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A group of MPs is exploring the creation of an interfaith caucus in the House of Commons. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

MPs look to bridge gap in faith, politics

  • October 21, 2020

OTTAWA -- MPs from across the political spectrum are working to form a new all-party caucus in Parliament to foster more dialogue and respect between faith communities and federal politicians.

Religious organizations and a group of MPs met recently to try and create an all-party interfaith caucus to bridge the gap between Canada’s diverse faith communities and the political arena. The aim is to not only cross party lines but faith differences as well.

An online meeting to discuss such an interfaith caucus drew 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 politicians.

May, who is Anglican, said 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 while she is happy that there already exists Christian-based events through the House of Commons, creating an “all-faith” caucus is a way to strengthen the ties between MPs and the diverse range of faiths that intermingle in Canada.

Housefather, who is Jewish, said an interfaith caucus would be a valuable way for MPs who come from faith communities to engage with each other and leaders of faith communities who at times feel their views are not respected by politicians if they are informed by their faith.

“Faith communities in Canada should not be embarrassed for engaging in the public sphere,” he said. “Faith communities need to be treated equally. 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.”

Genuis, a Catholic, said an all-party interfaith caucus would 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 there are numerous issue-related caucuses in Parliament that cross party lines, but some only meet when they are formed and really don’t function much beyond that.

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

Geoffrey Cameron, director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Baha’i Community of Canada, said in an OpenDemocracy.ca posting last year’s federal election clearly showed the divide between faith and politics.

“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,” he said.

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