Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 6: Faith as a Vehicle for Dialogue

faith; interfaith; covid-19; politics; democracy; democracyXchange

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This is an edited conversation among representatives of national religious communities, who gathered as part of the DemocracyXChange Festival to talk about how faith can be a vehicle for dialogue. It includes representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Canadian Council of Churches, World Sikh Organization, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Baha’i Community of Canada.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

GEOFF CAMERON (Director, Office of Public Affairs): The podcast you are about the listen to is a little different from our previous ones. You’ll hear the edited audio from a conversation that originally broadcast as part of the DemocracyXChange Festival, an initiative hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto.

This conversation brought together representatives of several national religious groups to talk about the role of religion in democratic processes. It followed on a conference panel with several Members of Parliament about the establishment of an All-Party Interfaith Caucus – a non-partisan group that could engage with the ideas and concerns brought forward by religious groups. 

So, you will hear several different voices, engaged in an exploratory discussion about how religion can help to foster dialogue – including with and among our elected representatives.

DELARAM ERFANIAN (Communications Manager, Office of Public Affairs): Welcome everyone who is already here. We are here to witness this webinar, “Faith as a Vehicle for Dialogue: A View from the Community”. I have the pleasure of introducing the panellists today.

Today the moderator will be Dr. John Milloy, who is the Director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College. We will have as panellists Richard Marceau, who is the Vice President of the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs. Next, Dr. Catherine Jarvis, who is a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We also have Balpreet Singh, the Legal Counsel for the World Sikh Organization. And, Peter Noteboom, the General Secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches, as well as the co-chair of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation. Finally, Geoffrey Cameron, who is the Director of Public Affairs for the Baha'i Community of Canada. 

My name is Delaram Erfanian and I am the communications manager for the Baha'i Community of Canada's Office of Public Affairs. 

 So now I'll pass it on to John.

JOHN MILLOY (Director, Centre for Public Ethics, Martin Luther University College): Great. Thank you very much Delaram and good morning everyone. Welcome to this event. It's a special DemocracyXChange Festival event that of course builds on DemocracyXChange that has been taking place over the past few days.

Yesterday, I had the honour to moderate an important discussion between three Members of Parliament from three different parties about the creation of an All-Party Interfaith Caucus to promote dialogue between MPs and serve as a forum for discussion with Canada's diverse religious communities. They also spent some time exploring how faith can have a positive role in public policy, as well as their work as political representatives with the broader faith community.

And we certainly want to thank the three MPs for taking time out of their busy schedule: the Green Party's Elizabeth May, the Conservative Party's Garnett Genuis, and the Liberal Party's Anthony Housefather. It was a lively discussion. In planning for it, we didn't want the conversation to end with yesterday's session. As a follow-up, we've invited distinguished leaders from a number of national faith organizations to reflect upon yesterday's discussion, as well as the more general topic of the intersection between faith communities and politics and public policy.

So you've had a chance to meet them, from a wide range of organizations. They have a great deal of experience, and I want to thank all of them for joining us. I’d like to open by asking Geoff Cameron, who helped co-host yesterday's session, to maybe summarize the discussion between the three Members of Parliament. Geoff?

GEOFF: Thanks very much, John. It was a very stimulating discussion between three Members of Parliament. I think they spoke at both a very personal level and with a great deal of honesty about how they saw the role of religion in their own lives as public servants, public officials, and they also reflected on the interactions they had with religious groups. 

Maybe I can just mention a few high-level points that each of them shared. Elizabeth May spoke about the way in which personal faith can be an important source of spirituality, social connection, and moral grounding for MPs. She also commented on how it can help to overcome tendencies towards partisan tribalism on Parliament Hill.

At a different level of discussion, Garnett Genuis talked about the role that religious groups play in civil society. Although we live in – one could say – a secular society, what this means is in fact that no group should be preferred over the other. It doesn't mean the exclusion of religion from the public sphere or discrimination against religious groups, or that public officials shouldn't engage in a constructive way with religious groups in the course of their work.

Anthony Housefather addressed a number of points. He noted that engaging more fully with religion can also open up discussion; it can help to identify common principles and point toward common ground. And like Garnett Genuis, he talked about how working with religious groups – which themselves are not positioned according to political party – can also help with problem-solving around legislation and finding common ground, where sometimes the partisan frames of parties can find it difficult to find compromise and solve problems.  

Maybe I can also just add a few personal reflections. I think as this event today shows we have very good relations among religious groups in Canada. I think we're fortunate to have a number of organized religious groups that are engaged actively with public issues, that know how to work together, that draw from the highest aspirations of our traditions to work for the common good. And I think there's the real potential to channel this resource, this sense of common cause, in a way that can strengthen our democratic fabric by helping to promote dialogue and address tendencies toward polarization that can assert themselves in Ottawa and more broadly.

So my own hopes for this discussion today, and even further, further beyond, is that this can help to lay the groundwork for a kind of civil society commitment to an All-Party Interfaith Caucus that could potentially choose a few issues every year to focus on that creates structured discussion between religious groups, organizations inspired by religion, even those that may not necessarily be connected with religion but draw upon a moral-ethical vision, to promote cross-partisan dialogue that is addressed to the common good. I'm looking forward to seeing how this can evolve. I think the event yesterday and this one today are good places to start to get the conversation going and to begin thinking about some of these lines of action. 

JOHN: Great. Thank you very much Geoff. I want to turn to Peter with your role as co-chair of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation. Yesterday was not the beginning of a discussion about an Interfaith Caucus by any means. There have been on-going meetings and dialogue on Parliament Hill with various religious groups. And I know the Canadian Interfaith Conversation is going to evolve. Do you want to just talk a little bit about your involvement? But also why does the Canadian Interfaith Conversation see this as important? Why does it help with their goals and mandate?

PETER NOTEBOOM (General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches): Thank you John. And thanks so much Geoffrey for that summary, and for such a great synthesis of where we are as religious communities working with each other in Canada for the common good. 

I think for the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, which was founded about ten years ago, I think this is really our tenth anniversary in some ways. When the G20 came to Canada in 2010 there were some religious leaders in Canada who said, "Well, there should also be a summit of religious leaders from those countries talking about the issues that we're facing." And it was out of that meeting – a relatively large meeting in Winnipeg, called the World Summit of Religious Leaders – that was the first time really that many of us had gotten together to talk about care for creation, addressing the Millennium Development Goals at the time, now, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the pursuit of peace as kind of three main areas of work.

And after that we continued the conversation. We became friends and we said we need to continue this collaboration and deepen it. Shortly after that there was a summit on the Hill on poverty, and another one on climate. And that really kicked off a regular table of conversation where leaders of religious communities in Canada, or leaders of umbrella bodies in Canada, have been thinking about what’s the positive role of religion in Canada? What can it contribute to the public space? To the common good? And part of that has been both getting to know one another, and developing deeper personal relationships so that when a topic comes up we know who to call, and we know where to start in the conversation. 

The Canadian Interfaith Conversation aspires of a meeting place for those representatives of religious communities and umbrella bodies, and build those relationships, and advocate for the positive role of religion in Canada and society and be a common platform for working on issues of the common good.

JOHN: Thank you Peter. I want to continue the conversation with Richard. You have worked with parliamentarians. I don't know if I'm allowed to share your secret that you're a former parliamentarian like myself, but you've worked with other faith communities on issues of interest. And I just wondered if you could share the value you see in faith communities coming together and working with parliamentarians and what some of your experience has been. And even your experience as a former Member of Parliament.

RICHARD MARCEAU (Vice President of External Affairs and General Counsel, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs): Thanks John. And it's nice to be with this distinguished panel. There are a couple of things that I should mention. There is the value Peter noted at the beginning, which is the fact that when we work together as different communities coming together, it builds bridges; it builds bridges between communities. And we get to know one another. We get to understand one another. And certainly for me, on a personal level, it helped me discover so many interesting people and interesting traditions.

I remember the first time or second time I met Balpreet, and I remember asking him, if instead of meeting in an office, we could meet in a gurdwara so that we could start with him telling me about his tradition. He made me visit one in the GTA. It was fascinating. And then we got into conversation on issues. But for me it was so enriching on a personal level to do that. And whenever we work with other groups, that is certainly good for me personally, as well as for the Jewish community. We're looking always for reasons to talk.

The second part of the question asked by John is about working with parliamentarians. I believe we bring a lot to the table as communities when we're part of the political process and the public policy process. What we have to realize – and I remember when I was sitting across the table like you John, as a member of parliament, as a parliamentarian – is that once we decide to engage in this, that we become political players. So that means that sometimes you get criticized for it. So we have to be willing to do that. You have to be willing to have people that will contradict you because that's democracy, that is dialogue, that is debate, and it's healthy. We have to be mindful when we get into the public policy debate, that people will, some people, will agree with us. Some people will disagree, and our work is to convince decision-makers to come to our point of view. 

JOHN: I think they're excellent points. I want to turn to Catherine to talk about her interfaith work in Montreal. She's based in Montreal within Quebec. And just to build on what Peter and Richard said, what models or experiences have you seen that might be translated to the national level, based on some of the initiatives you've worked on in Montreal and in Quebec?

CATHERINE JARVIS (Representative, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints): Yeah. Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this dialogue. I come with a very different perspective. I come really as a person who works on the ground in grassroots initiatives. And these grassroots initiatives are working to build connections as many of you have talked about: connections and relationships with people in faith communities so that we can support each other. Also, so we can advocate for the voice of people of faith in community and at the political level. 

In terms of things on the ground, I think that some of the things that I've learned in my work in interfaith work is that religious communities really want a voice. They want to be heard. I think that these efforts to work in community together really does help us to hear each other's voices. It helps us to hear how public policy affects people, not only for us to express how it's affecting our communities, but to hear how other communities are affected by public policy. I think that's a really important thing that happens when we dialogue with each other, is that we come to a better understanding of how these things affect other members of our community; not only in advocating for our own needs in public space, but also just understanding and listening to others.

I think this is especially true when we're dealing with public policy that's divisive. I would hope that this potential caucus that is being suggested to move forward would help elected officials to understand better how religious communities are affected by these public policies and to really hear the voices of people on the ground, and to recognize that religious communities are diverse and often religious communities are stereotyped. And I think just having common interaction, not only dialogue but action together, goes a long way to breaking down some of these barriers that exist in our communities.

So those are my initial thoughts about this.

JOHN: Great. Thank you very much. And Balpreet, I'll turn it over to you. Now you come at this obviously dealing with government directly, but also from a legal point of view. And I know you've been very involved with working with your community and presumably other faith communities, a number of legal issues in front of the court. So maybe you want to talk about that angle of action or advocacy, and then also the larger picture of dealing with parliamentarians. 

BALPREET SINGH (Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization – Canada):  I'm actually going to take it from a Sikh perspective just to give you a little bit of context from where I'm coming from. The Sikh faith actually lends itself to the Canadian model of secularism quite well. So, freedom of religion, it's a part of who we are. One of our gurus, the ninth guru, was put to death by the state, because he stood up for the Hindu community's right to practice their faith, even though the practices he was defending were actually not permitted, or were considered not appropriate for Sikhs to follow. So, he stood up for their right to follow it even though we didn't agree with it. 

And that has really translated into how we operate. For example, my organization has been quite vocal in its support for Muslim women to be able to veil if they so choose, even though veiling is against the Sikh faith; it's not permitted for Sikh women. But as a question of freedom of religion, we believe that if someone wants to do that then they have the right to do that. 

So looking at it from a political perspective, this engagement, this belief of everyone is equal and everyone can follow their faith and we will defend everyone's right, it also couples with the Sikh ethos of service. Serving others is a major part of the Sikh faith. And that's not just serving Sikhs, it means serving everyone. And politics is a very real way of doing that. And that's partly the reason why you have such a large presence of the Sikh community in the political sphere.  

 Sikhs are quite prominent. I don't need to tell you that but there are 17 Sikh MPs. You have Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, and you have Sikhs on all sides of the bench really. But there's an issue there. The issue is that they're elected not to be the Sikh MP. They're elected to be representatives of their constituency.

So often this has been my experience, the Sikh MPs are nervous about speaking on issues that affect the Sikh community. They don't want to be seen as, you know, “the Sikh MP”. The guy that's always talking about the Sikh issues. So, a couple of days ago we released a graphic campaign to talk about which MPs have been raising Sikh issues in the House of Commons. Interestingly, Garnett Genuis is the MP that has raised the issues of the Sikh community by far more than any other MP. It's like 25 references by Garnett, and the one following that was Sukh Dhaliwal from Surrey at 15. And that's only because he was talking about Sikh Heritage Month.

So that's where I'll leave it. I think an Interfaith Caucus that is open to, and understands the concerns of faith-based communities, and isn't afraid of engaging in the faith, on the faith level, and isn't afraid of being, I guess, stereotyped as just being, you know, "that" MP, I think it would have real value.

JOHN: I want to pick up on the point you raised about Sikh MPs and broaden that, and open it up to whoever wants to speak about what should our expectations be of parliamentarians. I think Balpreet you raise a very good point that someone who's devout, someone who's involved with their faith, is probably more open to other faith communities no matter what – just because they have a sort of a natural, almost reflexive respect for it. But what should our expectations be of Members of Parliament of faith when we're engaging; when they're our faith. They represent us or they represent a tradition that we're associated with.

I feel like I'm in my class here. Peter.

PETER: Just a couple of things that come to mind. I'm not sure that it responds to your question exactly but in the Canadian Council of Churches, every Spring usually we make some visits to Parliament Hill and meet with MPs. And I'm hoping that this Interfaith Caucus also provides more occasions for those interpersonal relationships, and connections, and advocacy moments, and learning. But we're always very conscious when we bring an issue – whether it be nuclear disarmament, poverty, or the Canadian poverty reduction strategy, or climate justice – that these are topics that are of concern for all Canadians. That they reflect values that are broadly shared. And it's good to be clear about what those principles are and to be able to articulate them well.

We don't always get into the policy or even legislative problem-solving mode that Anthony Housefather mentioned yesterday because we may or may not have the expertise or the research capacity to do that. But I think being aware that we're speaking on behalf of a wider community helps. 

JOHN: Yeah, Balpreet?

BALPREET:  Firstly, as a community – so I'm going to start with the community – we have to understand that the MPs aren't there as our representatives; even if they are of the same faith. They are there to represent their constituency. That has to be clear. And they have their party to answer to. That's all fine. 

So we have to keep our expectations realistic. But at the same time, there shouldn't be a fear on the part of the MPs to speak about these faith issues. And there really is this talk about secularism. I think we all believe in secularism. But we have to understand what that means. The Quebec version of secularism doesn't strike me as being the Canadian version of it. So for me, secularism means that you're free to be who you are as long as you treat everyone with dignity, with respect, and no one’s either favoured or disfavored because of their faith. 

For me, that's what secularism really means. But what it sometimes actually feels like to the MPs is that they have to be very quiet about their faith, they can't talk about their faith or, even engaging sometimes with their faith community is seen as risky, but it really shouldn't.

So for me, I think parties – and I don't know if this applies to other faith groups, but certainly for the Sikh community – parties should not look at their MPs as being representatives of their faith. They should look at them as representatives of the constituency. What I'm finding sometimes is that the parties go to Sikh MPs as a shortcut to find out what the community is thinking of the Sikh community is thinking about a certain issue. It doesn't work that way. 

Once again, we as a community have to understand [that MPs are] representing their constituency. The parties also have to understand that they're not representing their faith group there. And sometimes what we're seeing is the MPs want to act as gatekeepers. So, "Come to me as a spokesperson of the faith community and you don't have to directly engage with the community." It's an easy shortcut for the party, but it gets them into real trouble sometimes. 

JOHN: Do others want to jump in? You may have similar experiences. Catherine?

CATHERINE: Well I was just going to say, I think somebody else mentioned earlier that it goes two ways. And I do think you have to be mindful of that. I do think, as religious communities, we should be able to expect that our Members of Parliament and our local elected officials, that they represent us too. Right? Even though they represent everyone, they also represent us. 

So I think there does have to be pathways to elected officials where groups can at least know that their voice is heard. So I think that's something we should expect from our elected officials, that we will be at least heard.

I do think we have a voice back into our communities that elected officials may benefit from using. So I do think that we should be going to them and asking them, "How can we help on these issues? What is it that you need on the ground? Are there ways for us to provide service? Is there ways for us to circulate information?" Like, what things could we do to help our elected officials on the ground? So I think that's something for us to think about.

And on a last point, I just wanted to say that I think we can do a lot. I just want to give an example that has happened in Quebec recently that I have appreciated observing. And that is that during COVID, as our provincial government was making policies for re-opening, it became clear to the religious communities that they weren't that interested in issues of re-opening religious buildings. It wasn't a priority for the government. And I really appreciated watching a group of faith leaders come together and try to find a solution on their own; come up with policy, work with the Public Health Department, and to come back to the government with a solution that they thought could work for religious communities, and to try to advocate, from the grassroots up, for a policy that the government could bring forward and implement that would support religious communities meeting during times of COVID. But that would be safe, and that would respect public health guidelines. But it came from the other direction. It wasn't the government coming down on religious communities with a policy. It was the faith communities bringing a policy to the government that was wise and safe and could be implemented.

