Shutting Up Not an Option

Anti-feminist ultra-conservatives must be challenged

By Lana Payne

Canada’s ultra-right forces are feeling pretty good about themselves. And why shouldn’t they? Their prime minister has been delivering the goods. Since 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has served up victory after victory to his supporters, bolstering his base. This has been done through numerous policy measures, and in particular by attacking women’s equality, feminists, and the principle of the collective. It has been done through the politics of division, fear, and wedge.
And his intent was made clear from the start of his mandate.

One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to slash nearly $4 billion in funding for child care and early learning, killing the beginnings of a national program — and at a time when government coffers were overflowing with multi-billion dollar surpluses.

Canada has been soundly criticized by the OECD for its weak commitment to this hugely important area of public policy development. In addition to benefiting children, it is critical to advancing women’s equality in Canada and to ensuring that working parents can participate to their potential in today’s labour market.
But supporting women so they can work offends many on the far right. These folks view women through a Dark Ages lens and are unable to cope with today’s social and economic realities.

But women, like men, have a variety of reasons for wanting to work outside the home — if only because it usually takes two pay cheques to raise a family. What’s more, our economy actually needs women to be productive members of the paid labour force. In May, almost 8.2 million Canadian women were payroll employees.

But the throwbacks from the Reform Party who are currently in charge of the Conservative agenda have never been swayed by sound research or facts. The litmus test for their decisions is selfserving ideology, not the public good.

The funding cuts to child care and early learning were followed by the elimination of the Court Challenges Program. Soon the government was eroding pay equity — long a thorn in the Prime Minister’s side; he once called the practice “a rip-off.”

There has been a sustained assault on the things that contribute to a more just society, like funding advocacy and feminist research.

Turning back the clock on the building of that just society and financially starving those who would disagree with the government restricts our democracy and the building of a civil society.No one was surprised when the Harper government cut back and narrowed the mandate of the Status of Women. This antifeminist agenda was not hidden, but fully visible for those who cared to see.And now they have turned their sights on Canada’s gun registry, even though it represents an important and hard-fought gain for those in our country who have struggled to eliminate violence and build safer communities. It came out of the incredible outcry — and efforts by activists — following the Montreal Massacre of December 1989 when 14 women were murdered because they were believed to be feminists.It stands today not just as a tool that saves lives, according to police forces, police chiefs, and medicalprofessionals, but as a living testament to our ongoing commitment — our collective commitment— to end violence.

The Conservative private member’s bill that would dismantle the gun registry passed second reading just days before the 20th anniversary of this massacre. To take this action at that time in particular, unmoved by pleas from the mothers of the murdered young women, reveals the Harper government’s absolute indifference to the Montreal Massacre and what that tragedy has come to symbolize in our nation.Every action, from slashed funding for a national child care program to the private member’s bill on the gun registry, has emboldened the ultraconservative base. Now, in addition to the gun registry, they havemoved to the next item on their list: a woman’s right to choose. As a trade unionist, I suspect labour rights are also on that list.

As important as the gun registry is, this debate in our country is no longer just about the registry — quite frankly, it was never just about child care, either. It has always been about the kind of country we want.Eliminating the gun registry will further embolden the Conservatives. Indeed, it already has. The fact that we are once again debating abortion in Canada, a women’s reproductive choice, speaks for itself.There have been no hidden agendas, but rather a systematic attack — some might say full-fledged warfare — on a progressive Canada. And the difficulty for those of us who believe in a different and better kind of world is making new gains while being forced to fight just to keep what we have.

This is the time to draw a line in the sand, to deny them their holy grail of a demolished gun registry — a victory they have arrogantly assumed is within their grasp. It would be disheartening if it were the NDP that delivered this win to the Harperites. Let’s hope a progressive party will not be cowed by the fear and division that’s being sown by the Harper government, and join with us in our fight for a progressive Canada.

Senator Nancy Ruth got the tactics all wrong. “Shutting the fuck up” has never served us well. Advancing women’s rights in today’s world may mean we have to be more creative, but not silent. Silence becomes submission. Leave that to those comfortably living with the status quo. For the rest of us, shutting up is just not an option.

Lana Payne is President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

CCPA Monitor 10 July/August 2010 (posted by permission of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)