Shimon Koffler Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Across Canada, we have enjoyed a great party in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, tempered by vital reflection on why some Indigenous communities felt they could not join in the celebrations with full hearts.
As Parliament Hill and countless parks across the country are restored to their usual post-fireworks state, we must ask ourselves: Is that it? Surely, marking 150 years means more than just an extravagant party and a day off work?
Canada 150 is an opportunity to appreciate the privileges and benefits we enjoy in our great country. But these reflections risk becoming mere platitudes if they are not animated with positive action. With privilege comes responsibility. Canada 150 is a moment to consider how we can pay the great gift of being Canadian forward through tangible contributions that enhance the experience for all who call Canada home.
Faith communities should be leaders in this exercise. What better way to demonstrate our unique role in contributing to and shaping our country than to do something that will inspire all Canadians to make Canada even better, more inclusive and more caring?
The widely misunderstood concept of separation between church and state – that government must show neutrality between religions, rather than favouring one creed over another – has led many to conclude that any expression of one's faith values is inappropriate in the realm of policy and politics. Simply speaking, many Canadians accept the right of the individual to practise whatever faith she or he chooses on a personal level, but believe when it comes to the collective, religion has no place in Canadian democracy. This is an unfortunate myth that, ironically, undermines the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion enshrined in our Charter.
Faith communities, religious leaders, and those for whom religious beliefs are a central part of daily life have long felt excluded from full participation in the conversation about the range of socio-economic policies debated in the public square. Having spent decades in public policy discussions, I can personally attest to the amount of energy diverted from substantive engagement on an issue to ensure my community's perspective is heard at all. This experience leads me to pose twin challenges to my secular and religious colleagues.
To my secular friends, I would suggest that we rethink – and discard – the notion that faith communities have a parochial agenda and engage only to the extent, and in a manner, that advances those self-interested objectives.
To my friends from various faith communities, including my own, I suggest we no longer fret over the obstacles to full participation in the public policy debate. Our energy is better devoted to providing a living example of the exceptional role we hope to play in Canadian democracy. In other words, we must challenge ourselves to show leadership, inspire Canadians with a vision that resonates beyond the religious world, and demonstrate how the values of faith communities can improve society for all – believers and secular alike.
I can think of no better time to do so than Canada's sesquicentennial. In honour of Canada 150, my organization – the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – has launched Pledge 150, the Canadian Faith Community Pledge Challenge.
The challenge is straightforward: We ask every church, temple, mosque and synagogue to commit to undertaking 150 positive deeds that make Canada better place tomorrow than it is today: 150 volunteer hours visiting the elderly; 150 donations to community food banks; 150 Canadian Blood Services donations; 150 hands extended to Indigenous communities; The list of concrete opportunities is as limitless as the need for them.
CIJA has launched Pledge 150 to empower faith communities to share the best Pledge 150 ideas and showcase the great works of those who take the pledge. I encourage every person of faith, particularly those who are active in their place of worship, to join us.
We, people of faith and religious conviction, want our views and ideas to inform the public policy process. Enhancing the quality of life in Canada by being an engine of goodness is a unique way to demonstrate why we should be at the table. To quote writer Paulo Coelho, "The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion."
Together, we can make Canada 150 a year-long project for the betterment of all Canadians.
Happy Canada 150!