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Former Ambassador of Religious Freedom, now director of Cardus Law, Andrew Bennett, left, with director of Cardus Family Andrea Mrozek and director of Cardus Social Cities’ program Milton Friesen participated in a panel June 1 on what makes a good city. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canadian cities’ faith communities cast a profitable ‘halo’

  • June 7, 2017

OTTAWA – Faith communities are not just good for the soul of a city — they also help its bottom line.

“The role of faith communities in our country is profound,” said former Ambassador for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett, who is now the director of Cardus Law, during a panel discussion June 1 on how cities are impacted by faith communities.

Cardus used the event to also launch its Halo Project, researching the role of religious communities as “economy catalysts” in cities. The study concluded that for every $1 a religious institution budgets for various programs, a city receives $4.77 in “common good services.”

The importance of faith communities goes back to Canada’s first inhabitants, to the founding of hospitals, schools, social services and universities, Bennett said.

“It’s about the transmission of virtue, ethics, the moral sense these communities provide,” he said during a panel discussion to introduce the Halo Project.

The first phase of the project, modelled after one done in the United States, examined 10 congregations in Toronto which spend $9.5 million per year in “their direct budgets,” said the Halo Project report.

“But that is just the tip of the iceberg,” the report said. “The actual common good value those congregations produce, their ‘halo effect,’ ” is estimated to be more than $45 million per year. That figure is calculated from a formula that measured the effects of events like weddings and artistic performances, and programs like suicide prevention, ending substance abuse, housing initiatives and job training.

Project researchers then extended their findings to other cities across Canada using data from the Canada Revenue Agency. The results are available through their Halo calculator (www.haloproject.ca). Based on the research, Toronto faith communities account for $6.7 billion annually. Calgary ranks second at $2.2 billion and Montreal at $2.1 billion.

The faith communities also contribute to enhancing the moral life of the city by showing “as citizens we are responsible for one another,” said Bennett.

He was joined on the panel by Cardus’ Social Cities program director Milton Friesen, who is responsible for the Halo Project, and Cardus Family director Andrea Mrozek, who spoke on the role families play in making good cities.

“There is no simple ‘City-building for Dummies,’ ” Friesen said, describing the elements that go into a good city as “deeply complex.”

It may not be a matter of “if we knew more we could do better,” but “we may need to know some things differently,” he said.

Mrozek described the street she lives on has having a playground, but it is not used, and only few working families with children, she said. A glossy advertisement promises “hotel living” in a new condo development being built nearby.

In the 2011 census, the number of one-person households surpassed that of families with children, she said. The fertility rate in Canada has dropped to 1.6 children per woman of child-bearing age, well below the 2.1 children needed to keep the population stable.

There’s a trend towards “post-familialism,” past the “prior assumption that the family was the bedrock” of society, she said.

If developers keep building condos designed for one person, or a maximum of two people, it reflects an “atomization” of society. “Do we need more families who make cities more habitable?” she asked.

“Stable families bring more good to cities than cities can bring to families,” she concluded.

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