Renewing Hope for Canada and the Church

Emily Loewen

Canada, and possibly the world in general, is going downhill if you listen to Bishop Dennis Drainville. We lack good leaders, people feel demoralized and the the institution of the church is crumbling, to name a few of the ills Drainville hopes to combat with his self-published book Renewing Hope.

Written in the weeks following Jack Layton’s death, Renewing Hope is “a critique of Canadian and Western society, economies and political situations,” Drainville said. By focusing on lack of leadership, the concept of the common good, corporate concentration in media, and competency-based education he hopes to engage people as citizens and help build a better, and more just Canada.

Having worked with Layton in the 80s and 90s in Toronto, Drainville saw Layton demonstrate many leadership qualities Canada needs today, including humility and the knowledge that working together beats depending on one person. Layton knew that “if we are to do some of these great changes in society it takes many people all of whom are committed to the came task but all of whom have different talents to bring, to help it come to fruition,” Drainville said. Also noting that layton had a way of inspiriting people to work hard on the difficult, but needed changes in society. Layton’s passing inspired him to sit down and write the critique he had tried to pen for years.

Instead of going through a publisher to get his work out, Drainville put the entirety of the work up on his blog (http://thebishopsviews.wordpress.com/). It’s not that publishers turned him down, but the editing and printing process would have taken up to a year and he wanted to reach people now. “The ideas that are out there are very much ideas of right now,” he said, “and I wanted people to begin to speak about them and I don’t give a damn whether I’ve got a book.”

The theme of breakdown in our politicial and economic institutions appears throughout the book. Drainville argues that people don’t believe our institutions can close the gap between the rich and poor in Canada, and politicians exclude the poor from the governing process. “What ends up going through parliament is that which maintains the corporate structure, he said, “the economic corporate structure of Canada that is continually being dealt with in parliament, but the needs of the poor are not.”

But Drainville sees hope in the occupy movement and the other protests around the world this year. While people criticize the demonstrations for representing too many different ideas, they unite in arguing that the 99 per cent are excluded from decision making, said the former activist, once arrested for peaceful protesting. “They’re saying we are not part of making decision anymore in this country, everything is slanted away from us and into the hands of the few and we object to that and we’re not willing to allow that to continue,” Drainville said.

Part of the problem is that an understanding of the common good no longer exists at the corporate and political level. “The corporations always see the common good as whatever is good for corporations is good for the nation,” Drainville said, but he believes the needs of business directly oppose the needs of the poor. And though he has several suggestions on how to improve the political culture in our country — including a proportional representation electoral system, and the continuation of election financing to help keep smaller parties alive — he doesn’t plan to run in any future elections.

He describes his first time in office in the 90s as awful because the structure of governments and political parties limited the freedom of individuals in favour of helping the party stay in power. “The day after a government is elected immediately what goes into effect is the most important overarching policy of that government, that is how do we get reelected.” Unwilling to support the governments plan to bring casinos to Ontario, Drainville left the NDP and sat as an independent before resigning.

Drainville attributes many of the problems in the book to our educational system — based on competence instead of teaching students to think critically. Our schools are geared towards training doctors, lawyers or mechanics, he said. All useful skills, but our education neglects two important qualities, being a citizen and being a human being, “and if they don’t have those two basic elements in their lives, in fact what good are they,” he asked.

But Drainville wouldn’t pin all the responsibility on politicians and corporations. The church also has a responsibility to help create a more equal society. He cites two passages as foundational to the Christian call to help those in need: Matthew 25, where Jesus states “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me,” and when Jesus promise to release the captives and bring good news to the poor.

Despite that call, he said, the church it has made itself irrelevant by focusing on the needs of the institution rather than the poor and the marginal. Going forward, the church needs to help empower society to better care for the disadvantaged. “It just seems to me that that is the great challenge for us as Christians,” he said, “to understand that our present structures of the church do not, anymore, match either the society that we are in, nor the mission that we need to be engaged in.”

Emily Loewen is Young Voices Editor for Canadian Mennonite, and is working on her Master of Journalism at Ryerson University. She is a member of Langley Mennonite Fellowship in British Columbia.

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