Saturday, September 5, 2009

Roots of Reform: The Northern Foundation and Anti-Feminism

To say that Stephen Harper is a puzzle is perhaps grossly understated.

He's certainly very secretive about his past, not wanting to grant interviews even to the authors of two recent books on his rise to political success: Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada by William Johnson and The Pilgrimage of Stephen Harper by Lloyd Mackey.

He simply refused a request for an interview from Mr. Johnson but told Mackey that he was planning to write his own story and didn't want to scoop himself. A rather odd statement. Will his book include some of the people he was involved with throughout his career? I can see why he wouldn't want that coming out now.

I've read both books and neither really answered many questions. Far too generic, considering some of the quotes attributed to Stephen Harper over the years.

However, there is another book, not written about Stephen Harper but instead about his Reform Party and it's roots in bigotry, sexism and dare I say it, 'white supremacy'. In Of Passionate Intensity: Right-Wing Populism and the Reform Party of Canada, the author, Trevor Harrison outlines some of the people and groups who contributed to the success of the party.

Of special interest and concern is one in particular; the Northern Foundation. Now it was said that while Stephen Harper was a member, he was later booted out for not being right-wing enough. However, when you examine the membership closely, not being right-wing enough is not necessarily a compliment. It's like saying Lassie isn't canine enough. A dog is a dog.

What is of importance, though, is this: ‘The Northern Foundation was established in 1989, originally as a pro-South Africa group . . . lists among the founding members of the Foundation both William Gairdner and Stephen Harper ... ' (Preston Manning and the Reform Party by Murray Dobbin. Key Porter Books, 1992 Pg. 134)

By 'pro-South African' group the author means support of the continuation of apartheid. This brings into context the remarks once made by one of Harper's MPs, Rob Anders, when he claimed that Nelson Mandela "was a communist and a terrorist" and voted against making him an honorary citizen in 2001. (Anders was one of the Conservatives who abused his franking privileges and our tax dollars to distribute campaign style literature for our local candidate Brian Abrams)

I plan to go into the issue of 'whites only' in another post, but I want to outline just how deep our current Prime Minister's anti-feminist roots go. For this we have to look at his long associations with William D. Gairdner, mentioned above, and another co-founder of the Northern Foundation; Anne Hartmann, a director of the anti-feminist group, Real Women of Canada. Her son Eric belonged to the Heritage Front, another group with ties to Stephen Harper.

In 2007, Donna L. Lillian, Assistant Professor of Discourse and Linguistics in the Department of English at East Carolina University, wrote a paper entitled: A thorn by any other name: sexist discourse as hate speech, which centered around Harper's partner and longtime friend, William D. Gairdner, as mentioned above. Ms Lillian has spent a great deal of time "...analyzing Canadian neoconservative discourse as racist, sexist, and homophobic." We should be so proud.

In this paper, the author speaks of 'sexist discourse' as hate speech, and cites the texts of neoconservative author William D. Gairdner, as prime examples. Some excerpts below:

"In arguing that at least some sexist discourse should be considered hate speech, I first demonstrate that the popular discourse of Canadian neoconservative author William D. Gairdner is sexist.... Sexism, the ideology and practice of relegating women to a lower rung on the social hierarchy than men simply by virtue of their femaleness, is an integral component of neoconservative thinking, and one way that such sexism is produced and reproduced is through language"


To international readers, Canadian author William D. Gairdner may seem like an obscure and unlikely subject for an argument about hate speech. After all, there are many well-known commentators and public figures, particularly in the USA, whose writings might be considered sexist and whose names might be more recognizable internationally than Gairdner’s. In preparing this article, I have, in fact, read dozens of conservative books, articles, blogs, and websites, including some by prominent Americans admired and cited by Gairdner himself (e.g. George Gilder, Richard Viguerie, Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, inter alia). Gairdner shares many views with these commentators; however, his discourse style differs markedly from theirs. Whereas they temper their style, largely avoiding obviously inflammatory modes of expression, Gairdner revels in what he describes as his ‘tell it like it is’ style of writing (Gairdner, 1990: 1).

