limit to report. In the past I wouldn’t have ever thought to have asked this question, but in 2019, it seems to be necessary.
Frankly, in the end I’m surprised that the archdiocese is going to do this. I see no way that they can do this that won’t upset a big number of parishioners and create more problems for them than the rental of that room at the Convention Centre is worth. I am honestly left to wonder what exactly the goal of the archdiocese is here in putting on this event, and that makes me leery of it. Maybe it’s just my pessimistic nature, but something about this makes me question what is going on. I’m not saying that this debate is taking place is a good or a bad thing, I just find it puzzling. Regardless of that, we’ll see what this looks like in the end and what, if any, effect it has in Toronto. One thing is for sure, this was something that many people didn’t see coming.
UPDATE: 3:10 pm – I received the following reply from the Archdiocese to the Third Party Registration issue, giving what they have been told so far: