Poverty In Canada: A Discussion Paper
Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.
Dennis Drainville (no information is provided about him) sees poverty increasing in this country after a relative decline in the late ‘60s and mid-’70s. Evidences of poverty include lack of affordable housing, hunger, and unemployment. He suggests that most governments, federal and provincial, have failed to stem this trend, and indeed have exacerbated it by their policies, all designed to save them money. Example: governments have increasingly turned to volunteers to help look after the needy, for instance through church-run food banks.
While he seems to endorse the church’s role as a volunteer in the war against poverty, it is Drainville’s concern that by helping the poor, churches “allow the levels of government to give
up their responsibilities... The Churches in effect, become the pressure release mechanism that allows government to ignore the problem” (p.41).
Drainville sees great biblical justification in a more activist church and he demands that his church “cry out for an end to the structures that oppress our own people in Canada” (p.61). He suggests that Church members can “write briefs or reports that critique social attitudes and government policies that are unjust to people; represent individuals who feel unable to present their own views; supply support where no support presently exists; and search out ways of empowering those who are in poverty” (p.42).
Most readers will find very little to disagree with in Drainville’s argument that poverty is on the increase in Canada and that the church must be outspoken about the problem. The main difficulties with his book are three-fold: he is not convincing that the government policies he discusses (for example, voluntarism) are as completely counter-productive as he implies; he downplays other government programs that do assist the poor (reading him, one would think that the government did nothing — for example, in the area of health); he gives very few practical suggestions to any government wishing to do more, other than abandoning current policies.
Thus, while Drainville presents a dramatic and well-written overview of an important current problem that will be of interest to church people and many others, he may have failed in his overall purpose of generating much discussion, since much of what he has to say is self-evident and much of what he could have said has been left out.