JOHN: Thank you very much. Others? Richard? Or Geoff? Or Peter to jump in on this? Geoff?

GEOFF: This isn't a direct response to your question John – because there aren't any Baha'i Members of Parliament – but just something I was reflecting on as everyone was talking. I think there is an assumption sometimes that in a democracy, the way things are structured is that you have MPs who have interests in being elected, and you have groups that have interests in their issues being heard. And to a certain extent, I guess that's a realistic way of looking at how our political life is organized around a convergence or conflict between interests. But I think there's a value in creating the kind of space envisioned by this All-Party Interfaith Caucus, which is a different mode of public or political discourse. It is not so much driven by the assertion of interests and is more oriented around practices that I think are prevalent within all of our communities which have to do with returning to moral, ethical, spiritual principles, and then exploring what the implications may be for public policy.

I think there is an influence that creating this kind of a space can have in promoting a different mode of conversation and dialogue around public policy issues that can bring this, I guess, ethic of examining the implications of principle for public policy, rather than just seeing politics as a kind of war between the interests of different groups.

JOHN: Richard, do you want to pick up? 

RICHARD: Well, many interesting things were said and I'm mindful of the time. You know, John and I, we have been in that situation. That is that parliamentarians and politicians are so pressed in time, and when they meet with people, they want to of course understand. But then it's, "Okay, what can I do? Give me something concrete that is actionable that I can, you know, say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. And then, you know, just maybe pick up and drive forward."

For some of us and on this panel, we have to be mindful of that. We have to, when we meet Members of Parliament that are asked so many things by so many groups during the day, we have to be mindful of their time and be clear as to the ask that we want them to be active on.  

JOHN: Can I stir things up? I'm going to turn it around. We've talked about politicians and them representing [faith communities and] having to balance. And we've talked a lot about faith communities coming together on issues. But I can give you a very long list of people who often criticize the work I do by saying, "Come on Milloy. Faith communities are divided on a whole bunch of issues. Not just the issues themselves but the priorities that they place on them." I think I mentioned it to Peter and Geoff in another session, private session, that when I tell students that I teach courses on the intersection of faith and politics, they say, "Oh. You mean you speak about abortion." They actually think there are no other issues out there. But there are issues that divide faith communities where faith communities may have differing views, or one faith community is way out there ahead of others in terms of the priority that's putting forward. 

So, you know, when we're talking about an interfaith caucus dealing with faith communities, how do we organize ourselves? How do we as faith communities overcome some of those divisions within ourselves? I know it's not an easy question, but…

RICHARD: Well let me start. We all know the old joke: two Jews, three opinions. It's a cliché, but there's a reason why it's a cliché, because it's true. The Jewish community is quite diverse; going from totally secular – even atheist – to ultra-orthodox. 

And speaking for CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, what we try to do as best as we can is to undertake constant consultations with people from across the community and across the country to be in constant dialogue with our community. We have a board that is diverse, with different points of view from across the political spectrum, and also locally we call them partner councils that relay to us their main concerns. 

There's an intense intra-Jewish discussion that takes place before [anything] goes out. Because otherwise you run the risk of being disconnected from the community, and then not being representative of that community. 

JOHN: Peter do you want to pick up on that? I mean you’re here on behalf of the Canadian Council of Churches. You know, something like medical assistance in dying you'll find differing views amongst faith communities, but also the priority that they're placing on it. How do faith communities figure that out? Or deal with it as they approach parliamentarians?

PETER: You know, so often we think about that endpoint, you know? That conversation with the MP, or the postcard that we're sending in, or the petition that we're signing, or the position that we're taking. But really there is so much work that needs to happen upfront about being informed, about reading, about inviting in people who are affected by whatever issue it is, learning from experts, discussing it in community, discerning together what this really means. I think the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] has an incredibly strong process for that kind of discernment; praying, organizing, all those things that Richard mentioned, that intra-conversation that's so important to have.

