BONUS Episode 111: Peter Gets a Call from the Prime Minister’s Office
Ahead of the holiday season, Shift the Power co-host Peter Noteboom got a call from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office. The ask: to convene a virtual conversation between the Prime Minister and faith leaders across Canada about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst. You can hear more of Una’s music at her website!
Read transcripts for the episode below.
Meg (11s): [MUSICAL INTRO] Hello, and welcome to Shift the Power, a learning-centered podcast, where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning-centered approach. Through this podcast, we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue. [MUSIC FADES] We’re your hosts, Meg Logue,
Peter (28s): and Peter Noteboom.
Meg (30s): Welcome to this bonus episode of Shift the Power. In December, 2020, we wrapped up our inaugural season and we’re in the process now of planning season two, which should be coming soon in Spring 2021. In the meantime, we could not wait to share an exciting story from our very own Peter Noteboom. Ahead of the holidays, Peter had the incredible opportunity to plan and moderate a virtual conversation between faith leaders from across Canada and Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. Peter, how did that opportunity come about?
Peter (1m 1s): You know, I think it’s the result of many different relationships that have been built over the years, but I should mention that, not all the listeners will know, that even though I have a long connection to dialogue education and learning-centered approaches and Global Learning Partners, my day job is as General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches. And so, you know, in that role, we advocate on a whole variety of issues with the Prime Minister. But basically, the Prime Minister’s Office – and we often use the short form, PMO – the PMO called and said, it might be good for the prime minister to be in dialogue. And could you help organize that? So of course we said, yes, we’d love to. This time the request was in the context of the pandemic and the coming holiday season. Can we have a conversation about what faith communities contribute in a time of pandemic and how they’re helping to address all the challenges that Canadians are facing?
Meg (1m 60s): So I’m very curious about what happened on the call itself, but I also imagine that coordinating this event was a huge endeavor. And my understanding is that it was a pretty quick turnaround time as well. So I wonder if you could just walk us through it. How did you go about planning and designing the special session?
Peter (2m 17s): So religious leaders of course is, is a broad term. So we want it to be as inclusive as we could when organizing the event. And we also wanted it to be representative of the religious make-up of Canada. So there’s a little bit of balancing to do there. About two thirds of Canadians say that they’re Christian in one way or another. Even though practice and attendance at church might be relatively low, the majority of Canadians say that they’re Christian. And then there are, you know, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Hindu community, the Buddhist community, the Bahá’í community and others, the Sikh community. They’re much smaller religious communities, but we also wanted to make sure that the perspectives of those religious communities were also included. And so we needed to work in partnership with two kinds of organizations, really. The Canadian Council of Churches brings together most of the larger Christian churches and Christian traditions. And there are two multi-faith or interfaith bodies that bring together the Jewish, the Muslim, the Bahá’í, Buddhist, Hindu, other religious communities, together. And so we first needed to sort out our working relationship, a partnership, to co-host the event between those three co-sponsoring organizations.
Meg (3m 40s): So how did you go about inviting in those co-sponsors?
Peter (3m 44s): It was clear that we needed it to, to include both the interfaith component and the ecumenical or broad Christian component. And so, fortunately, over many years, we’ve already been working together in various ways. And so we just made sure that the Prime Minister’s Office was in touch with these three bodies, the Canadian Multi-Faith Federation, the Canadian Interfaith Conversation and the Canadian Council of Churches. And that, as you can imagine, there’s a certain amount of jostling for influence or for connection with the Prime Minister’s Office – you know, who will be on first, who gets to make what decisions who gets to speak up, and so on. Fortunately, we’re all friends and we were able to come from that position of friendship to say, “yes, we’ve all got our interests here. And there are some things that we need to work out, but we’re all friends so we can work them out.” So those relationships were just so important to make it go smoothly. Once we had worked out those arrangements and the Canadian Council of Churches offered to be the host, technically for the event, providing the Zoom platform and all that – so we had worked out those technical pieces – then we could move on to the program itself. Who speaks, which religious leaders, which religious leaders are represented. What’s the role of the Prime Minister? How does he get introduced? All those detailed questions that get worked out in what’s called a “run-of-show” or a “design” for the event.
Meg (5m 13s): And what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced when coordinating that, that run of show?
Peter (5m 20s): You know, it’s a minute-by-minute script. And so, for someone like me who lives and dies by open questions, you can’t do that in a minute-by-minute kind of thing. So most of that work, most of that open questions work happened before the event itself. So when inviting in the religious leader to give them a couple of open questions that would help to focus their responses in a particular way. When discussing with the assistants of the Prime Minister, to really ask clear, open questions about the purpose of the event, what we wanted to accomplish, what we wanted to learn, and how it might be not an information session, but a genuine dialogue – an exchange among religious leaders and the political leaders in Canada.
Meg (6m 9s): It sounds like, from what you’ve described, it’s extremely carefully curated, and as you said, there’s some, some jostling – everybody trying to get their few minutes to be able to speak with the Prime Minister. I wonder if you could expand a little bit more about how the learning-centered approach and Dialogue Education informed your planning process and how you were able to kind of navigate those tensions.
