NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, left, and Green Party MP Elizabeth May, second from left, are the co-chairs of the new Parliamentary all-party interfaith caucus. Liberal Rob Oliphant, thrid from left, and Conservative Garnett Genuis are also on the executive. Blaikie photo from Facebook, others from Register files

Parliamentary interfaith caucus established to foster dialogue in Ottawa

  • June 24, 2021

OTTAWA -- You can learn a lot about Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other faiths in books, but the best way to really understand another faith is through personal relationships.

That is part of the rationale at the heart of a new Parliamentary all-party interfaith caucus launched earlier this month during an online meeting that focused on the role faith plays in a multicultural democracy such as Canada.

The new caucus, which is associated with the Canadian Interfaith Conversation and its member organizations, is being touted as a way “to promote dialogue between Parliamentarians and representatives and members of Canada’s religious communities on matters of shared interest and concern.”

No one involved in the online discussion questioned the need for Canada to have a secular form of politics, but all involved talked about how a person’s faith does inform who they are, what they believe and what their politics are.

“Faith plays a positive role in people wanting to get involved in their communities and wanting to get involved in public policy,” said NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, the new co-chair of the interfaith caucus.

“What I hope is that we can implement a dialogue among different faiths,” he said during the online meeting that included former politicians who shared their views on how faith plays a role in politics.

While the interfaith caucus is new, it has been in the works for a couple of years and is only now getting off the ground, delayed by the COVID pandemic.

The Canadian Interfaith Conversation hopes the interfaith caucus will help foster a dialogue about the “contribution” and “experiences” Canada’s religious communities can bring to public policy challenges.

Membership in the interfaith caucus is open to all MPs and senators and at this point has representatives from most parties in Parliament on its executive. The Green Party’s Elizabeth May joins the NDP’s Blaikie as caucus co-chair, and Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and Liberal MP Rob Oliphant are also on the executive.

One of the people who took part in the online discussion June 16 was Canada’s first-ever Muslim senator, Mobina Jaffer, who spoke of facing a backlash when she was first appointed in 2001. She also raised Quebec’s controversial secularism law Bill 21 that “prevents Muslims from looking like Muslims” if they want to work in the public sector in Quebec.

But another participant in the June 16 online forum pointed out why even when discussing Bill 21, which has been criticized as an attack on religious freedom, there needs to be an understanding of the complete context of the law that can only come from further respectful discussion.

Former Bloc Quebecois MP Richard Marceau, who is Jewish, said it is important that viewpoints that come from faith and religion be heard during public debate, but that in a secular democracy those viewpoints do not have a veto and everyone should understand that.

He said issues such as Bill 21 have to be understood within the context of why the law was enacted and the history of religion and especially the Catholic Church’s role’s within Quebec in the past.

While he said that as a Jew he is against Bill 21, he also said “you have to understand Quebec’s history” to understand why that law is so popular in Quebec.

At the end of the day, Jaffer said dialogue between people of different faiths and backgrounds shows us all that we all have more in common with each other than there are differences regardless of what our traditions and backgrounds are.

“Our practices and traditions may differ, but our values are often the same,” she said.

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