Gairdner is a highly educated and skilled writer whose academic training in linguistics, literature, and philosophy make it possible to hold him responsible for the form as well as the content of his discourse. He holds a master’s degree in structural linguistics, a master’s in English/creative writing, and a doctorate in English literature, all from Stanford University. He left academia in the early 1980s to pursue business interests and he is currently the owner of an investments firm in Toronto. He is also a former Commonwealth and Pan-American track and field athlete and he comes from one of Canada’s wealthiest families, all of which contributes to his public credibility.

Gairdner has never held political office himself, but has been influential in formulating and promoting neoconservative policies and views in Canada over the past two decades. In November 1987, a new federal party, The Reform Party of Canada, was formed under the leadership of Preston Manning. (In 2000, the Reform Party merged into the Alliance Party, which then later merged with the mainline Progressive Conservative Party to form the Conservative Party, currently the governing party in Canada.) Gairdner has been identified as one the most influential core members of Reform and as their party mentor (Harrison, 1995), and The Trouble with Canada functioned as ‘the de facto manifesto for Preston Manning’s Reform Party’ (Dobbin, 1992: 134).

In the early years of Reform, Gairdner was also one of the party’s most frequent guest speakers at rallies (Dobbin, 1992). In addition to his affiliation with Reform, Gairdner is a former chair of the National Citizens’ Coalition, a conservative Canadian lobby group. Dobbin describes the National Citizens’ Coalition as secretive (1991), but it is a far more public and more prominent group than another with which Gairdner’s name has been associated, namely, The Northern Foundation.

‘The Northern Foundation was established in 1989, originally as a pro-South Africa group . . . (that whites should remain in control). Since its establishment, however, the foundation has developed into a broad coalition of right-wing groups and individuals across the country’ (Dobbin, 1992: 121). Jeffrey (1999) lists among the founding members of the Foundation both William Gairdner and Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister of Canada.

Originally, I had argued that Gairdner’s writings were representative of ‘mainstream’ sexist discourse, but I now realize I was wrong in that respect. His writing is not representative, and it is precisely that non-representativeness that made me pay attention to him in the first place.

Furthermore, in doing my research over the years, I have found that there is very little published discourse research focusing on Canadian data, even less with a linguistic rather than a cultural studies focus. This constitutes a serious gap in the published literature and one of my goals is to try to address that deficit. Elsewhere I argue that Gairdner’s discourse is racist, homophobic, and sexist.


The out-class in sexist discourse is women, but Gairdner does not overtly denigrate all women. Rather, he denigrates women whom he classifies sometimes as radical feminists and sometimes simply as feminists. He does not include men in his definition of feminists. Furthermore, the women he calls feminists may or may not identify themselves as feminists. He simply imposes the label on women he wishes to discredit.

For example, women who choose roles other than that of full-time stay-at-home wife and mother and especially those who actively seek to create conditions in which women who choose other roles are not discriminated against are the women dubbed ‘radical feminists’ by Gairdner and they are purported to be the instruments of the breakdown of so-called traditional values in Canadian society.

(I have to interject here because there are two instances that come to mind, when discussing sexism and the Reform Party. One is a comment made by Garry Breitkreuz, one of the original Reformers and now a Conservative MP. On October 11, 1993; he was quoted as saying "We should try to keep our mothers in the home and that is where the whole Reform platform hangs together." The other one surprisingly was from Deb Grey in her book: 'Never Retreat, Never Explain, Never Apologize'. I had borrowed the book from the library and no longer have it, but she was speaking of Cheryl Gallant and was quite critical of the fact that she was acting as an MP when she had children at home. I really like Ms Grey, but was surprised at her sexist observations.)

Gairdner classifies as feminist a wide range of women including those who advocate publicly funded day care for children, abortion rights, ready access to contraceptives, sex education in schools, affirmative action for women, equal pay for work of equal value, marriage and adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples, as well as those who resist patriarchy in any other way. (also see David Sweet and the Promise Keepers) The only women whom he does not label feminists are women who support his patriarchal vision (also see REAL Women of Canada, a group also linked with Stephen Harper and the Northern Foundation) in which a woman marries young, bears and raises several children, and occupies herself doing unpaid domestic and volunteer work. Of course, if such a woman were to use her time volunteering for a group promoting any of the causes he disagrees with, then she, too, might be labeled a feminist according to Gairdner’s use of the term.

