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Harper’s new speechwriter is a gay rights opponent

Former columnist espoused social conservative values

THE GUY BEHIND HARPER'S SPEECHES. Nigel Hannaford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new speechwriter, is the latest in a string of social conservatives appointed to the PMO. Credit: calgaryherald.com

The Prime Minister’s Office has hired a former Calgary Herald columnist who has a history of speaking out against gay rights.

Nigel Hannaford has resigned from the Calgary Herald to be a speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Hannaford, who has been in the newspaper business since 1975, joined the Calgary Herald in 1999 and was appointed in 2000 to the Herald’s editorial board — a position he held until recently.

In his Slings & Arrows column, Hannaford espoused socially conservative values, arguing against gay rights and undermining the legitimacy of human rights commissions.

Referring to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 decision to decriminalize homosexuality, Hannaford wrote in 2005, “Fine, said lots of people. Leave gays alone? Fair enough. But, let ’em be Boy Scout leaders? Have each other’s benefits? Adopt kids? Marry each other? Ridiculous. Anybody seeking political office who suggested it would have been laughed off the hustings. Yet, the Liberals are ready to legalize gay marriage. How did we get to this point?”

Of the 1998 Delwin Vriend Supreme Court ruling, which required that Alberta add sexual orientation to its human rights legislation, Hannaford wrote in 2003, “So much for democracy.”

And when Elsie Wayne, former deputy leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, said in 2003 that gays should “shut up” about marriage and that Canadians shouldn’t have to “tolerate” gay pride parades, Hannaford wrote in her defence, “Wayne gets my vote. … Canadian society has been turned upside down in the past 35 years and things regarded as sin in 1965 have special status in 2003.”

Regarding discrimination and equality, Hannaford has argued in favour of the former and opposes the latter: “It’s time we reclaimed the word ‘discrimination’ for polite conversation, and lose our fear of what it describes. And, let’s also dump our obsession for equality: Between the two, we can no longer have a rational debate about the basics of society.”

Recently, in his May 8, 2009 column, Hannaford lamented that Section 3 of Alberta’s Human Rights Act makes it difficult to prevent Albertans from bringing the same kind of “creepy curriculum” that BC has allowed, “in which gay advocates design class material promoting their persuasion right down to kindergarten.”

In the same article, Hannaford, who is an advocate for free speech, implied that human rights advocates are “whiners” and claimed that human rights tribunals “operate like communist show trials, not courts.”

Hannaford’s appointment raises concern for longtime gay activist and former Edmonton city councillor Michael Phair.

“Much of what Mr Hannaford writes and has indicated in his work as a journalist, I suspect, reflects Prime Minister Harper’s and his party’s position on what they would like for Canadian society to be, and I think it harks back to a 1950s approach,” says Phair, who worries that the Harper government will continue to look for backdoor ways to reduce equality for the queer community, as well as women and other marginalized communities.

Gay NDP MP Bill Siksay says he’s not surprised to learn of Hannaford’s appointment.

“We know that there’s still — within the Conservative Party and within the Conservative caucus — lots of folks who don’t support the full human rights of gay and lesbian Canadians, who are not friends of the queer community, and so in a sense it’s not surprising,” says Siksay. He says the queer community must remain vigilant to ensure the Conservatives never turn back the clock on hard-won victories.

Hannaford’s hire is the latest in a string of appointments that place social conservatives in the upper echelons of the Harper government. In July 2008, one of Canada’s most prominent Christian conservatives, Darrel Reid, was appointed director of policy for the Prime Minister’s Office and later moved to one of the top political posts in the country when he was promoted to deputy chief of staff in February.

Another Christian evangelical, Paul Wilson, replaced Reid as director of policy. Wilson is a former executive director of Trinity Western University’s Laurentian Leadership Centre. Trinity Western is a Christian-focussed university based in the Bible-belt of Langley, BC.