Liberals restore name of feminist icon Thérèse Casgrain to volunteer award

The Harper government erased the name of a Quebec feminist icon from a volunteer award in 2010. The Justin Trudeau Liberals have now reversed the reversal, restoring Therese Casgrain's name to the awards for volunteering. It's the second time a Liberal government has overturned a Conservative erasure involving Casgrain.

In a game of political football, Liberal government has overturned a Conservative name-change on award

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Employment and Social Development, said Monday the name of Thérèse Casgrain will be restored to a volunteer award. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Liberals are restoring the identity of a feminist icon from Quebec that the previous Conservative government had erased from the name of a national volunteer award.

The Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award, first created in 1982 by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, was killed by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2010, and was transformed into the Prime Minister's Volunteer Award the following year.

The disappearance of the name of Thérèse Casgrain, a Quebec heroine who died in 1981, upset her descendants, who say they were never consulted by the Conservatives but simply given the brush-off.

Thérèse Casgrain, president of the League for Women's Rights in Quebec from 1929 to 1942, is pictured during an election run in 1967. (The Canadian Press)
But in the latest example of Liberals erasing the Conservative legacy, the Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards are now disappearing, to be replaced in part by the Thérèse Casgrain Lifelong Achievement Award.

"I look forward to recognizing some of Canada's exceptional volunteers … and to giving back Thérèse Casgrain a well-deserved honour in the Lifelong Achievement Award," Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Employment and Social Development, said Monday.

Disappeared from $50 note

The announcement follows Finance Minister Bill Morneau's recent decision with the Bank of Canada to restore the image of a significant woman from Canadian history on Canada's currency. The Queen is now the only woman represented on the front of the latest series of banknotes, and a consultation process is under way to pick an iconic woman from the country's past.

Under the previous Conservative government, an image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal disappeared from Canada's $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker vessel on a new currency series. The move also wiped out an image of the so-called Famous Five women from the same banknote.

Casgrain fought for the right of Quebec women to vote, which they finally won in 1940. She also became the first female leader of a political party in Canada, heading the CCF in Quebec, and was appointed to the Senate by Pierre Trudeau in 1970.

I look forward to ... giving back (to) Th é r è se Casgrain a well-deserved honour.- Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Employment and Social Development

Casgrain has become an unfortunate political football in Canada's recent past.

Her namesake volunteer award was killed once before, by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but then was restored in 2001 by the Jean Chretien Liberals. Among its more famous winners has been the late June Callwood, author and activist.

The Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards honoured 17 Canadians from across the country, and were handed out in a glitzy videotaped ceremony early each year, with Harper presenting medals and certificates and having his picture taken with each winner.

The volunteer awards announced by Duclos on Monday will also be given to 17 Canadians, and are being renamed the Canada's Volunteer Awards. But the highest honour, for lifetime achievement each year, is being given again in Casgrain's name.

Not prestigious

The Harper government changed the Casgrain awards to the Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards despite a $51,000 focus-group study that found strong resistance to the idea. Participants said the new name could be perceived as political, and many did not think "Prime Minister" conveyed a sense of prestige.

Michele Nadeau, president of the Thérèse Casgrain Foundation, holds a photo of her grandmother, Thérèse Casgrain. The family says it was not consulted when the Harper government wiped Casgrain's name from an award in 2010. (The Canadian Press)
The Liberals have moved quickly to erase other elements of the Conservative legacy, restoring the mandatory long-form census, for instance, and replacing a series of tax breaks with their own version.

Another volunteer award begun in 1995, the Caring Canadian Award, has been handed out by the Governor General each year. Since last summer, it became the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers, an upgrade as it is now part of the Canadian Honours System. Recipients now receive a medal rather than a certificate.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby


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