Sexism and the B.C. Liberal Government
by Robin Mathews
We shouldn't create stereotypes. So we begin with the fact there are sexists (male chauvinists) in all walks of life -- from ice-cream parlours to astro-physics labs, from the shop floor to CEO boardrooms.
That being said, there's something especially clammy about the-boys-on-the-Right. Their sexism is a special feature of what might be called Capitalist individualism (sometimes the feature is called "the commodification of women"). It might be summed up as part of their driving certainty that the accumulation of private wealth is God?s Will in the world and is best undertaken by men. When they don't believe in God's Will, their driving certainty is fueled by some version of Darwinian "survival of the fittest" applied to the human social sphere.
The drive is (largely) a male thing (although of course there are females who are driven in the same way, just as there are males who think all such people are wacko.) Equally certain, the sexist boys-on-the-Right have many ways -- plenty of them -- of expressing their sexism.
A quick, chummy example in the social world occurred when a female MLA at a Gordon Campbell, B.C. Liberal caucus meeting recently caught him up in a moment of ego, got a laugh from the assembled MLAs, and then heard Gordon Campbell say angrily: F _ _ _ You, Elaine! for all the assembly to hear. Who says Gordon Campbell doesn't possess the common touch?
To deal in the political realm (where Campbell displayed his testosterone wit) the boys-on-the-Right don't just do it to women in-your-face. They also do it in policy and legislation. So blind and brazen is their dedication to the rampant male, they're willing to lose elections they could easily win. For some reason they just can't help telling women about their "inferiority". The blow-back, of course, is as predictable as the lies by cabinet ministers during the recent Hospital Employees Union conflict. Gordon Campbell said HEU members are not involved in direct patient care. His Health Minister, Colin Hansen, said thousands of elective surgeries were cancelled and that HEU members get between 9 and 16 weeks of holiday. Falsehoods all. (Claire Heffernan, Island Tides, May 20, p. 2) Which means you can say "F _ _ _ You" to women one time too often.
In B.C. the blow-back from Gordon Campbell cabinet sexism is right there in the statistics. Having won all but two seats in the 2001 election, Campbell's own rating has fallen to 27%. Liberal Party approval across B.C. is down to 37%. The NDP is at 44%. B.C'ers look angry. Women especially so. The percentage breakdown for women is 34% Liberal and 49% NDP. Blow back.
A pundit political panel on CBC radio (May 21) attributed the Liberal dive to the B.C. economy, trapped in a slump and not looking to rise soon. But that's not why B.C. women reject the Liberals 10% more than the men do. Women respond usually -- it's true -- more than men do to slashes in health care, cuts in education, bashing of low-wage earners, seniors mistreatment and the like. But their rejection of B.C. Liberaldom is growing more than is usual.
What the women of B.C. see, correctly, is a dumb, muscle-bound, male rampant, jock-set attack on all the vulnerable and -- especially -- on WOMEN.
Begin at the beginning. When the Campbell forces won power with a huge majority, they refused the two opposition MLAs formal Opposition status. Jenny Kwan and Joy MacPhail were thus cut off from necessary research and support funds -- a mean, clammy act by Gordon Campbell. Against women. Many think he wouldn't have acted the same way against two men. In addition, one of Campbell's number publicly insulted Jenny Kwan.
The Campbell attack on seniors by privatization of support services, combined with the Liberal slashing of Hospital Employees Union living standards has been an attack specifically upon women at two levels. Women live longer, and so fill more senior facilities. The HEU -- the one recently slashed -- has a majority of women members. There are plenty who think the attack on them relates to gender, that a male-dominant HEU would not have been hit in the same way.
Chair of the Salt Spring Island HEU makes the point clear (Island Tides, May 20, p. 2). Claire Heffernan writes: "this dispute is not about money -- its about eliminating gains women have made in the workplace over the last 20 years and destroying the union." That growing sense is backed by the Campbell government's slashing of support for women's shelters, safe houses, and such agencies that employ and support women.
The same goes for post-secondary education. The Glen Clark NDP had an on-going tuition fee freeze which Campbell lifted immediately. Tuition costs have soared, excluding some poorer students. As with the HEU, university students are now more and more female. And they usually find it harder than males do to earn (successfully) and learn. We know, too, that -- traditionally, the-boys-on-the-Right think education for women is a frill (and a threat to male dominance).
And so it goes -- not always immediately visible but becoming more and more evident, right into the pages of the monopoly CanWest newspapers. Like the slow, steady bias of CanWest papers against all non-Right political ideas, the bias against women is so constant and so unrelenting it is sometimes completely unnoticed.
Especially interesting (as example) is veteran political columnist Vaughn Palmer. He was heavy in the cleaning of the Liberal Party of progressive leadership and he was high-profile during the drive to get Glen Clark out of politics.