Because Gairdner’s use of feminist encompasses such a wide cross-section of women and includes all women who oppose any of patriarchy’s restrictions on them, I think it is fair to argue that in Gairdner’s writings, feminist effectively stands in for women. Gairdner would sound preposterous and in/un-credible if he were to rail against women, but if he uses feminist as a code word for all women he disagrees with, then he can sound as though he is arguing against a cohesive political movement, rather than against women who in various ways resist and challenge patriarchy, whether or not they identify themselves as feminists.


One of the most obvious ways in which Gairdner denigrates feminists/women is through his lexical choices. Gairdner views feminism as a serious danger, as evidenced by his use of the metaphor of feminism as a cancer.

"Every age seems to have its peculiar intellectual cancers, and this chapter is meant to serve as a kind of anticarcinogen. Like so many, I find myself increasingly surrounded by strident, petty, whining feminist arguments that have now nibbled their way into every organ of our society. If that were the limit of it, most of us would simply get on with our lives and ignore these people. But matters are far worse than the public seems aware. For in order to achieve their objectives, modern radical feminists are increasingly relying on political, economic and legal stratagems that in any other age would rightly, and without delay, have been labelled extremist, even totalitarian." (Gairdner, 1994: 296)

Not only does Gairdner associate feminism with cancer, but in the same paragraph, he also labels ‘feminists’ extremist and totalitarian. Adjectives such as these are apt to conjure up images of fascist or neo-fascist political regimes. ... Gairdner (1992) further resorts to ridiculing and trivializing ‘feminists’ by portraying them in unflattering animal terms. For example, he wants them to ‘get their snoots out of the government trough’ (p. 301). Snoot is a variation on snout, and this combined with the reference to the trough connotes a hog or a sow.

(I have to interject again. Harper's friend Gairdner was also a member of the National Citizens Coalition. In 1997, when Stephen Harper was president of the Coalition , he spent $ 200,000.00 of their money in attack ads he dubbed "Operation Pork Chop". In Edmonton where Liberal candidates Judy Bethel and Anne McLellan were running for re-election, he ran a newspaper ad featuring two pigs drinking champagne, while frolicking in a trough filled with cash. The pig's heads were replaced by those of the two women, and the caption read "On June 2, Chop the Pork. I wondered what kind of twisted mind would dream up such a degrading ad that depicted women in such a manner. Now I know)

A few pages further on is a reference to ‘the bleating objections of feminists the world over’ (p. 307). Sheep and goats are the animals most often said to bleat, although the term can also be used of calves. None of those animal associations can be construed as positive ones for feminists or for women in general. Moreover, the allusions are all to domesticated animals under the control of ‘man’ [sic]. Use of unflattering or trivializing animal terms is a common rhetorical ploy, unique neither to Gairdner nor to political discourse more broadly.

Gairdner also exploits the stereotype of women as emotional and irrational to further demean and discredit ‘feminists’. They are said to ‘aggressively advance’ their cause, and their position has ‘a frantic and bitter tone’ (p. 300).

Academic feminists are referred to as ‘angry, narrow-minded feminists’ (p. 312). Women advocating affirmative action are ‘insecure’, ‘angry’, and ‘conspiracyoriented’ (p. 309). People dealing with violence against women are referred to as ‘near-hysterical’ (p. 327), and advocates of universally accessible day care are ‘rabid’ (p. 334).

Furthermore, ‘feminists’ are repeatedly characterized as full of hate: ‘man-hating, politically motivated feminists’ (p. 344), ‘virulent, cultish, manhating, and family-hating program’ (p. 296), and ‘family-hating, man-hating, tradition-hating’ (p. 118). Individual women are also attacked with labels meant to discredit them and their work by making the expression of their views appear as nothing but an outpouring of negative, uncontrolled emotion. Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), for example, is characterized as being an ‘inflammatory antifamily hate tract’ (Gairdner, 1992: 8). Given the amount of hatred and hostility evident in Gairdner’s own books, this latter accusation is, indeed, ironic.

