Double standard in Canada Day debate


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As we look forward to Canada Day, Winnipeg has found itself clutching its pearls once again in its bid to be seen as something other than the nation’s most racist city. In the process, it seems fine to demonstrate its misogyny.

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As we look forward to Canada Day, Winnipeg has found itself clutching its pearls once again in its bid to be seen as something other than the nation’s most racist city. In the process, it seems fine to demonstrate its misogyny.

The ridiculous debate over whether we will have or not have “Canada” Day at the Forks, or instead a “reimagined” celebration, came to a head last week. To quote a release from The Forks’ board of directors, the original intent to take Canada Day out of the July 1 party was to allow Winnipeggers to “recognize and celebrate the day together. It is a celebration of The Forks as a historic gathering place, combined with many accessible ways for everyone to learn about our past and how we can continue to build a better country for the future.”

Of course, the cynic in me wonders if what The Forks was really trying to do was alleviate the potential for protest following last year’s debacle at the legislature. A statue of Queen Victoria was beheaded and destroyed beyond repair following a demonstration over the discovery of what was presumed to be unmarked graves of Indigenous children at residential schools.

Daniel Crump/Winnipeg Free Press Jenny Motkaluk announces her intention to run for mayor of Winnipeg at a campaign-launch event on May 25.

Prominent politician and former University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy was miffed, to say the least, by the announced changes: “There is a pattern developing where we almost are awkward to call ourselves Canadians.”

And then Winnipeg mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk tweeted: “On July 1st, I will be proudly celebrating Canada’s birthday because I love my country unconditionally. I guess I can’t do that at The Forks because I’ve recently learned that it’s canceled.”

And that’s when Winnipeg showed its misogynist side. Because, it seems, Axworthy can say these kinds of things, but Motkaluk apparently can’t.

Nope. While Axworthy received some criticism for his comments, Motkaluk faced an immediate and venomous backlash, including (as a National Post story pointed out) a response calling her a “dog whistling c–t.”

Gee, I wonder why more women don’t run for office?

A white man says, “As citizens, we need every so often a place celebrate who we are as a community,” and he’s given all manner of courtesy. A white woman says, “I love my country,” and she’s the target of obscenities.

Listen, this is not an endorsement of Motkaluk. But let’s be clear: the decision by The Forks to “reimagine” Canada Day was a complete and total media disaster. So much so that the board had to issue a statement claiming it “never intended to minimize or eliminate the idea of Canada Day…”

In other words, both Motkaluk and Axworthy were saying what other people in this city were thinking. And there’s no need to clutch our pearls.

It has been 30 years since we’ve had a female mayor in this city. Susan Thompson served from 1992 to 1998 and was responsible for bringing the Pan Am Games to this city as well as dealing with the 1997 “Flood of the Century.”

Since then, no other woman has been able to break through the glass ceiling, although Paula Havixbeck, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, MaryAnn Mihychuk, Shirley Timm-Rudolph, Natalie Pollock and Marianne Cerilli have all made valiant attempts.

This time around, two women have put their names forward. Motkaluk and Rana Bokhari, the former Liberal Party leader. For both these women, it will be a hard slog. The columnists seem so far to be more interested in the reappearance of Glen Murray, who has once again decided that he wants to be our mayor, after leaving the job two years into his last term in 2004 to (unsuccessfully) run federally for the Liberals. Then he became a Liberal MPP in Ontario. Then he ran as the leader of the Green party. And now he’s back home.

Can you imagine a woman doing that and then returning to Winnipeg with the temerity to run for mayor? You can’t – because you know she would never be taken seriously. Oh, but Murray has no problem coming back to save us from ourselves.

Much of what’s going to be written about the mayoral campaign lies ahead. The summer is time for each candidate to prepare their policy and sell it one-on-one to media and at community barbeques and farmers’ markets. After Labour Day, there will be debates organized by various outlets, and candidates will face off against each other to demonstrate why their campaign is superior.

As the campaign unfolds, be aware of how women are evaluated differently then men. Think about how your own biases play a role in how you perceive their capabilities. If you don’t like what a woman has to say, imagine it being said with a man’s voice. If it sounds better that way, then you’re the problem.

Shannon Sampert is a communications consultant and former politics and perspectives editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. She was the Eakins Fellow for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada for winter 2022.

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