A tribute to Heather-jane Robertson by Larry Brown

August 12, 2021

“Together, we are committed to an epic battle—the battle for the minds of our fellow citizens. On the outcome of this momentous struggle hinges the fate of human society, and perhaps of humanity itself. The CCPA and its members are proud to be on the right side of this crusade, morally speaking—which means being on the left side socially and politically.”— Heather-jane Robertson on the 25th Anniversary of the CCPA

The real strength of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has always been the people who devote their time, energy, and expertise to the building and maintenance of the CCPA project.

Prominent among these people, Heather-jane Robertson stands out as one of the most influential and longest-serving leaders.

With her passing we have lost one of the architects of the organization, and one of the most important contributors to its current status as the leading vehicle for progressive thought, research, and policy.

When Heather-jane became involved with the CCPA, the organization had strong support from the labour movement in general, but not so much from teachers’ unions. Her credibility within those organizations and her strong advocacy for the centre led directly to the Education Project, one of the continuing cornerstones of the CCPA’s work. That legacy alone would ensure an important place for Heather-jane in the history of this organization.

She authored books and pieces in the highly respected Our Schools/Our Selves journal—which had been brought under the CCPA roof as part of the Education Project. Through these writings, Heather-jane added immensely to our understanding of the corporatization of education through privatization and through corporate influence in public institutions.

Heather-jane served for several years as the Vice-President and Treasurer of CCPA. During her tenure, the task became more complex as the organization grew nationally and in the provincial offices. The unenviable responsibility of making this complicated picture understandable and meaningful to the Board of Directors fell to Heather-jane, and she more than rose to the challenge.

Over the years, the CCPA benefitted from her wise counsel. And hindsight demonstrates it was never a good decision to ignore Heather-jane's strategic and tactical advice—on a number of key issues where there was some disagreement, history proved her quite correct.

Heather-jane remained committed to that “epic battle” she spoke about. Throughout her life she walked the talk.

I knew her first as a fellow ‘child of the prairies,’ and she never lost that straightforward, level-headed, socially responsible, prairie sensibility.

As she said in 2005: “Optimists believe that a citizenry that is informed is capable of making wise decisions, and rejecting poor ones. The CCPA is dedicated to derailing any plans for this country that rely on public ignorance and pessimism.”

Heather-jane played an outsized role in bringing this goal to fruition. The CCPA and the people of Canada are richer in understanding and more informed about the issues because of her work.

Our thanks to her children for lending so much of their mother to us all.

Rest in peace, dear colleague. Rest in peace.

Larry Brown is chair of the CCPA board