In 2018, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis was part of an all-party delegation to the U.S. to observe the election in that country.
The visit was "sobering," he recalled of the acrimonious partisanship in America. "We knew by end of visit we wanted to be nicer to each other and not allow the same thing to happen in Canada."
Avoiding those divisions is one of the reasons behind Genuis’s push to create an all-party interfaith caucus in Parliament — a place where MPs from every religion can gather to discuss ways faith can address issues in Canada and contribute to the common good.
In addition to Genuis, who represents Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta, the effort is being led by Elizabeth May, an Anglican and former leader of the Green Party, and Anthony Housefather, who is Jewish and a member of the Liberal Party.
The interfaith caucus would join many other caucuses where MPs from different parties gather to discuss things such as various industries, diseases, regions of the country, and climate change.
"Everyone in Parliament has prior ideas and values, commitments that inform their vision of the common good," said Genuis, noting for many MPs it is religion that drives their interest in public service.
For him, the interfaith caucus will be a place to "talk about how faith influences public service" and promote interfaith dialogue.
May agreed. "We are all formed by different traditions," said the representative from Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C. "Religion has shaped many of us."
Through the caucus, she hopes MPs will find creative ways to work together across party and religious lines.
"We have much more in common than we do differences," she said. "We want to gather in a sense of mutual respect, with a listening ear."
For her, the baseline for all religions is to treat others the way we want to be treated. There can be "a richness" in a conversation that uses that as a starting point, she said.
The idea for the interfaith caucus has been around for awhile, she said, and would already be happening now if not for the pandemic.
"There is definitely an appetite for it," she said. With representatives from each party signed on, "we have a critical mass for moving forward."
For Anthony Housefather, who represents Montreal’s Mount Royal constituency, the caucus would be a way to shine a light on the role of religion in public life.
The idea of secularism in Canada "is greatly misunderstood," he said, adding its goal is to not promote one religion over others — not to eliminate it from public life altogether.
Secularism doesn’t mean "faith has no role in public sphere," he said. Faith groups, he added, "need to play a role in public discourse."
Along with discussing issues, the caucus would also be a place for MPs to get to know each other better at a personal level.
"We need to hear from our counterparts from other religions," Housefather said. "Faith and spirituality are important parts of who many of us are."
Through the caucus, "we can talk to each other across the aisle, and work across our differences," he said.
All three see this as a counterpart to the annual national prayer breakfast, which is Christian in nature.
"The Christian prayer breakfast is wonderful," said Genuis. "But as the Hill becomes more diverse, it makes sense to have an interfaith breakfast."
"I would like to see a national interreligious prayer breakfast," added May, who attends the Christian prayer breakfast. "Not just a Christian one."
In Manitoba, Winnipeg MPs welcome the idea of an interfaith all-party caucus.
"I certainly support it and would participate," said Terry Duguid, a United Church of Canada member who represents Winnipeg South for the Liberal Party.
Parliament "can be a toxic, nasty ultra-partisan place" at times, he said, but "faith reminds us of our common humanity."
By meeting together in this way, MPs can also "speak against those who would weaponize faith," he said. "Only good can come from this initiative," he said.
Daniel Blaikie, who represents Elmwood-Transcona for the NDP, feels the same way.
"This is a topic close to my heart," said Blaikie, also a member of the United Church of Canada and son of Bill Blaikie, a former MP and minister in that church.
He looks forward to being part of a forum where "MPs can talk about faith in a non-partisan environment" and a place where they can "affirm the role faith plays in our lives."
Jim Carr, who represents South Centre, also welcomes the caucus.
For him it will "support a commonality of purpose that extends beyond race and ethnicity, nurturing the values that bind us all. Conversations about the role of religion in our democracy bring colleagues from different faiths and political persuasions together to reflect on human rights, inequality, social justice, the environment and nation building."
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.