Reformed MP Deborah Grey lives out her faith in the world of Canadian politics.
By Jessie Schut
Deborah Grey, Member of Parliament for Beaver River, Alberta, says if she could be one of Jesus’ disciples, she’d be Peter.
“He was always game to try something new — he’d sign up even before he knew all the detail,” she says. “That’s me, the story of my life.”
Like Peter, Grey’s life changed dramatically when she met Jesus. And ever since, she has had a deep desire to serve Him where ever He leads.
Grey doesn’t fit the stereotype of a successful modern woman — smooth, sophisticated, and politically correct — but that’s the furthest goal from her mind.
“Success isn’t the way to find happiness and joy,” she says. “Being faithful — that’s where it’s at.”
Grey walks fast, talks fast, and laughs hard. She rides a motorcycle to relax, and she’s done such diverse things as waitressing, working on a road crew, and drywalling her home. She drives a pick-up truck, which she calls her ‘mobile chapel’.
Success may not be important to Grey, but this hardworking, honest, and controversial Member of Parliament has become a role model for Christian women all over Canada.
Recently she addressed a luncheon hosted by the Christian Business and Professional Women’s Club, choosing as her theme: “Influencing Your World.” Living Light News spoke to her afterwards.
LLN: What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Vancouver, with three older sisters and one younger brother.
My early life was influenced by alcohol. My father is an alcoholic — a recovered alcoholic, now, thank God, but as a child, I lived in fear of two things; that my dad wouldn’t come home, or that he would come home.
My mom was a single mother, raising us without help, because she couldn’t depend on my dad, who moved out permanently when I was 13.
We had to be independent and self-sufficient early. The minute I was old enough, I got my social security number and began working part-time, making money for whatever I needed.
LLN: How did those early years influence you as you grew up?
I decided when I was six years old that I would never drink alcohol because I had seen what it could do to my dad. That was one good decision. But as a teenager, I rebelled, hung around with the wrong people, and could have gone wrong in my life.
I had problems with authority — if a teacher said, ‘Do this,’ I’d say, ‘Why?’ I’d be out late ripping around, doing things on a dare.
When I finished Grade eight, my principal called me to the office and said I could enter Grade nine, but only on probation.
That scared me, and I said I would behave myself. Turned out, that’s exactly what happened.
LLN: What turned you around?
Over the summer, I went to a Bible camp. I heard things there that just amazed and astounded me, somebody loved me! Jesus loved rebellious, hate-filled Deb Grey! And they told me to believe 2 Corinthians 5:17: that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
Well, I was in trouble at school, and I was in trouble at home, and here the Bible promised me I could become a new person.
‘OK,’ I said to Jesus, ‘I don’t know much about you, but if you’re really like what these people are saying you are, and like the person in this book, then I’m in.’ So I accepted Christ when I was 14 years old, and I became a new creation.
LLN: Did you still have struggles after Christ came into you life?
I still had the same struggles, but I now had a way to handle them. I could forgive my father, because I realized alcoholism is a disease.
I began to see that my teachers were people that needed to be respected — the Bible taught me that.
My relationships with my sisters and my mom got better — I was a more pleasant person to live with.
LLN: What happened after high school?
I spent three years at Burrard Inlet Bible College, and then I went to Trinity Western, a Christian university in Langley, B.C.
I spent a summer working up in the bush with some friends at Fort Chippewyan, and then decided to go to the U. of A. to finish up my credentials.
I fell in love with the bush and decided I didn’t want to live in the city again, so when I got my teaching certificate in April of ‘79, I applied to Indian Affairs for a teaching job.
I was working the very next day up at Frog Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Alberta. I taught Grade 4 there for a year and a half, then I began teaching high school in Dewberry.
I attended Dewberry Community Church, sang on weekends with a gospel group called HIS, and moved a house 20 miles down the road which I began to fix up in my spare time. Life was just fine.
Then in March of ‘89 my life turned upside down when I was elected to the House of Commons.
LLN: Had you been interested in politics all your life?
Not a bit. It didn’t’ touch me at all. I was like most Canadian Christians: I paid my taxes, prayed for government like the Bible tells us to do, and hoped for the best.
When people asked me to run for parliament, I said, ‘Why would I want to be one of those freeloaders? Why should I sully myself at the trough?’
‘People already think as a teacher I’m making way too much money, have too many holidays. Now they’re really going to be upset with me.’
But my neighbor said, ‘If you love this country, put your money where your mouth is.’
And I’m an ardent Canadian , so I agreed: I’m always up for a dare.
She phoned the office and said, ‘Hey! I got one here, she seems to be conscious, she can walk in a straight line. We got our candidate.’
LLN: Did you just run for the experience or did you think you could win?
When I ran for the Beaver River riding, in 1988, I was out to win — I thought we had a good chance, but as my students said, I got smoked! Actually, I got 4,000 votes, which was pretty good, but I thought that was the end of my political career.
But five days later the man who won the seat, John Dahmer, died of cancer, and they had to have a bielection. My (school) board was not real keen about my running again, and they said, ‘OK, Deborah, this had better be the last of it, get it out of your system.’ They gave me the last two weeks off so I could handle the media interviews and so on.
