The Rev. Tim Sale likes the title “the longest-serving honorary assistant in the world.” He has earned it at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg. He began there in 1966 as a new priest in youth outreach ministry with a passion for social justice and ecumenism and became the honorary assistant in 1969. “My dean of theology had once told me, ‘We have to find the right place for you because you’re going to have trouble with the church, and the church is going to have trouble with you,’ ” Sale recalls.
Sale was a science student and a self-admitted “pretty secular guy” at University of Toronto, when, as a scout leader in a Toronto church, he encountered a single working mom about to lose her home. Angered by the rector’s dismissive response to his request to help the woman, Sale questioned his church’s relevance in society.
Nonetheless, he enrolled in the theology faculty, first as an academic student and then as a candidate for ordination.
Now 71 and retired from politics but active in his community, Sale was first elected to office in 1971, when, as a member of a three-church inner-city ministry, he ran against Fort Gary’s school board, which, he says “was mired in the dark ages.” He along with four radical colleagues all won. “It was part fun, part grief, but I learned a huge amount,” he says. “Since my first experiences as a scout leader, I realized that my heart, is about social justice.”
In 1971 Sale became a social planner for an inner-city ministry run by the United Church of Canada, facilitating halfway houses, low-income housing and health clinics.
Sale was chief executive officer of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg from 1976 to 1985. In 1985 he joined the Manitoba Department of Finance and served as assistant deputy minister of education from 1987 to 1989.
Sale set up a public-policy consulting firm and joined an extra-parliamentary opposition group called Choices, which ran working parallel budgets to those of the Conservatives. His first bid for the provincial legislature happened in 1992, when, he ran for the New Democratic Party (NDP), losing by 200 votes He continued his consulting work, and ran in 1995, this time winning and serving in the NDP opposition of Gary Doer. Re-elected in 1999, he became minister of health.
What does Sale consider his greatest accomplishments in elected office? Implementing a standing committee for children’s health, a provincial prenatal allowance, and post-natal and early childhood support services for high-risk mothers and turning control of their child welfare system to First Nations and Métis peoples.
Sale was influenced by sermons on the Christian vocation for justice given by the Rev. John Lee, ” who bluntly said that the only reason for a Christian to be involved in public office is to seek justice.” For people of faith considering running for office, Sale has this advice: “Public office is always about compromise; about the solution that is reasonably acceptable, the one that is less worse,” he says.
He adds that you must be ready for the overwhelming complexity of public life, its very broad constituency and competing interests. “There are enormous limitations on what you, as an individual, can do,” he says. He has seen inexperienced people seek office on a single issue that they may not be able to do anything about, and then watch helplessly as it goes away. “You need a clear idea of what you care about,” he says. “You need a set of values but also a broad vision. You need to get lots of experience in the world before you go into elected office.”