Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Canadian policy update: ugh

This afternoon I am sitting in my office on a dark, gloomy day, rereading A Room of One’s Own for the millionth time so that I can teach it tomorrow. This text never fails to amaze and inspire me – I find new gems in it every time, and am always astounded by the sensitivity of Woolf’s wit…

Rereading this text today has inspired me to finally get down to the important business of addressing the grave danger that women – and poor people – are facing where I live (in Canada, I mean). I’ve been wanting to follow up on the important post by Medieval Woman, who is newly resident in Canada. The press release she posted detailed the way that the Conservative minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had just introduced a measure that prohibits women’s groups from any lobbying activities using federal funds.

What the press release only mentions in passing is that the Tories also cut 38.5% of the budget for Status of Women Canada. 38.5%!? Is that not a staggering figure?

The theory behind this is that the government wants to see “results-oriented” work; they want “less talk, more action”. Give me a fucking break – talk about co-opting and sickly twisting activist language to smash activists.

So the government announced that they would no longer be providing money for general research. The anti-intellectual bent of this move – the separation of research from an ill-defined action – is terrifying. And, to anyone with a brain, it presents itself as an impossibility. How do we define targets for action without researching the issues, understanding the contexts in which they arise??

And wait, there’s more where that came from:

- The government also changed the mandate for Status of Women Canada, removing the word “equality” from its list of goals.* Instead of achieving equality, the goal of the department is now to “facilitate women’s participation” in social life. Christ! Women’s participation is compromised because of gendered inequality!! The denial of context in all of these moves is mind-numbing. And part of that context is that other federal bodies – chiefly Statistics Canada – routinely confirm the existence of basic inequalities in men’s and women’s lives.

- The Court Challenges program was also entirely cut. As in, bye-bye. This program existed so that ordinary Canadians could finance legal challenges based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that human rights document that apparently makes Canada the envy of so many around the world. A freaking basic, basic understanding of social inequality, of course, tells us that people whose Charter rights are threatened are generally marginalized people. People who can’t afford to mount million-dollar legal challenges. Now we find ourselves in the absurd situation where the only people who can afford Charter challenges are people who don’t need to make them.

So that’s what’s been going on up here. This is a scary, scary place these days.

And what is even more upsetting to me is that the opposition has just let all of this slide by – and so has the media, for the most part. It made a small splash, and then disappeared.

Now, it seems to me that this kind of thing is enough to bring down this minority government. The last minority government was brought down over a corruption scandal – this is just as important (much more, in fact, I think). And yet the other parties aren’t even talking about it. I don’t expect the Liberals to tackle it, necessarily (they’re too wrapped up with their leadership race), but where the hell are the NDP, the social democrats? Why are they staying silent on this issue? I know we’re suffering from election fatigue (and worse, cynicism), but what’s going on here is a systemic dismantling of foundations of Canadian democracy. Yes, this is about women. But the implications are much, much wider, as the court challenges program makes clear.

What this really suggests to me is the fundamental Liberalism (and by this I mean capital-L Liberal Party) of this country. There is a strong lack of imagination in Canada, I think. It’s as if everyone says to themselves, “Boy, electing those Conservatives was a bad move. But the Liberals are all tied up in a leadership race, so we better just sit around until that’s sorted out and a new leader emerges to carry us through on our boring, gutless, middle-of-the-road way.” As if there’s no alternative. It pisses me off. In fact, I’m going to write a letter to the leader of the NDP (the party to which I, with a great deal of ambivalence, belong). You want to be an alternative?? Act like one!!

*And this is not because Harper and his friends are up on poststructuralist feminist theory…they’re not sitting around reading Joan Scott et al. on equality-vs.-difference to inspire their policy decisions…


Mimi said...

Equality, by all means, is clearly not a distributive concept for the conservatives. I work on positives measures inside the federal political party in Canada for a paper and those guys see egality only as a matter of formal egality-legal. At least, they are coherent from this angle.
Canada is depressing right now and I think nobody realised the huge mistake this government had the potential to be in the country... nobody except the 'outsiders'.
To cite a French post-doc fellow reacting to the election last year:
''Putain! et moi qui avait quitté la France pour le Canada justement pour me sauver de ces fachos ! Je fais quoi maintenant putain ???''
I think we are so entreched in the idea we have of ourselves, the 'different form the American' identity, that we never actually try to discuss our limits. Hence, other are drafting them for us.
And don't get me started about the NDP...I really wish there was an alternative but I'm as 'depressed' as you.

Hilaire said...

Yes, Mireille, I agree with everything you say...Canadians are blind these days - to so many things.

And on the question of substantive vs formal equality - absolutely, a commitment to only formal equality characterizes the conservatives. What scares me, though, is the willingness to throw even thatword out, so that there's no commitment to any kind of equality - substantive *or* formal. That's what strikes me as odd and "facho" about this. Formal equality isn't much, but when you're willing to throw away even the word...what does that say???

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.