Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 in the Toronto Star
A Few Good Women Are Leading the Way
by Dalton Camp
I was very pleased to learn that Elizabeth May, a doyen of the tree huggers' movement, had ended her fast. During her self-imposed ordeal, May drank nothing but water which, in Ontario, at least, doubles the risk of injury.
On resuming her normal caloric regimen, she claimed at least a moral victory in that some grudging progress was made by the federal government and that of Nova Scotia to test the inhabitants living on the shores of a sea of arsenic on the Isle of Cape Breton in the heart of its former coal mining industry.
So, all's well that ends well; May is eating once more and the residents who live in the blighted area will be tested (again) and if it is found that some are suffering, or have suffered, from poisonous substances, steps will be taken (promise) to move them and their families to an environmentally safe location (ASAP, mountain time).
I do not make light of the intervention of May in seeking to get some urgent consideration for the blighted families in Cape Breton. But we do live in perilous times in a wider world, all but surrounded by polluters, gun fighters, tax dodgers, countless connivers, murderers of the public taste and the many friends of George W. Bush.
Good men are exceedingly hard to find so that the protection of the public virtue and its interests has been left to a few good women; May is one of them.
Let me enlarge upon this last point: May, yes and Naomi Klein, Linda McQuaig, Maude Barlow, Alexa McDonough, in no particular order, but enough to say that while the self-anointed arbiters of probity and propriety can't find a way to deal with this female presence, the country would be in far worse shape without them.
Next time you're in the company of friends, mention the five names above (or more), then ask for the names of five men who are, at this writing, making a similar contribution to provoking thought, discussion, and debate on matters that matter most to the country and its people.
Go ahead, we're listening:
"Well, how about David Suzuki?" Okay, David Suzuki. Next?
"John Manley?" Please...
"How about Whasisname ... you know, the guy who ...''
"Hey, Mother Teresa?" She's not a Canadian and, besides, she's a woman,
"Robbie Alomar? Who's the guy who plays for the Raptors?''
If Barlow would skate, her team would be in the Stanley Cup already. Know what I am saying?
I'm asking: In this, our time of conspicuous national need, when there is a cry for leadership, intellect and courage, where in the hell are the men?
Why is it women are speaking out while the men remain largely silent? Whatever the answer to the question, Canadian women are currently leading the public dialogue and shaping the public agenda, achieved without a newspaper, or a political party, they can call their own - not even a poor man's Business Council on National Issues - lobbying the insufferable or indoctrinating the impenetrable.
Let us ponder where the boys are. To be nice about it, most of them have donated their minds to the corporate press, to the corporate think, a systemic response to a seriously flawed economic system becoming the enemy of the democratic state. Max Weber saw such men imprisoned in an "iron cage" of bureaucratic tyranny and conformity. The system now represents an institutionalized status quo, confirmed by the forces of globalization, sheltered and underwritten by a co-opted and compromised political system.
So it is Barlow who sounded the alarms on MAI, and McQuaig who made contemporary economics comprehensible, and it was Klein who produced her epic volume, No Logo, on the tactics and ways of consumerism, corporatism and globalization, that has become a world bestseller.
The work of these women has not only been prodigious but fearless.
The leader of the NDP (McDonough) while embattled by her own party (that craves respectability above responsibility) and who is trivialized by the same journalists who so arduously promoted Stockwell Day, remains still a parliamentarian singularly willing to raise issues of substance in our national forum.
There are, of course, many more women whose energy and intellect, grace and courage are giving leadership in a public void filled with silences. Not that all being said and argued is all right, but it is the Canadian women who serve to remind us that political discourse does not need to be the pitiable, mindless futile thing it has become today.
Dalton Camp is a political commentator. His column appears in The Star on Wednesday and Sunday.
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