Even though I ran to win, I thought in my heart of hearts that I would come a very close second, and we would give the Conservatives a big scare. But the media knew. They all showed up at my campaign headquarters, CBC, CP, Macleans, CTV, and I just welcomed them and said, ‘Have a cup of coffee guys. Why are you all here?’ And they said, ‘We think you’re going to do it. This is going to be some story.’ I was astounded.
And when I did win, suddenly all these microphones were shoved in my face and people were saying, ‘You just made Canadian history. You’re the first Reform MP in the House. How does it feel?’ I was exhausted. It was kind of hard to sound intelligent right then.
The next morning I had to go back to school to ask my principal for a leave of absence, and all the cameras were following me as I walked down the hall. The kids were all lined up and coming out of their classes, cheering and clapping and saying, ‘Way to go, Miss Grey,’ and I broke down. I just wept. It was an electric moment. It could never be duplicated.
LLN: Your life must have changed drastically.
I went from watching Pamela Wallin in the morning while I was drying my hair, to being the person being interviewed. I was scared to go on a plane, and I had to head off to Ottawa. I moved from a close little community where I was doing what I loved, into Parliament to become a member of “the old boys’ club” where I didn’t even belong. I had to find my own way, choose my staff. I had no caucus to show me the ropes.
They were very lonely years. I can’t tell you the half of it: unbelievable. Tough. Ridicule was the hardest thing to deal with.
LLN: How else has life changed for you?
I got married to Lew Larson in August of 1993. I was 41, and it was very special to have someone come into my life and share it with me. Lew is a carpenter, and he works around Edmonton.
On weekends, I fly back to Edmonton and we immediately take the three-hour drive out to our home at Laurier Lake north of Lloydminster so we can spend the weekends there. We also try to spend the whole summer there when the House is not in session.
LLN: What motivates you to do what you do?
When I was elected as an MP, my mom gave me a poster of Garfield standing by the ocean which says, ‘I want to leave my pawprints in the sands of time.’ That says it for me.
I always wanted to be a teacher, and when I became a Christian my desire was even more towards teaching, because I figured God had given me gifts of leadership and an ability to speak to groups of people, and I wanted to use it for Him.
I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, I wanted to bring joy to people, and I’m an entertainer, so that all goes with becoming an MP, as well. My biggest desire is to serve the Lord wherever He calls me.
LLN: How do you feel Christians can serve the Lord in this society, can we make a difference?
I believe we can and we must. That’s why I taught in the public school system. Even though there’s a place for Christian schools, if all the Christian teachers leave the public school system, where does that leave our society? We are to be a salt and a light and ministers in that area.
And Christians can get involved in the grass roots part of community politics. Ask your MPs questions. Hold them accountable. Get involved in a campaign, whatever your party. Go to local riding associations meetings.
Christian organizations can make a great difference, too, bringing issues to the foreground. There’s nothing better than large letter writing campaigns that force government to look at community concerns.
LLN: Christians will say, ‘Politics is just a power game, and I don’t want to get my hands dirty.’ What do you say to them?
Politics is a power game — that’s true. But the power is part of the reality. If you won’t get involved because of what’s wrong with politics, then you’ve lost by default. And for Christians, that’s just what is happening.
The Jews were told in Jeremiah 29 to get in there, be involved, marry and work for the welfare of the country you’re in.
If Christians don’t get involved in politics, we’re just handing our country over to people who may use the power badly.
It was a real turning point for me to realize that Christians MUST be involved, and that didn’t really happen until I was elected and realized the magnitude of the job.
It really hit me that if I wasn’t willing to be a Christian working Christian-ly with a non-Christian agenda, we’d be handing our society over to evil by default.
LLN: What are the key issues Christians should be concerned about?
The problem of criminal justice for young offenders has been big in the news.
It’s true there’s a problem with violent acts, but they are just symptoms of something deeper.
Kids are not getting the training at home, families are falling apart.
There’s a sickness, a malaise, deep, deep in society and Christians need to address it. Governments can strengthen families by overhauling the tax system so that a parent who stays home with a child shouldn’t be penalized financially.
LLN: How do you find support for your Christian walk in Ottawa and in Alberta?
There’s a Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast every Wednesday morning at 7:45 (a.m.). About 25 to 30 people attend. I get there most weeks. There’s also a Parliament Hill staff fellowship which meets for Bible study on Fridays — it’s a good solid group.
I can call them with a prayer need and know that within 20 minutes 100 people will be praying for me.
Lew and I belong to the Dewberry Community Church which we try to attend every week.
I take precious few speaking engagements on Sundays. I tell people, ‘I’m a Christian, I want to take time to worship, to rest.’
LLN: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My hopes and dreams are that I would be faithful to the calling of God on my life. I want to continue to make a difference.
Although I love this job, I trust the Lord to lead me in it for however long I need to do it.
This Parliament can run till October of 1998, so that’s a long way off to try and figure out if I’m going to run again.
I’m honored when people point to me and say that I’m a Godly Christian role model.
I think, ‘If there’s anything I can do to draw others closer to you Lord, let me do that.’
It’s very humbling. To whom much has been given, from her will much be required God has been very good to me, and it is absolutely essential for me to pass that on and walk the Godly walk that He’s called me to walk.
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