Healing Gaia

Upending the Language of Abuse and Belittlement in Ottawa

On October 19, vote for a Canada that respects and values all of its citizens regardless of gender.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published September 10, 2015

I watched the entire first televised leaders' debate of the current Federal election. The victors were Elizabeth May and Tom Mulcair, followed by Justin Trudeau. Stephen Harper sat on the sidelines hoping Mulcair and Trudeau would duke it out and that May would suffer a series of memory lapses so he wouldn't be held accountable for the misinformation he was dishing out.

May, Mulcair and Trudeau all came out on top for another very different reason: the level of respect they showed each other and the prime minister.

May consistently referred to Harper as Prime Minister. Mulcair and Trudeau called the PM Mr. Harper, a very acceptable term. Harper called his rivals "guys." In fact, Harper has continued to use this dismissive, derogatory, condescending phrase in interviews and speaking engagements throughout the campaign.

Those with power, and those whose power is about to be usurped, have to make their foes seem less than equal to themselves. Attack ads are one method Harper loves. He also employs language selected carefully to undermine the authority and abilities of those challenging him and his competency.

For those of us working in the field of violence against women, this tactic is a favourite used by abusive men. Harper has mastered this manoeuvre. What he doesn't realize is that each time he refers to Elizabeth May as a "guy", he is alienating a large segment of the population - women and their male allies.

Harper's Years in Power

But, let's move beyond language to look at how Harper's years in power reinforced and reflected white male privilege and the accompanying sense of entitlement.

With his election in 2006, Harper began making drastic cuts to social services and non-profit organizations in a year when there was $13 billion surplus. The destruction meted out to Canadian women and their families by the PM's office is well documented.

Up For Debate

It's well documented that when women are treated equally, everyone benefits and life is better for all. So it's very telling that Harper was the only leader to refuse to participate in a national debate dedicated to the issues concerning Canadian women.

Up for Debate, an alliance of 175 member organizations representing approximately 4.5 million Canadians, has embarked on creating an alternative to their national debate on women's issues.

One-on-one interviews with party leaders from the NDP, Green Party and Liberals are currently being taped. The Conservatives continue to say they have "no comment" on their participation in this important project.

Questions posed to the participating parties will focus exclusively on women's issues. The interviews will be released on September 21 from 7:00 to 8:30 PM at a live event to be held at Toronto's Isabel Bader Theatre. The event will be livestreamed and is open to all media.

Let's work together and reclaim the Canada that stood for equality, social justice, transparency and good manners. On October 19, vote for a Canada that values all of its citizens regardless of gender.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.


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