Giving the credit it deserves

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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If I had been campaigning for decades for women’s rights, as have many of my friends and acquaintances, past and present, I’d probably want to jump up and applaud the fact that the leaders of Newfoundland’s three political parties, at least at this moment in time, are females.

But I can’t claim a record of activism in the pursuit of equality for women, a result of what some might consider my angelic, purist view that the job of a journalist prevents, or should prevent, participation in any such cause or event,

no matter how laudable (even telethons and Santa Claus parades).

Get ready

And if all that sounds like a pre-emptive strike before offering my spin on what is being viewed in some circles as an historical turn of events, then so be it.                  

In that context, let me say that only a total fool, a sexist jerk, would be upset that it has come to pass that Kathy Dunderdale, Yvonne Jones and Lorraine Michael head Newfoundland’s three political parties. 

But, and it’s a significant but, the other side of my skull, that of the detached reporter-turned-columnist-and-commentator, requires I note that the way in which this circumstance evolved is not as worthy of  self-congratulation for Newfoundland society as it might seem at a cursory glance. Or that Danny Williams should seek hugs from feminists for having participated, as he apparently believes, in this stroke for women’s rights. 

The facts are these:

• Kathy Dunderdale is not premier because she successfully led a political party in an election; she was placed in the position of premier by exactly one person, one vote, that of Danny Williams. Period.

Dunderdale may some day head a party fighting an election, deal with Neanderthals who would have her defeated simply and exclusively because of her gender, and emerge on top. Then would be the opportunity to sing her praises, and more significantly, the praises of a province that has created an environment where a woman could gain such a victory.

• Yvonne Jones became leader of the Liberal Party through acclamation, not a bonafide leadership convention. She became leader when, sensibly enough, no one wanted to take on the task of dethroning the most popular premier in the province’s history.

• Lorraine Michael had a leadership contest with a political nobody, and won her party’s leadership in a proceeding  in which a mere 100 or so delegates cast ballots, not exactly a history-making, barn-burner of a race.     

All this is said in no way to demean Michael, Jones and Dunderdale, all three of whom — I run the risk here of being labelled a patronizing sexist — are bright and estimable women (although Dunderdale, who has wielded the most power of the three, has not handled her cabinet position with any apparent ease).

If there are cheers to be hollered from inside the ranks of those who have diligently fought the good fight for women, or if Newfoundlanders wish to pat themselves on the back for an enlightened view of gender equality, then I would suggest the appropriate time, the most meaningful time, would occur when and if women have fought it out tooth and nail in the kind of process that have elevated men to roles of governance. 

As I said initially, I’m not entirely comfortable pricking a balloon of what some see as a societal advancement for women.

One former female acquaintance of mine, a dogmatic subscriber to the notion that most men are pigs, once reluctantly acknowledged that she felt I was a “small ‘f’ feminist,” that I treated men and women in the same way, without distinction — sometimes nasty, sometimes nice.   

That “small ‘f’” part of my noggin obviously feels the election of more women to positions of authority in politics is abundantly healthy for all of us. 

But to view this particular positioning of three women to the head of the three parties as something extraordinary and groundbreaking is a bit of a stretch.  

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Newfoundland society, Liberal Party

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Doug Scott
    December 06, 2010 - 10:51

    Excellent commentary, Bob. As a man who worked tirelessly to help Lynn Verge become the first woman to lead a political party in this province, only to then witness her being skewered by her own party, I can attest to the truth in what you have written here. Yes, it is an interesting aspect in our political history that all three of our major political parties are being led by women, but it is not, as Bob so expertly argues here, a societal advancement for women. It will be interesting to see what the decorum in the House is like for the next little while, but I'm concerned that our honourable members may not be in their seats long enough for us to get a clear picture. Ms. Dunderdale has indicated that she will not seek the leadership of the PC Party - so her apprentice as Premier will be that as "care-taker" which is too bad really, as I believe she would have a great deal to offer the province. But she saw what happened with Lynn - she was there and warned her about it. Perhaps, with hindsight being 20/20, her decision to accept the caretaker role was, in fact, very wise.