The Bishop's Still Giving 'Em Hell

By Steve Paikin - Published on February 28, 2012
Bishop Dennis Drainville hasn't lost any of his moral indignation as he continues to fight for the little guy.

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More than two decades ago, Rev. Dennis Drainville shocked Ontario's political world when he won one of the safest Conservative seats in the province.

It was the election of 1990, and Bob Rae's New Democrats staged perhaps the single greatest upset in Ontario history by defeating David Peterson's massive majority Liberal government.

And in the riding of Victoria-Haliburton -- once held by former Premier Leslie Frost, no less -- Drainville topped the polls.

But he quickly learned how perilous politics could be.

The recession of the early 1990s had taken hold, and the NDP government was grasping at every option to try to boost revenues. But when the NDP suggested opening casinos, Drainville drew his line in the sand. He strenuously objected to the government including plans for casinos in its budget, and so he committed one of politics' cardinal sins -- he voted against his party's own budget.

Premier Rae called Drainville into his office for a private chat, and told him he'd never get into cabinet if he kept this up. Drainville said he didn't care about cabinet jobs. He cared about the damage casinos would do to the province.

He also told Rae that if he, the premier, supported casinos, "There's no way you can be a social democrat. You're a Liberal in a hurry." Drainville turned out to be right about that.

Ironically, both men didn't last long where they were. Rae was defeated at the polls in 1995, then left the NDP for the Liberals, where he's interim national leader today.

Drainville, having run afoul of the leader's office, quit the NDP caucus in 1993, sat as an independent for awhile, then left politics altogether before his first and only term was up.

His departure created a byelection which the Conservatives won, road testing many of the planks of their Common Sense Revolution. Two years later, Mike Harris' Conservatives would win 81 other seats and a majority government, running on the same platform.

These days, Drainville is one of 40 bishops in the Anglican Church. He represents the Diocese of Quebec. He travels constantly, spreading his message that "until the political and economic elites focus on the common good, we're screwed as a society."

Yes, the bishop from Quebec does use that kind of language.

"One thing I've learned from my time in politics," he continues, "is that every government is the enemy. Even the one I was a part of."

Drainville will speak to these issues Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 at the University of Toronto's Trinity College in Sealey Hall.

Follow me on Twitter @spaikin

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