You’ve heard that "religion and politics don’t mix," but a non-partisan parliamentary caucus wants to do just that.
The all-party interfaith caucus was launched Wednesday with the goal of bringing together parliamentarians interested in the intersection of faith and politics. NDP MP Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona) is co-chairman of the caucus. He welcomed participants to the online event by noting the idea had been under discussion for more than a year and a half but was derailed by the pandemic.
"We are determined to have this dialogue," Blaikie — a member of the Transcona Memorial United church — said, adding it is "even more important" as the country grieves the killing of four Muslim family members in London, Ont., and other events where religion has "been a flashpoint."
In addition to addressing issues like that, the caucus will "pay tribute to the important and positive role that faith plays in motivating people to get into politics and motivating their interest in public policy and improving their communities," Blaikie said.
Among those speaking at the launch was Independent Sen. Mobina Jaffer of British Columbia, who was the first Muslim appointed to the Senate in 2001.
She spoke about Bill 21 in Quebec, which "prevents Muslims from looking like Muslims." For her, this is the result of "ignorance and lack of understanding" and is a reason why she is grateful for the new caucus.
"This is a platform where we can educate and inform one another of our beliefs and values so we can demonstrate how valuable religion can be in Canada’s democracy," Jaffer said.
Jaffer said what she found most striking over her 20 years as a senator was not the differences between the religious views held by politicians, but "the commonalities."
"Our practices may differ, but our values are often the same," Jaffer said.
"We need to spend more time talking to each other about what binds us together than what sets us apart," she said. "By doing this, we can all learn together and build a Canada where all religions can see themselves as making policy and progress."
Former Bloc Québécois MP Richard Marceau said there needs to be a balance between those who say religion should play no role in public debate and those who only see things through religious lenses.
"Between those two extremes, there is a lot of space," Marceau, who is Jewish, said. He added he believes, "Religion should have a voice but not a veto" in public policy discussions.
Religion is important for the identity of many Canadians and parliamentarians, Marceau said, "It absolutely has a voice in a democratic debate. If it did not, our democracy would be poorer."
At the same time, religious voices should be at the same level as other voices in debate, he said.
Also speaking at the event was former senator Lois Wilson and former MP Stockwell Day.
The purpose of the caucus, which is affiliated with the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, is to promote dialogue between parliamentarians and members of Canada’s religious communities on matters of shared interest and concern.
It will do this through things such as helping parliamentarians become more familiar with the ideas, experiences and representatives of Canada’s religious communities, through events such as an interfaith prayer breakfast, and by working with religious groups to promote inter-religious understanding.
Membership in the caucus is open to all MPs and senators.
In addition to Blaikie, the other leaders of the caucus are co-chairwoman Elizabeth May of the Green party, Garnett Genuis of the Conservatives and Rob Oliphant of the Liberals.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.