When the Evening Telegram and the National Post both run stories about a Quebec feminist ‘disappeared’ from history by the Harper government you know his unfailing arrogance has struck a sensitive spot.
Who was Therese Casgrain and why should we care that she has joined the legions of women insulted by this government?
Therese Casgrain was a notable, feisty Quebec feminist who led the suffrage campaign that finally achieved the vote for Quebec women in 1940. She was the first – and only – woman to lead the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the NDP, even though she came from a strong Liberal background. She was a peace activist campaigning actively against nuclear weapons and nuclear testing. She founded Voice of Women in Quebec, as well as the League for Human Rights and the Fédération des femmes du Québec. She hosted her own influential radio programme in Quebec.
She was recognised for her leadership, her forceful charm and her intelligence. Trudeau made her a Senator and she became an officer of the Order of Canada. In 1985, Canada Post honoured Thérèse Casgrain with a postage stamp. She appeared again on the back of the Canadian $50 bill, along with The Famous Five (women who won the “Persons” case in 1927). The Trudeau government also instituted the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award in 1982 to honour women like Casgrain – forceful, effective feminists.
No wonder Harper wants to ‘disappear’ her and all women like her. The stamp has already long disappeared and the bank note vanished in 2012. Now Harper has abolished the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award and replaced it with the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award – over the wishes and against the advice of a specially commissioned focus-group study.
And you can bet that the women (and men, presumably) who get the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award will not be the kind of energetic, intelligent, activist feminists that Therese Casgrain would recognise.
Why does all this matter?
Firstly because it is an insult to Therese Casgrain, her memory and her family.
It is also an insult to all Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador women who have struggled to document women’s history, to highlight their achievements and to make sure that their ideals and principles are passed down to future generations of women.
It perpetuates the dangerous tendency of this government to denigrate or put obstacles in the way of any progressive, and certainly any feminist, thinking and action.
It shifts the emphasis from rewarding critical, progressive action to rewarding purely ‘charity’ work.
The ugly, ungenerous and deeply ideological stance of Harper and his government has already damaged the Canadian image both at home and abroad. Those who identify with Casgrain and her ideals are being marginalised, discriminated against and ‘disappeared’.
This matters for all of us.