Monday, January 3, 2011
A little song, a little dance
Harper’s administration has to be one of the most tightly controlled in Canadian memory. Hardly a move is made in Ottawa without it being cleared through Harper’s political staff and we’ve seen much evidence of late where that goes beyond the pale … political assistants refusing Freedom of Information requests, etc. It’s not so much a case of politicising the public service, but rather ignoring it.
So, when Harper took to the stage of the National Arts Centre to get high with a little help from his friends, you knew his appearance was just as carefully orchestrated as his rare encounters with reporters. Nothing was left to chance. Similarly, the recent front page photos of Harper dancing and singing at a recent Tory caucus event were part of the PMO’s political agenda. Some even suggest Harper’s new glasses are part of the image thing … to make him look a little more paternal. After all, this is the Prime Minister who still has a full time hair stylist on his personal staff to ensure that when he makes a public appearance, he is well-coiffed. You might say there is a certain obsession with image in the Harper camp.
So, it was a surprise to more than a few people when, for the first time since the Tories were elected, Laureen Harper showed up near the end of the Prime Minister’s annual interview on CTV. No question it was stage-managed; the question was why? Some would suggest it’s because of the rumours there is discord in the Prime Ministerial marriage. Both Norman Spector and Andrew Cohen have discussed the rumour in their columns that the Harpers may be living in separate residences. Apparently, it’s widely discussed around the newsrooms in Ottawa but in our peculiar habit of occasional deference to those in power, it hasn’t made it onto the National’s political panel agenda. In some ways, it’s almost like the way the press treated Franklin Roosevelt. The U.S. President's use of a wheelchair was hidden during his lifetime, largely due to a cooperating press.
One has to wonder if the shoe was on the other foot in terms of Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton if the Prime Ministerial publicity machine would be quite as reticent. Harper has a communications guy by the name of Soudas who is not above taking shots and then apologizing for his indiscretion. It reflects Harper’s take-no-prisoners approach when it comes to his battles with the Opposition.
Clearly, all that is going on in whatever context is aimed at softening Harper’s image in preparation for a trip to the ballot box. The best we can hope for is a continued minority government of whatever stripe.