Canadian women have proven throughout this country’s history that real change, even revolutionary change, isn’t as simple as clicking a button, said Judy Erola, former politician and broadcaster.
“Unlike the spontaneous movements today, the so-called revolutions spawned by the Internet, (these early battles for gender equality) were fueled by solid study,” she said. “The Equality Claus was based on solid evidence, studied over many years. So-called ‘ordinary citizens’ stood their ground when push came to shove.”
Erola spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Wednesday, June 17, morning session of Western’s 305th Convocation.
Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD), upon Erola in recognition of her distinguished career as an advocate for women in politics.
“What did they have that some of the movements today don’t have? They had the benefit of exceptional leadership and the machinery of government to follow through and put recommendations into action,” she continued. “No Internet. No Twitter. No Facebook. Could this happen today?”
She then cited a number of recent movements, including ones on Wall Street as well as in the streets of Hong Kong, which depended on social media to fuel the participants.
“But did these protests lead to change? No. They fizzled,” she said. “It’s clear technology is no substitute for good policy.”
Erola started out as a radio and television broadcaster in Sudbury, Ont., where at CKSO-TV, she was the first woman employed by a Canadian television station as a weather reporter. She was also the first woman in Sudbury to hold the position of account executive at CHNQ, a local radio station.
Her career also includes stints in theatre, the mining, political and pharmaceutical industries where female executives were scarce.
Erola has contributed to health care by way of volunteer roles as director of Health Partners International, chair of the University of Ottawa Health Administration Program Advisory Board, past chair of and fund-raising chair of the Child Health Institute of Canada. She is a life member of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada and of Science North Sudbury.
Member of Parliament for Nickel Belt from 1980-84, Erola was named to Pierre Trudeau’s final Federal Cabinet as a member of the Liberal Party. She was the first woman ever appointed to the Cabinet’s Priorities and Planning Committee and over the course of her career, she has also served as Minister responsible for the Status of Women, Minister of State for Mine, Minister of State for Social Development, and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs.
She offered graduates a handful of recommendations for life: Be curious. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it just made it a better cat. Be kind. Practicing a conscious kindness every day makes the world a better place. Read a book; it helps you to learn. Pick up your phone and call your parents; they love to hear from you.
And, by all means, vote, she concluded.
In 1981, Erola was the first woman to be named Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. This was at a time of negotiations of the equality clause in the Canadian Constitution. Erola fought for harsher federal laws against domestic violence, better maternity leave pay for women, reforms to the Indian Act to improve the rights of women marrying non-aboriginal men, stricter policies against gender stereotypes in government communications and to protect Section Twenty-eight of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, which guaranteed gender equality.
In her citation, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor emerita Carol Herbert said Erola has been an extraordinary example for women across Canada.
“She continues to be an advocate for women in politics and sits on the Advisory Board of Equal Voice, a non-profit organization dedicated to electing more women to political office in Canada,” she said.
“(She is among women who) stand next to Nellie McClung and the Famous Five as inquisitive, smart, educated, brave women, who helped move women’s issues and healthcare forward in multiple ways during and after their time in office,” Herbert added.
“When you find your passion, it doesn’t matter how many hours you work, how much money you make. You love what you are doing and what you are learning,” Erola said.
Also during the ceremony the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service was presented to Alan Noon, media specialist in photography. The Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-time Faculty was presented to FIMS professor Warren Steele. The title of librarian emerita was conferred upon director of library service Lynn Dunikowski and assistant university librarian Karen Marshall.
Adela Talbot contributed to this report.