MPs want to help bridge gap between faith communities and politicians

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa -CCN] – A group of MPs from different political parties are working together to try and get a new all-party caucus going in parliament that would not only cross political party lines but faith differences as well.

Religious organizations and MPs interested in fostering more dialogue and respect between Canadian faith communities and federal politicians are hopeful that they will be able to create an all-party interfaith caucus that will help bridge the gap between Canada’s diverse faith communities and the political arena.

Geoffrey Cameron, director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Baha’i Community of Canada, said in an posting that the effort is to try and get past the polarization between religious communities and politicians that has developed in Canadian public life.

“The most recent federal election campaign featured discussion of religion primarily as a source of division and polarization,” Cameron said.  “Whether it was the moral positions of the Conservative leader or the debate over Bill 21 in Quebec, religion was seen as a conversation stopper for politicians.”

“It became clear that we need new language and concepts to engage with religion in the public sphere,” Cameron said.

“At an individual level, religious communities help to educate young people to dedicate their lives to the betterment of the world and to serve others. Religion also reinforces the bonds of community ties that help to foster neighbourhood vitality and relationships of social trust,” said Cameron, who participated in an online discussion with MPs from the Liberal, Conservative and Green parties Oct. 15 to discuss creating an all-party interfaith caucus.

According to Cameron, an all-party interfaith caucus would “exert a countervailing influence on growing partisanship by bringing together parliamentarians from across the aisle.”

The online meeting to discuss such an interfaith caucus included Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, former Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Anthony Housefather and was part of the DemocracyXChange Festival from Oct.16 -22 that included virtual workshops on how to strengthen democracy in Canada.

One of the main themes during the online meetings was how to better foster interaction between faith communities and Canadian politicians.

May, who has been a Green Party MP since 2011, said that for MPs such as herself who take faith seriously in their lives, an interfaith all-party caucus would be a positive forum where different ideas and viewpoints can be exchanged in a respectful manner that cuts through the overt partisanship that has become a defining feature of Canadian politics today.

“We learn more about each other when we talk to each other in a respectful way,” May said, adding that while she is happy that there already exists Christian-based events through the House of Commons that she is an avid participant in, creating an “all-faith” caucus is a way to strengthen the ties between Canada’s MPs and the diverse range of faiths that intermingle in Canada.

Liberal MP Housefather, who is Jewish, said such a caucus would be a valuable way for Canada’s MPs who come from faith communities to engage with each other and leaders and of faith communities who at times feel that Canada’s politicians don’t respect their views if they are informed by their faith.

“Faith communities in Canada should not be embarashed for engaging in the public sphere,” he said.

“Faith communities need to be treated equally,” Housefather said. “Faith can not be the be-all and end-all, but faith communities must be treated with the same respect as any other group that wants to engage with their politicians.”

Conservative MP Genuis said his support for an all-party interfaith caucus will hopefully help faith communities expand their engagement with Canadian politicians of all political persuasions and not with those who already share their viewpoint on a particular issue.

“The more discussion we have, regardless of viewpoints, the more we come to understand each other and are willing to see and consider different viewpoints,” Genuis said.

“I would hope we actually have meetings and have caucus discussions,” he said, adding that there are numerous issue-related caucuses in parliament that cross party lines but some of them only meet when they are formed but really don’t function much beyond that.

“We have to flesh this out. This is important, is important for us to make it meaningful,” Genuis said.