Peter (6m 33s): You know, I guess that mostly, that was again through that friendship of the participants and the, from the three co-sponsoring organizations and the way that we worked with the representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office. You know, we didn’t come with a solution. We didn’t come with an advocacy proposal. We more came with questions of how can we best accomplish this? Which religious communities should be represented? How many religious leaders should there be? How do we divide up the time among the various religious leaders? How will we engage the participants in the program? Will the chatbox be open? Just a very careful planning and design that happened behind-the-scenes, before the event, as co-sponsors of the event with the Prime Minister’s Office, working through all those details.
Meg (7m 25s): And did you find that the, that that really contributed to the success of the event itself?
Peter (7m 30s): You know, it – this was the first time that we had done something like this. In fact, the event was in many ways historic, both in terms of the seniority and level of the religious leaders who showed up. It’s pretty difficult to assess, “well, how did we do in terms of achieving what the intent of the event was, was all about?” I guess I tend to think of these things, especially when we’re speaking about leading religious and political leaders, that it’s great when we can together come to agree on a policy proposal or a direction or a project, but most often it’s really about relationships — creating the connections, the personal connections, so that when you really need each other, you’ve already had a conversation with one another, you have their phone number or their email address, or their assistant, so that when you need to move from relationships to action, you’re ready.
I would describe this event as particularly meaningful because it’s related to COVID-19 and the pandemic, which was front of everyone’s minds, but it was primarily still a relational and relationship-building event.
Meg (8m 43s): Yeah, I remember you said that the Prime Minister’s Office reached out directly to you at the Council of Churches. Do you imagine that after this event, now they might have deeper relationships and know who to go to in the less represented faiths around Canada?
Peter (9m 2s): Yes. A week ago we began the planning of a similar event, but this time with the Chief Public Health Officer for Canada and the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. And they came and approached to us from what’s called the Privy Council, which is kind of like the cabinet, they approached us and said, “could you help organize a meeting with religious leaders, with the Chief Public Health Officer on the vaccine and immunization program and how it’s being turned out in Canada. We’re wondering if there are questions that religious leaders have about, you know, the vaccine, the dietary requirements around the vaccine, what’s actually in the vaccine, it’s credibility, and so on.” And religious leaders can really help grow trust and are important community models often that people may follow, with respect to taking vaccines and participating in an immunization program.
So a week ago we began to complete a similar process. This time, we’re now up to 1,300 participants. And so the demand for that kind of conversation has been very high.
Meg (10m 6s): When you were listening to the remarks from other faith leaders across Canada, what were some of the themes that you heard from those communities?
Peter (10m 16s): Almost every religious leader, both read a prayer or a text that was inspirational or demonstrated a deep set of convictions regarding the role of faith communities in Canadian society, but also they’ve shared particular concrete examples of what difference they’re making. The Jewish representative, for example, I remember her talking about how younger people were paired up with older people in their congregation, in their synagogue to help them navigate the new Zoom world. You know, they were really responding to the crisis of loneliness by connecting people up, technically, and helping with it support in that way. I remember that the Dr. Imam Slimi, one of the leading Imams in Canada, spoke about the collection of food, because of course, many families are really struggling and suffering and the current situation, may have lost their work, and so he spoke about how, you know, food banks, they-they’d really come to the side of food banks and collected food and made deliveries to families that needed them.
So, almost always, a combination of social action and engagement, community participation and combating loneliness, for example, and an inspirational hope-filled contribution.
Meg (11m 32s): That’s really beautiful. Was there anything on the call that you wish you had gotten to say? Since your remarks were very tailored and specific to your role as moderator.
Peter (11m 44s): You know, what a nice question. I remember after the event, when we were thinking about it, we were like, okay, now that we’ve uh developed this relationship, we’ve had this experience, what will we do next? What will our message be next? And we’re still reflecting on that. But I guess what I’m-I’m hoping for is that we begin to shift the dialogue in Canada, the civic dialogue from one where religious communities are often seen as being divisive or oppressive or something that belongs in somebody’s private life, and not in public life, to one where there is an acknowledgement that, that faith is probably a part of many Canadians lives, that it’s not limited to theological convictions, but really shows up in love-for-neighbor, really shows up in commitments to peace-building, really shows up in honoring the sacredness of creation, and that those are really positive public values and virtues that religious communities make as a contribution to Canadian society. And so the religious sector is also seen, or the faith-based sector, is also seen as a valuable partner in working for public justice and for the common good.
Meg (12m 57s): I can’t think of a better note to end on than that. One thing that this pandemic has underscored for a lot of people is the importance of community. And for many people, their faith communities are one of the strongest communities that they’re a part of. For me personally, I’ve never been a part of any faith community, but it sounds like the work that you’re doing in bringing many faiths together and making sure that all voices are heard is hugely important, especially when the Prime Minister of Canada is on the other end of that line.
Peter (13m 34s): You know, I — let me just add, especially in today’s society, where – to be frank – hate is prominent on social media, we come up against it regularly in our lives, division and polarization and anger and grievance are really part of a national conversation. I think, including faith communities who can bring- come with that word of love, of hope, of compassion, of humility – when they’re at their best – that that can also contribute to draining away the power of hate. Thank you.
Meg (14m 20s): Thank you.
[MUSICAL OUTRO] Thank you for tuning into another episode of shift, the power, a learning centered podcast. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton, with music by Una Walkenhorst. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services, free resources, or blogs, go to www.globallearningpartners.com. We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or your preferred podcast player. [MUSIC FADES]