And while, say, there may be differences of points of view, or even outcomes on medical assistance in dying, there is actually a strong consensus across the board about universal access to palliative care. So, there are ways to find complementary pieces that really advance a much more commonly shared point of view, even while respecting differences within a particular faith community. But I think we need to do better at telling our own stories. I mean, that faith communities have, over many years, had quite a lot of impact in many areas of public life. And whether that's debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries, whether that's public healthcare for all, whether that's generic drugs and HIV/AIDS legislation, whether that's advocating for UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, whether it's standing on the side of refugees and refugee rights, advocating for those conscientious rights for healthcare professionals and war-resisters, capital punishment, nuclear disarmament, there is a long list of areas where we have, together, already advocated strongly and had powerful public policy impact. 

So the story is not only those where there is a disagreement or difference of perspective.

JOHN: Geoff, do you want to jump in? I know this isn't an easy question, but it's the one that, you know, the minute you leave the faith world, the formal faith world, you get so often. You know? “You guys are trying to ram your beliefs down your throat.” “You all disagree.” That sort of thing. So…

GEOFF: Yeah. I don’t know if this is a direct answer to your question John, but I just want to first recognize Richard's comment earlier that often when you're in a meeting with an MP, you have to be precise and practical in what you're asking for.

There's a point in advocacy where precision is important, but there's also a need for the kind of conversation that precedes advocacy as well, or which can even complement it. 

Public policy issues are complex and often, you know, to be perfectly frank, they take place at a superficial level of discussion that refers back to maybe a common set of, for lack of a better term, a common set of liberal principles. “Small l liberal” principles that everyone might share: that we want to be free and we want to maximize choice and so forth.  

But within each religion is a deep tradition, a different conceptual framework that may include some liberal principles, but may also expand beyond them, creating a space for conversation around even hot-button moral issues like abortion, medical assistance in dying, and other issues. You know, sometimes when they get to the point of advocacy they're very contentious. But if you create a space for conversation which actually allows for the exposure of some of the underlying principles driving these positions where there might be diversions of views among religious groups. You can at least find, at the very least even if you can't find consensus on the policy position, you can at least have a better understanding of where everyone is coming from. 

And I think too often in our political discourse that's lacking. Even opinion editorials and newspapers often only take place at the level of policy recommendations. Which again, that's a part of advocacy. But there is also the conversation that precedes it or compliments it, which is about what are the underlying principles and beliefs that lead us to arrive at these positions.

So that there's the opportunity to better understand each other, change our minds, modulate positions to take better account of the views of others. And it's that kind of a space that I would like to see more of in our political life in Canada.

JOHN: Thank you. I want to hear from Catherine or Balpreet. 

 CATHERINE: I just wanted to follow up on what Geoff was just speaking about, and just recognize that this space where we come together on policy is messy. I mean, it just is messy. Messy for so many reasons but one that we've been speaking about briefly is that faith communities themselves are internally diverse. So there's a messiness at the level of faith groups before it even comes to the public policy space, which is also messy.

I think we have to just sit with that and just accept that this is a messy space and that we want to be there, and we want to have a presence in this space as elected officials try to wade through the varying voices to come up with policies and that is the space where we'll advocate for our own positions. 

I really like what Geoff was talking about. That this interfaith caucus might be a space that comes before that, and that it's a space for understanding. And I do think that space is very important before we get to the public policy space. 

This reminds me of an Indigenous story my sister often speaks to me about where there's a problem in the middle of the room, and there's a group of people sitting in a circle around the problem. And everyone's seeing the problem from a different degree on the circle. And I think that space of understanding is that space that this caucus could provide where we could sit in that circle together, we could see the problems, we could come to better understandings of why we see these things based on our foundational stories and traditions that underlie our faith communities. Why? What we're seeing. How we're seeing that problem and how it impacts us? I think that space of understanding is crucial.

JOHN: I thought maybe to end, there have been a number of questions that have talked about really the focus of yesterday and what we're building on today. The idea of this All-Party Interfaith Caucus. And maybe what I thought I'd do is we'd go around. Obviously, people want to share some concluding comments, but also, what do you see as the… ideal role of this caucus? What would it do? What issues would it take up? And how would you see them interacting? 

So what's in your mind? Sort of a concrete response to what we heard yesterday and that moving forward. And then add any closing remarks that you want to add. And maybe I'll go the exact opposite and start with Balpreet. 

