Photo by Michael Swan

New St. Vincent de Paul director puts Canada-wide focus on advocacy for poor 

By 
  • August 2, 2018

The umbrella organization for hundreds of St. Vincent de Paul councils in parishes across Canada is getting ready to step into the national spotlight.

“We want to bring the Society (of St. Vincent de Paul) up from the church basement,” joked new national executive director Richard Pommainville. “It’s no longer just doing charity that is required. It’s fairly well accepted that we actually have to look at the root causes of poverty. That transition is actually happening.”

With a full-time, national executive director in place, the Society expects to become more active in political advocacy. 

“We’re actually looking at partnerships with other organizations as well,” said Pommainville. “They (politicians) pay a lot more attention when there are a lot of groups who are actually looking at this.”

Pommainville steps into his new role after a long career as a telecommunications engineer and, for the last three years, as a member of the Development and Peace national council.

The Canadian move is mirrored internationally, where Vincentians have increasingly been looking back to the life and work of St. Vincent de Paul Society founder Frederic Ozanam. He led University of Paris students into the slums to meet and serve the poor, but at the same time he was never shy about using his position and prestige as a professor to influence governments and institutions.

For national St. Vincent de Paul social justice committee chair Jim Paddon, a new start in advocacy is going to come down to making choices — finding key issues where Vincentians can be effective on behalf of the people they serve.

At national meetings in October, Paddon hopes Vincentians will choose to concentrate on two possibilities: basic income schemes that would replace the complex and patchwork of welfare programs, and reconciliation with Indigenous people, the Canadians most likely to live in poverty.

On basic income, that means researching and encouraging the basic income experiments already underway in Ontario, Paddon said. 

“It’s something we can really get behind and collaborate with other organizations,” said Paddon.

As a member of the Guadalupe Circle co-ordinated by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Paddon thinks of advocacy in terms of persuading and informing ordinary people, especially his fellow Catholics. 

“I feel like our membership and Canadians in general, it’s more a matter of ignorance of the issues — of what Indigenous people have faced through the years — rather than prejudice,” Paddon said. 

Through the next few months Canadian Vincentians will be defining a process by which they will come up with advocacy topics and carry forward well defined campaigns, said Pommainville.

“You want to make sure in the end that people feel comfortable around the topic and that they’re well equipped,” he said. 

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