My heroines among women in public policy

By Michael Lashley

If I tried to make a list of all the inspiring women in Canada whom I have met, whose work I have seen, or whose presentations I have seen or heard, I would need to invest two years of my time and the result would be a book, not just a newspaper column.

Furthermore, one of these days – not today – I would like to put in writing some of the more profound issues in the study of women and gender affairs which have come to my attention in recent years.

Having made those clarifications, I need to begin with my reasons for today’s commentary. It is important to keep on repeating that public policy involves all the issues and areas of activity and study that affect our daily lives, not just the obvious ones like health, education, transport, business and finance.

It is also important to emphasize that anybody, in their own way and at any level of activity, can play a leadership role in development of public policy. The physical and intellectual work of a volunteer with no executive position in the organization does in fact provide leadership by example because it creates inspiration and motivation that amount to leadership influence.

On that basis, my volunteer par excellence is Jean Turner-Williams whose dedicated service to the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ontario, the West End Sports and Cultural Club and to the not-for-profit sector in the Peel Region are legendary.

I have already sung the praises of Dr. Rita Cox for her work in librarianship, education, storytelling and community / cultural development (Carnival, calypso and dance). Sharon Shelton’s legacy as executive director of Tropicana is further enhanced with the acquisition of the organization’s impressive new building.

I salute the work of Sunder Singh for her public policy activism and community leadership role as executive director of Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women.

In the field of education, I cannot name the thousands of women whom I would like to applaud but Eleanor Rodney of Hamilton is in a class by herself for her success as an educator and mentor and her leadership in the Trillium-funded publication on the monumental contribution of African and Caribbean educators in Canada.

Let the record also show one person has stood out in the last decade or so as Ontario Minister of Education who has demonstrated committed, broad-minded and caring political leadership: Kathleen Wynne, take a bow!

In the political arena, two stalwarts have my respect and gratitude for the many times they regaled me with their deep insights into the political process and their intellectual evaluation of the history of Canadian politics.

The Honourable Jean Augustine has now retired from her three main functions as a federal Cabinet minister, an MP and the Ontario Fairness Commissioner. And the Honourable Anne Cools soldiers on as a Senator well-known for having the political conviction of her opinions and as a tireless advocate for engaging the public and especially young people in the dynamics of politics and public policy.

Among those whose business acumen has commanded my attention is Ita Sadu who has levered her skills as the co-owner of the bookstore A Different Booklist, an author of children’s books and as a storyteller, in order to create a portfolio of business consultancies and a publishing house.

And now we come to my obsession with music and the three women whom I admire for their management roles in this joyful labor of love.

Wendy Jones needs no introduction, now that the orchestra she captains, Pan Fantasy Steelband, has won a hat trick of victories at the Pan Alive competition and she is about to be honoured with a Harry Jerome Award. My musical, managerial and community-building plaudits must also be showered of Cathy Ferreira and Karen Nelson for their pioneering work as leaders of the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra.

My crystal ball tells me the women to watch for in our province’s greater public policy successes are Tanya Walker (law), Donette Chin-Loy Chang (university education) and Rosa Lokaisingh who is building bridges between business and academia in Mississauga.

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley