By George A. Brown, editor
It’s not likely his ovation-worthy performance at the National Arts Centre Gala will be the defining moment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political career but it will certainly serve to soften his image with Canadians better than any cupboard of election-time Cosby sweater rejects ever could.
Sgt. Harper’s rendition of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” probably warmed up his personality in the eyes of Canadians more than it did raise his popularity among the undecided.
The prime minister’s performance has gone viral. (For those of you over 65, that’s a good thing. At least in this case.) Go here to see it for yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOt2Qp0H9G8
The celebrated Mr. H performed his feat at the National Arts Centre during a black tie gala and much ado has been made by some politicians and pundits about what an about-face this seems to be considering the comments he made almost exactly a year ago in the 2008 annual election campaign.
“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up — I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people,” Harper said in Saskatoon, where he was campaigning for the Oct. 14, 2008 election.
We tend not to know much about the personal interests of our politicians until long after they’ve faded from our memories. And that’s maybe not a bad thing. I’m hard-pressed to recall many publicized hobbies or talents of our recent prime ministers. Thankfully, Canadians are a humourous species and we enjoy seeing our leaders letting down their hair and being poked at in fun on comedy shows such as Royal Canadian Air Farce, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and whatever they’re calling Rick Mercer’s show this season.
Paul Martin took Mercer on a private tour of 24 Sussex Drive and the next tenant, Stephen Harper, hosted Mercer on a sleepover, reading him a nighty-night story. A favourite prime ministerial foil was Jean Chretien, who raced Mercer up a set of stairs after heart surgery and famously dined with Mercer at Harvey’s. An equal opportunity clown, Mercer went skinny dipping with NDP leader Jack Layton and made snow angels on Parliament Hill with the party’s former leader Ed Broadbent.
Other than dancing a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth II, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s only demonstrated talent was that of legendary swordsman. He wasn’t an amateur singer or actor, his skill was bedding professional singers and actresses: Barbara Streisand, Liona Boyd, Kim Cattrall and Margot Kidder to name a few.
John Turner’s talent was dancing, although you would never know it from how poorly he danced around the issue of Trudeau’s patronage appointments with Brian Mulroney in a televised debate. Several years before being elected to Parliament, Turner raised eyebrows with the time he spent dancing with Princess Margaret in 1959 at a party to celebrate the opening of Government House. The Queen’s sister would have to renounce her right to the Crown if she and Turner, a Catholic, were to marry. Were they really thisclose? We may never know.
Canadians did not elect Kim Campbell prime minister, in fact they flatly rejected the PC government she inherited from Mulroney. Her talent was not as an artist but as the subject of a once famous, now all-but-forgotten portrait. Campbell’s controversial bare-shouldered portrait as justice minister placed her on the national radar in 1990 and no doubt helped fast-track her ascension through the ranks of Mulroney’s cabinet. It’s hard to believe today, but her tasteful photo was compared to Madonna and her pictorial Sex book.
Canada might have been better off seeing more of Kim Campbell as a politician and a lot less of Madonna as an entertainer.
The worst example of a prime minister in the spotlight has to be the hammy performance of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and American President Ronald Reagan at 1985’s so-called Shamrock Summit. The pair of cute hoors sang a dog-howling rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Canadians with an ounce of patriotism cringed at the sight of Mulroney kowtowing to his yankee pappy.
If we survived that demeaning, embarrassing, low point in U.S.-Canadian politics, we can certainly survive this prime minister doing a favour for his wife and letting down his Beatle mop-top.
Maybe, just maybe, in return for our appreciation of his performance, Harper will now express a little more appreciation of the arts.