BALPREET: Yeah. There have been questions about what a space looks like. So, a space is where you can ask questions, and have issues, and not be adversarial. I mean politics is naturally adversarial. So, I think we would have to look at this sort of a caucus as a bigger idea where we're creating once again that safe space to talk about issues of faith. And because everyone is represented at the table, all the faiths are represented at the table, it's not an issue, it's not just a community issue. It's an issue that everyone can look at on a broad base, and everyone can talk about maybe fearlessly; without being afraid of being stereotyped as representing just an interest group. 

So for me, that's what it looks like. Just creating a space where you could have these things talked about and you don't have to worry about… I mean there will be issues where not everyone will agree. I mean this will be an experiment. This will be an experiment. 

JOHN: Great. Thank you very much. And thank you for your participation today. Catherine you're next in the reverse order if you have some closing thoughts. And just this idea, a practical idea. What are your hopes for this all-party caucus?

CATHERINE: I have four hopes for this caucus. I hope that it will model an inclusive space of listening and a space of dialogue. I hope that it would include a wide range of voices. That's my first hope. 

The second hope would that it would model how politicians and elected officials and religious communities could work together. And I emphasize the 'work'. I would love to see this caucus not only have discussions but actually do work in the community. I would hope that this caucus would provide leadership on how to build bridges of understanding between different communities, and between communities and elected officials.

And finally, I would hope that this caucus would model principles of religious freedom; the two that I spoke about earlier. The idea that they should be not promoting one religious belief over another, but, having a space where all these voices can exist. And that they would protect the exercise of free religion by all groups.

JOHN: Great. Thank you. And thank you for your participation. Richard I think you're the next in the reverse order. 

RICHARD: So I don't know exactly what I'm hoping from that caucus. I certainly am an enthusiastic participant in support of it. But I don't want to get our hopes too high. It's a very fast-paced environment in parliament and, as I had mentioned a few times, parliamentarians tend to be pulled in many, many directions. So, I think whatever the agenda is, let's make sure that we don't bite off more than we can chew. Otherwise, it will not succeed. 

So we'll have to be very practical, and what I would like is to see people who are not religiously inclined – for whom religion is not important – if we could get them interested. You know, all the MPs that were mentioned a few times here have an interest in religion, have an interest or own understanding what it means in peoples' lives. 

A lot of people don't. And if we could just legitimize the religious point of view in the public discourse, that would be a good thing. Because my big fear that I have is that as Canada is becoming more and more diverse – you know, we speak less and less the same language, there are a lot of people that don't understand the value of people, of religion in some peoples' lives. And I think that's tragic. I'm not saying that they have to agree with a religious point of view, or to the dogma, or faith X or Y, but understanding that there are people of faith in this country and that their voices also matter would be a big step forward. 

JOHN: Great. Thank you Richard. And thank you for your participation today. Peter I think you're the next in the line.

PETER: Sure. Just to say ditto to Richard. Especially the part about being practical; not biting off more than we can chew. Being very modest in our expectations, especially as we just get started. But I hope that in so doing we actually advance the main theme of this conference: democracy. That we make a small contribution to a stronger democratic country that's not just individual rights of voting, but includes a deeper commitment to human rights for all, and includes a stronger social contract.

JOHN: Wonderful. Thank you. And thank you too Peter for your involvement. And the last word to Geoff.

GEOFF: I said a lot already about what my hopes are. And I couldn't agree more with all of my colleagues and friends who have gone before me. My hope also is that initiative can start small with plans to try to choose an issue or a theme that we'd like to focus on, and to create some combination of more intimate dialogue with a few interested Members of Parliament and representatives of religious communities combined with some broader kind of public engagement. And I hope between the Interfaith Conversation and some of the MPs who have been most actively interested in this initiative, we can make plans to do something in the months ahead in order to gain experience and learn what the right balance is between broad exploratory dialogue, and being practical, and specific, as has been mentioned.

JOHN: Great. Thank you very much Geoff. And I want to thank you and all the panellists again for your participation.

So once again, thank you. And thanks to Democracy XChange and the Democracy Festival. And I'll give the true last word to Delaram to wrap things up.

DELARAM: Thank you John. I just wanted to jump in to thank you for helping us navigate this conversation and to all the panellists as well for giving us your time, your insights. It's been truly a very important space to hold. And to all the attendees that have allotted this time to be with us today. So thank you all.