A concrete example of the way in which Gairdner trivializes the concerns of women is his treatment of the issue of acquaintance rape. As part of his argument promoting conservative sexual morals, which is to say condoning sexual intercourse only in the context of heterosexual marriage, Gairdner attempts to dismiss the reality of date rape altogether ... Gairdner’s formula for avoiding what he sees as the ambiguity of ‘no’ is that women should dress modestly, not be alone with men, not flirt unless they intend to have sexual intercourse, and marry young so that men are provided with an outlet for their sexual desires.

For Gairdner ... the natural family consists of a mother, a father, and their children. Rather, this family configuration also implies ‘a natural hierarchy of authority’ (1992: 82), which he acknowledges is patriarchal but which he advocates as the only alternative to socialism.

In this patriarchal family structure, the man works outside the home and provides the income for the household, and the woman foregoes paid employment and stays in the home to raise and care for the children and do the domestic labor for the family. All other roles for women are deemed to be unnatural or deviant.

Gairdner creates a self for himself and his (ideal) readers which is male, white, financially stable, able-bodied, heterosexual, Anglophone, and Christian, and endows this ‘self ’ with positive attributes, while simultaneously creating both one ‘super-other’ (‘socialists’) and a series of specific ‘others’ including feminists, women, homosexuals, people of color, the French, immigrants, and poor people, all of whom are portrayed negatively.

One of many addresses that Gairdner made at Reform Party functions was the keynote address at their 1991 General Assembly. As Harrison (1995) describes the event, ‘delegates to the 1991 Saskatoon convention gave William Gairdner enormous applause, even more than Manning later received, for his vitriolic speech denouncing feminists, bilingualism, and multiculturalism, among other things’ (pp. 173–4). Dobbin (1992), describing the same event, notes the frequent and extended applause and the cheers that greeted Gairdner’s denunciation of women and women’s rights. Gairdner uses much the same rhetorical style and expresses the same views, whether he is speaking or writing.

Based on these accounts of the reaction of his supporters, one may reasonably conclude that Gairdner’s anti-feminist, anti-woman discourse does, indeed, inflame people’s emotions. (Remember, one of the first things Stephen Harper did when elected was to remove the word 'equality' from the Status for Women)


Gairdner’s depiction of ‘feminists’ as confused, emotional, and even trivial might suggest that they pose so little threat as to not deserve his attention, yet the amount of space he devotes to attempting to discredit feminists and feminist principles suggests otherwise, as do some of the epithets he hurls at them. If he saw them as posing no danger, then surely he would not resort to statements such as, ‘radical feminists are properly labeled intellectual terrorists’ (Gairdner, 1992: 321).

Feminists do, in reality, pose a threat to Gairdner’s program of re-extending patriarchy and reinstating forms of wage discrimination and social discrimination against women, but instead of confronting their position in an academically honest manner, Gairdner relies heavily on attacking the character of ‘feminists’ and trying to discredit them through ridicule, invective, and stereotyping.


Gairdner never advocates physical violence against women, feminist or otherwise, but he does seek to permanently disable the feminist movement and to confine women within the narrow sphere of the idealized traditional family home. Gairdner’s efforts to revoke public funding for women’s groups, to discriminate in the wage and tax system against single adults, especially single women, and to confine women almost entirely to the domestic and voluntary spheres are clearly aimed at permanently reversing the progress of women’s equality.


The end result of Gairdner’s sexism, were he to succeed in convincing Canadians to implement the policies and laws he advocates, would be to institute an uncompromisingly patriarchal social organization. Women would permanently be subjugated to men and rendered powerless as independent social agents. Gairdner recognizes that if he is to succeed in conquering women, he will have to conquer ‘feminists’, since feminists are women who resist his patriarchal order. To do this, he needs to turn feminists into a group that other women fear and despise. (Hence REAL Women of Canada)

Stephen Harper has come full circle. His Northern Foundation created with Gairdner and Anne Hartmann of REAL Women, is gradually removing our equality, by cutting funding and changing the language of women's rights. Through a multitude of extremist right-wing groups, like REAL Women and the Promise Keepers, he is also attempting to change perspective.

Perhaps the best argument for everything that the Northern Foundation stood for is the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud. A single black woman with a job. NF's worst nightmare.


  1. Brilliant research & writing! Thanks!! (Am sharing your link.)

  2. Scary, and lots of new information, all confirming what I've seen and heard elsewhere

  3. Nicely put together.
    My list of Harpers front men gets longer every day. Thanks