NDP establishes faith caucus

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 2, 2006
NDP Faith and Justice Caucus MPs Charlie Angus, Tony Martin and Joe Comartin.OTTAWA - Religion and politics have often been associated with the so-called religious right, but now a group of New Democrat MPs and party members want to revive the religious left. To that end, they have established a Faith and Justice Caucus.

"It's a long and positive tradition," said NDP MP Bill Siksay.

Siksay noted the tradition stretches back to Methodist J.S. Woodsworth, United Church minister Stanley Knowles and Baptist minister Tommy Douglas, social Gospel believers who founded the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and played an important role in the establishment of Canada's social safety net.

"If you are progressive and religious, you could come to the NDP Party," said NDP MP Tony Martin. "There is space for you there."

"It's been very exciting," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. There's been a lack of vision that speaks to the average Catholic that focuses on justice, mercy and compassion and building a society where people are not left behind, he said. Instead much of the debate in Ottawa has centred on a few "hot button issues." The Faith and Justice Caucus hopes to change that.

"The call to be just resonates," Angus said.

The NDP launched the caucus Sept. 9 at its annual federal convention in Quebec City. Angus said 130 people attended the launch and were "very keen on being a force to bring a faith perspective on political issues."

The caucus includes seven active members: Angus, Martin, Joe Comartin, Siksay, Bill Blaikie, Olivia Chow and Paul Dewar. Angus, Martin, Comartin and Dewar are all Catholics. Blaikie is an ordained United Church minister, Siksay is a member of the United Church and Chow is a Baptist.

Comartin said he came to the NDP because of the influence of his Catholic upbringing. As he became more involved in the party, he wondered whether the party was "welcoming people of faith with open arms and making them feel comfortable."

Martin and Siksay also said they came to their interest in social justice through their respective religious faiths.

"The political call came second," Siksay said.

Earlier this fall, the caucus sponsored a reception for visiting Zimbabwean Archbishop Pius Ncube. Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ébacher attended as well as some staff from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), who handed out copies of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church to the politicians who attended. Michael Markwick, senior advisor to the Justice, Peace and Missions bureau at the CCCB, said copies were snapped up by MPs from all parties.

While social justice issues may continue to prove attractive to many religious voters, the NDP will not allow MPs to vote against gay marriage or for legislation that might interfere with access to abortion. Last year, former NDP MP Beverly Desjarlais was disciplined for voting against Bill C-38, which redefined marriage.

Asked if a pro-life or pro-traditional marriage voter would be comfortable in the NDP, Martin said the party welcomes a wide spectrum of opinion and members are allowed to have differing opinions. When it comes to voting, however, MPs have to toe the party line or face sanctions.

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