Creating Change: Lessons, Skills, and Advice


Nancy outlined her proven strategies for successful activism:

  • Have some knowledge of where the other side is on any issue.
  • Never go to a council meeting (with every union in Canada around the table) without knowing what you are doing.
  • Basically, know the end result. Even though you present the issue as if it is brand-new, you must have some idea of the outcome.
  • Don't go into an important meeting not knowing the outcome, and lose; losing on an issue is also losing some credibility, which will make the next issue a more difficult fight.
  • You have to do your homework.
  • No compromising. Take loss over compromise, because people around the table have to see that women are in charge of what they are doing. Also remember that some groups won't care what the outcome is if it doesn't cost them money.
  • Before presenting the budget for a campaign or project, present the idea first and get approval for that. Look for outright enthusiasm and only then mention the money required. When you get others on the side of the campaign, they won't care about the money.

Advice for younger activists

Nothing is won without effort. You fight—it's a constant political battle. Your support depends on the women's support. You win in the labour movement by getting votes.

First, ensure you have reliable support from women in place, says Nancy: "You don't win by kowtowing to the men, you win by building the political strength of the women".

Second, "never, ever" shy away from being an advocate on women's issues—if this is seen to be your priority, all the better. Nancy had a distinct advantage being in the labour movement because she could rely on the convention floor as a stage for using her persuasive power of argument, plotting visible support, and counting the numbers needed to swing votes. You can win an issue on a convention floor because deliberations are public and the vote is final—they can't renege on it. A key third piece of advice is never to compromise. Keep your key values consistent and model them for others.

I can't think of a time where I compromised. I might have lost a battle, but it was absolutely from that first day when I stood up and said, "I'm a feminist," that I thought it was important to put it out there all the time. It didn't mean that I could not go and argue before a parliamentary committee on the bankruptcy issue. Every Monday morning for three years, I sat on a business panel on Canada AM with the head of big business in Canada, the head of small business in Canada, and me as the labour person.

Key to Nancy's public credibility was being fully up-to-date on all her files and doing whatever reading was needed before making public comments. Credibility in one area would build it elsewhere, and she knew from the start not to focus narrowly on women alone or face being marginalized.

Another piece of advice concerns public communications. Not all interviews go perfectly, she says, so don't waste time wallowing in anxiety afterwards: "I learned very quickly that if you blew it, forget it and move on because it's out there now, it's on TV, it's in print". Despite her prodigious reading and rehearsal of speaking text before media interviews, Nancy had to learn to be concise and to discard wordy thinking-aloud:

I started to learn what sound bites meant and think of clever little things to say. My greatest one-liner was on a federal budget and I was being scrummed up on Parliament Hill. I said, "Moody's [New York credit agency] One, Canada Nothing".

Last Words

Nancy would like to be remembered in this way:

First, that I worked my entire career for the equality of women. It was always my priority. Second, that I brought other women along. I hopefully opened the doors for other women to move into leadership positions, because it's stupid not to, quite frankly. Are you going to be president and then leave with no other women there? It makes no sense. If I have inspired any women to get active in the women's movement-slash-union-movement, I think that's great.