Now, to this reader, he plays a careful game of Gordon Campbell support, watering down news (as do most CanWest journalists), and ignoring negative information where he can. To this reader, too, he does a put-down of Carol James, new NDP leader, and of Joy MacPhail whenever he can. As a devoted boy-on-the-Right, Palmer plays to keep Campbell Liberals in power. That's a tougher and tougher task for him. That means he's showing his partisan (and sexist) hand more obviously as the days pass.
Let's use the dying days of the B.C. legislature session, just over, to see what I mean. Budget for the premier's office -- which has soared since the NDP left -- was under examination. Almost simultaneously, an access to information request revealed Campbell took seventeen chartered flights between March 2002 and April 2003, costing nearly $65,000. Reason? "Safety concerns". Campbell was accompanied by at least one RCMP officer each time. (Province, May 19, 04, A17)
In the questioning Campbell, true to style, gave as little information as he could. He alleged, about his personal guards, that all "such provisions are up to the RCMP" and all questions "should be referred to the national police force". (Sun, May 19, 04, A5) That is another Campbell half-truth, of course. Since his arrival in office his appearances flanked by uniformed and other RCMP officers -- and the cost of "security" have risen sharply.
That is a complicated situation involving both sexism and policy. To begin, the-boys-on-the-Right love guns, uniforms and burly body-guards. South American dictators, for example, love to sweep into rooms accompanied by uniforms and guns and burly body-guards. For protection? Not really. More to make a heavy testosterone hit. "Look at me. I have power. Don't mess with me."
There is -- as well -- for Campbell, policy. A very touchy subject. Campbell shadow-boxed under questioning about security, supported by no fewer than five cabinet ministers. (Sun, May 19, 04, A5) He doesn't want to say he's so hated by much of the electorate for his policies that -- when possible -- he is ridiculed publicly. That might not help him in the polls. How can he keep the public ridicule away? Well, of course, one way is to use the police.
Has he been endangered? Not really. On a commercial flight to Kelowna in May 2002, for instance, hospital employee union people annoyed him: "jeering, singing protest songs, and allegedly blocking his vehicle after the flight to Vancouver". So? He's in a democracy. Unpopular laws evoke democratic responses. On April Fool's Day, 2001, 400 people paraded outside his home, protesting cuts and slashes to the minimum wage. So? Bad policies evoke bad manners. It's called democracy.
The only "security" matters in Campbell's term that approach threat happened more than two years ago. A firebomb was thrown into his constituency office and his estranged wife's office was firebombed. Both were crimes. But both happened when no one was near who could be hurt.
That brings us back to Vaughn Palmer, boy-on-the-Right. He professes himself shocked, amazed (but not quite struck speechless) by Joy MacPhail's grilling of Gordon Campbell over his huge rising budget for personal "protection" and for office use. (Sun, May 19, 04, A3) Palmer's column on the subject is a flat-out rejection of MacPhail's questioning (and a flat-out celebration of Gordon Campbell). Palmer didn't like MacPhail's asking what areas of Campbell's activities are security covered, or if he is guarded in his constituency office. She wanted to know, also, if he has security when "he travels out of the province". That last may be a code question about his alleged romantic interest in Hawaii. Does he have RCMP protection to go there?
Anyhow, with Palmer's approval the premier responded to all "politely but firmly". He kept telling MacPhail that she should ask the RCMP. But as one who did "ask the RCMP" about the outrageous RCMP involvement in the scandalous charges and trial of Glen Clark, I know (as Vaughn Palmer is almost certain to know, too) that to ask the RCMP anything about their activities -- especially dubious ones -- is a waste of time.
(I can't help observing that the very probably illegitimate RCMP activities in the Glen Clark affair helped to make Gordon Campbell premier.)
When Joy MacPhail was honest enough to suggest Gordon Campbell's actions have caused the anti-Campbell public response, Vaughn Palmer of course wanted to equate the fire-bombings with "terrorist activity". It's a great line. A winner. Her position, he remarked, resulted in "a pretty reckless statement". Pardon? Campbell has broken contracts, broken his word, lied, deceived, and struck out at women, at the weak and defenseless. He has, especially, attacked the security and safety of women. Only another boy-on-the-Right would expect him to face a passive public.
When Joy MacPhail pointed out that Campbell is the author of public discontent, Vaughn Palmer, of course, attacked Joy MacPhail. He didn't have a single question in his long column about the premier's huge office budget, his expensive private flights, his RCMP companions, or whether Campbell makes restrained use of uniforms, guns, and burly bodyguards.
Well, you know. The-boys-on-the-Right love big expense accounts, uniforms, guns, and private planes.
But the girls in B.C. are liking those things less and less. Just look at the last B.C. political poll, from the women?s perspective. 34% for the Liberals, 49% for the NDP.
Robin Mathews publishes on culture, politics, the arts, and Canadian Intellectual history. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, a potter. His column appears regularly on Vive le Canada.