Practicing Her Activism


Political policy formulation

At a time when very few women were actively involved in government policy formulation, Ann served on the National Liberal Party Policy Committee (LPPC) as the NB representative during the Pierre Trudeau government. In addition, she served for five years on the Board of the National Council of Welfare, which advised the federal Minister of Health on family poverty, immigrant experience, and the lives of single women; and she initiated the National Policy Committee on Agriculture. Concerned that there were so few voices for agriculture and fishing at the table, she was nonetheless gratified that several strong cabinet ministers from rural and fishing areas could help to offset this imbalance by pushing the policies recommended by the LPPC.

As one of very few women doing such work, Ann also served for over 17 years on the New Brunswick Liberal Party policy formulation team until Frank McKenna was elected as Premier in 1987. Her work in policy at the federal level was a highlight of her career, requiring close analysis and respect for the concerns "that were most on the minds of Canadians," and posing the question of how policy could best bring about the necessary changes.

Learning a great deal about how governments actually work behind their public messaging, Ann saw how backroom discussions could swiftly influence policy change up until the moment it was made official with the Speech from the Throne. The LPPC dealt with such complex emerging policy topics as ownership of water, the crushing inheritance taxes for farmers and fishers, protection of the environment, allocation of foreign aid, the crow rate, and privacy laws—especially related to emergent technologies and mass unemployment.

We were recognizing then, in the mid-seventies and early eighties, that water was our most valuable resource. You had to be thinking way ahead of the game. You were meeting with people who were coming from other countries around the world who were talking about things that weren't even on the radar in Canada.

Farmers and Fishers

Ann and a few of her colleagues lobbied for over two years for a one-time buy-out for farmers and fishers that would allow them to sell their farm or fishing boat to heirs without the burden of inheritance tax. Prairie farmers had been pushing for this for years, but it was also an important issue in several communities across Canada, and Ann's group kept up the pressure until the government finally listened:

That was satisfying: to follow the passage through from a written policy created at a Convention all the way to the green chambers of the House of Commons. You think, "I had a hand in that, I had some influence in making that change.

Listening to citizens

Ann found that one of the best ways to "take the pulse of the nation" was by talking directly to people in the community—farmers, members of the IODE, and Women's Institute members.

People love to talk. If they found out that you were involved in politics, they were more than eager to tell you what they thought should be changed … and you would take what you heard in New Brunswick to a national meeting and you'd hear that the same thing was coming from the west coast or from Alberta or Yukon. So you begin to think, "Okay, if they're talking about it here and there, this is really an issue that we should look at. Let's sit around the table and ask what is the right decision on this?"

A new era: Writer and cultural ambassador

There are no boundaries in the arts.

By the time the Meech Lake constitutional change debates were in full force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ann felt that she had "been in the system too long." She resumed work on her 1990 biography of Katherine Ryan from Johnville, New Brunswick, a.k.a. Klondike Kate, the first woman appointed as a "constable special" for the Northwest Mounted Police in Whitehorse.

The year 1991 was looming as the Year of the Irish in New Brunswick; internationally, the United Nations was promoting a Year of Culture. As a member of the Canadian Association of Irish Studies and of Irish descent herself, Ann teamed up with a well-known activist musician friend in Ireland, Roy Arbuckle, to plan grassroots cultural activities for the celebrations in New Brunswick. Arbuckle was no slouch as a cultural innovator, musician, and social activist in Derry, where he remains a major cultural force. The two friends determined to test their belief in the power of cultural activity to mitigate the nearly three decades of bitter conflict and failing peace discussions between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom).

Ann and Roy saw that their task for the 1991 celebrations was to use music and theatre to bring the Irish together—not just in Ireland, but to start a process of citizen engagement across political lines with Irish descendents in New Brunswick. An agreement was made for reciprocal visits between the Irish in Ireland, and the New Brunswick Irish descendants. Six months of hectic organizing with private funds ensued, enthusiasm built, and at the last minute Ann secured some essential funding from a senior government minister in New Brunswick.

One hundred and ten Irish citizens, including a pipe band, arrived for a three-week tour around the province, participating in a variety of cultural activities. The tour was not always easy, especially for the participants from overseas; and some New Brunswick hosts were unwilling to take the Northern Irish delegates into their homes, which gave Ann diplomatic headaches.

The Northern Irish young adults, who were accustomed to street fighting, and the Southern Irish, were in such total shock. They had never seen such freedom of movement and speech. It had a tremendous effect on them then and continues today. Yes, I had some battles. But we prayed a lot and we had great faith.

Despite the discoveries of joint ancestry between Irish and New Brunswickers, and their participation in wonderful concerts; despite volunteer organizations pitching in with food, beds and logistical help; the visitors were often at odds with each other. It became evident that The Troubles had not been left in Ireland as old antagonisms surfaced in New Brunswick. Ann decided something must be done. The travellers arrived in the Negootiook (Tobique) First Nation, where esteemed Maliseet artist, poet, and activist Shirley Bear arrayed the visitors in a circle and gave them an eagle's feather, a traditional act that gave each person the right to speak respectfully to all the others in that circle, while they listened without interruption. It worked; the energy shifted and the visitors from Ireland became a more cohesive group.

The Aboriginal people took them into their homes. They had a great time and it was just an eye opener to everybody. Everybody opened their hearts and their eyes to the fact that all these differing cultures could come together in one place.

The spin-off from that visit has been considerable: cultural and business connections between the province and the Irish have grown steadily, and in 1993, 54 New Brunswickers formed the first major cultural delegation to be hosted by the City of Derry in Northern Ireland since the Bloody Sunday Massacre in 1972. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick continues to develop its collection via Irish networks, and joint major exhibits have been produced (see Bird, Further Reading). An Irish Studies program was established at St. Thomas University, and a 20th anniversary event is under consideration.

Education, ecology, more activism

Continuing her community volunteer work and finishing her second novel, Ann found herself hungry for new knowledge. With her children having left home, she resolved to tackle university studies, and within ten years she had earned two degrees. Delighted with the chance to explore theory, new practices and ideas, Ann had embarked on reading GAIA Theory and Deep Ecology on her own. In the fall of 2001, she attended courses at Schumacher College in England, one of the world's leading centres for ecological studies where global environmental problems are addressed. Learning about earth energy and geomancy, Ann co-developed The Blue Flag concept, a unifying prayer flag now used in various countries.

Ann designed workshops for empowering women, in particular, to change their perceptions of the inherent power they have for making social change.

As a member of CANADEM, Ann made a trip to Ukraine in 2004–2005 to help monitor the election process. Interested in supporting women's political activity there, she found herself in the middle of the tent city with the rebels during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine after they won the election. Another time, she stood in the dangerous area near the border between Belarus (Russia) and Ukraine and was hugged by women who saw her presence as a sign that some political relief from oppression may be possible one day, even for women. In the face of official denials of the power of citizens to make even small social changes, Ann felt helpless—"you can only give them hope." Such memories prompt her to return to the Ukraine.

At home, where Ann participates in a variety of issues such as a children's cultural program in its 50th year as well as adult-centred cultural activities, she began to look into the situation of international workers who come to Florenceville to work for McCain Foods. Seeing the need for English language training, adequate housing, and integration into the local community, she helped to establish the Carleton County Multicultural Association in the early 2000s.

We have to make social change personally before we can make it publicly, become strong in our own personal centre… Each of us has power far beyond that which we recognize.