Ford: Sexism, racism still lurk in the shadows as Gondek faces recall petition

‘I make this assumption about the underlying sexism waged against Gondek and hold this opinion for a simple reason: been there, done that, lived through outright sexism’

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Gender should no longer be an issue. Not when so many women — albeit not enough — have shattered the glass ceiling.

But consider Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and the racism, sexism and misogyny that has dogged her for years. Now, under the guise of criticizing her style and leadership, some guy is endeavouring to cadge enough signatures on a petition to have her recalled. Barring that, to at least force her to resign.

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Business owner Landon Johnston has until Thursday to submit 514,284 signatures to be verified by the city clerk’s office. That number represents 40 per cent of Calgary’s population, according to the 2019 census. If Johnston is successful, it will take months and money (ours, by the way) to verify all the signatures. Meanwhile, Gondek will continue to be harassed.

Recall legislation is a thorn in the side of the body politic. Frankly, our tax dollars and salaried clerks should have better things to deal with than this nonsense.

No politician does not have detractors, but this is too close to home. Incidentally, Johnston has help from a group calling itself Project YYC, whose aim is to install a more “conservative” mayor and council. I read that to mean bringing a more UCP-friendly crowd to take over city hall.

No one has uttered the “she’s not fit because she’s a woman” trope but I suspect that’s all part of it, too. Why it hasn’t raised its ugly head may have a lot to do with the fact that the current premier of the province is a woman, as was a former premier. Kind of silly to blame misogyny when voters of all stripes, colours and genders have spoken at the ballot and made Danielle Smith and Rachel Notley premiers of this province.

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But here’s the real ugly part of this: Gondek isn’t just a woman, she’s not white, not named Joan or Janice and, as the British say, she’s non-U. (Not upper class; not us. How bad does it get? I’ve met Gondek only once, and in response to my question said she’s been insulted in both racist and sexist terms.)

I make this assumption about the underlying sexism waged against Gondek and hold this opinion for a simple reason: been there, done that, lived through outright sexism — drunken groping, lewd remarks, accusations of being a “ball-buster,” and Playboy and Penthouse pin-ups plastered on the walls of the newspaper’s back shop.

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At least all that was blatant. But consider the ignominy of being told there could be no corporate membership in the Calgary Petroleum Club because the prospective member happened to be a woman — me. It took a number of votes, the backing of the publisher and a concerted effort of more enlightened men to change the rules to allow women to be members. Imagine the thrill I felt when Bonnie DuPont — the breaker of many glass ceilings — became the first woman president of that club.

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Let’s not ignore the august Ranchmen’s Club, the venue for a meeting of the newspaper’s editorial board with the prime minister’s chief of staff. A doorman turned away a group arriving by taxi because one passenger was a woman and she was not permitted to enter the club by the front door. Four of us, three male colleagues and I, took the walk of shame to the back door. To his credit, the then-editor had the grace to be embarrassed. One member of the editorial board thought telling me I was “just like a man” was a compliment.

We should never forget the late Pat Carney, who was minister of energy in 1984 and who soundly rejected the title of “honorary man” so she could meet the oil executives of Calgary on their own turf, at the Petroleum Club.

Think I’m being cynical and easing my own bruises? Consider Christine Silverberg, Calgary’s former police chief and the first woman chief constable of a major Canadian city.

Eventually she became a lawyer and, on receiving an honorary degree from Mount Royal University, said to the graduating class: “As a woman in the policing profession, I encountered discrimination, sexual harassment and, of course, the inequitable but essential need to prove myself constantly.”

Surely, in 2024, all that should now be in our rear-view mirror.

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