What’s in a name does matter

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Tradition, history and contributions of advocates over the years count for a lot. Unfortunately, a recent change by the federal government doesn’t recognize that.

As reported earlier this week by The Canadian Press, the federal Conservatives in 2010 quietly eliminated the name of a champion of women’s rights from a volunteer award. The Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award was started in 1982 by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government.

We can likely come up with a couple of reasons why women in Quebec didn’t get the vote until 1940 – a couple of decades after the other provinces. At any rate, Casgrain was a key activist in obtaining that right for women in her province – and was involved in many other causes. She became the first female leader of a political party in Canada, heading the CCF in Quebec, and was appointed to the Senate in 1970 by Trudeau.

The federal government dropped her name from the award and came up with this replacement: the “Prime Minister’s Volunteer Awards.” That award is now handed out by Stephen Harper and, along with the certificate, includes having the recipient’s photo taken with the PM. The feds went ahead with the name despite a focus group’s resistance to the idea, saying it could be perceived as some kind of political award.

The federal government has responded that the move was done with the idea of broadening eligibility criteria. Those who have trouble with the renaming, however, including opposition politicians and Casgrain’s descendants, take aim at the lack of consultation – the secrecy, in fact.

We have no doubt the Harper government might find itself at odds with the Liberal legacy and the Trudeau years. That’s fine, in and of itself. But renaming a program, erasing the name of a champion of people’s rights, is not OK.

It’s eerily close to attempting to rewrite certain points of history. You have to wonder what the motive was, why a government would want to toy with a nation’s collective memory about its heroes.

Organizations: Canadian Press, Conservatives

Geographic location: Quebec, Canada

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