National Post

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Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Not wanted at the NAC meeting
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

Thierry Laforets, The Ottawa Citizen
Newly acclaimed NAC president Terri Brown.

The National Action Committee on the Status of Women held an annual general meeting in Ottawa over the weekend. Despite press releases sent to news organizations, there were no reporters to be seen among the 200 or more women who sat in the Crown Plaza hotel on Sunday, discussing what they held to be the most pressing issues facing Canadian women.

Was this the result of a patriarchical news media callous to women's concerns? Or testament to the growing irrelevance of NAC, an organization that purports to be "the largest feminist organization" in the country?

Correction. There was one reporter in the room.

And, remarkably, I was asked to leave.

The experience revealed more about the priorities of this self-appointed leader of the women's movement than did all the speeches of the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, I had been pacing around the hotel corridors for several hours, waiting for a promised interview with newly acclaimed president of NAC, Terri Brown, rehearsing questions in my mind.

Would the soft-spoken aboriginal woman from northern B.C., her traditional name "lone woman rowing a canoe," reorient the group from its international fights to a domestic agenda? Did Ms. Brown, a graduate in economics, agree with her organization's curious view that international trade is the enemy of women worldwide?

I was also interested to see how the proposed resolutions would be debated and voted on by the delegates. Some, such as a call to condemn the Clarity Bill, were mystifying.

How a clear referendum question could be a threat to women, I did not know. But I was keen to find out.

At 10 a.m., I was told my interview would be at noon. At noon, I was told it would be at two. By 2:30, I was still waiting.

I wandered in and out of the ballroom where, ironically, NAC delegates debated how best to spread their message and keep sympathetic women "in the loop."

Back in the corridor, a delegate approached and asked me curtly, "Are you from the National Post?"

Delegates were boycotting the Post, she said, and had just voted to ban the Post reporter from the floor.

Several women came over to inform me I was not welcome. Could I still interview Ms. Brown? I asked.

Delegates would put the matter to a vote later in the day, I was told.

Finding the situation hostile and absurd, I left.

Yesterday, at NAC's lobby on Parliament Hill, Mariam Abu-Dib, NAC's friendly communications representative, told me "not to take it personally."

Contrary to what I had been told by delegates, she said they voted not to ban me outright, but to avoid talking to me.

The delegates wanted to take a stand in support of Calgary Herald strikers and "against Conrad Black and union-busting," she told me.

"Don't take it personally. This isn't about you," she repeated, noting that she was content with the fairness of the coverage I had given NAC the previous day.

Exactly, I thought. This is not about me. In fact, it's possibly not about most women in this country.

It's about the labour agenda and other special interests posing under the banner of the women's movement -- and successfully calling the shots.

While it is possible that the goals of organized labour and the best interests of women may sometimes coincide, it is not inevitable they will.

The Calgary Herald is a fitting example. One major issue in that contract dispute is a seniority clause. There is a strong case to be made that such a clause is a good way to protect the jobs of middle-aged men from competition from, say, young female journalists like me.

The fact is reasonable women can and do disagree over that issue and many others raised in NAC resolutions, such as the Clarity Bill, the welfare state, free trade and taxes.

NAC is far from speaking for women on these issues, in part because many of the clear-cut battles that once united women have already been won.

(A lesbian acquaintance told me on Saturday that she was dismayed that NAC would hold a conference on the day most of Ottawa was honouring the interment of an unknown soldier. A proud woman and retiring military officer, she chose honouring a fallen brother over rallying with the sisters.)

Who does NAC speak for, then? The answer was perhaps supplied by Joan Grant-Cummings, the outgoing president, in her remarks to delegates on Friday.

"NAC has not survived the last four years without the support of the labour movement," she said introducing keynote speaker, Nancy Riche, secretary treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress.

"There has never been a time," Ms. Riche said in her speech, "When we have disagreed on an issue."

(Each link opens a new window)

  • Contact information for the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC)
    The committee doesn't have a Web site, but here's their email address:
  • Committee's shocking pink paper
    The paper published in 1997 exposes the lack of opportunity for Canadian women.
  • Poetic Justice
    Read the essay on the progression of the NAC and the interaction of the committee with Canadian society.
  • Canadian Federation of Students
    Press release criticizing the actions of the committee.
  • Status of Women Canada
    Web site for this federal government's agency which aims to promote equality for woman in Canada.
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