A family mystery

by Aaron Wherry

Last month, Lawrence Martin wrote about Stephen Harper’s grandfather and the possibility that Harris Harper had taken his own life. Harris Harper’s son now steps forward to dispute that version of events in a lengthy response.

On Monday, the police got a credible report that a person matching his description had spent Saturday night (and maybe even Sunday night) at the Saint John Salvation Army Hostel. Three or four weeks later, the police distributed missing-person flyers throughout Canada and the United States – I helped stuff the envelopes – and there were several reports of sightings but none could be verified. Another distribution of missing-person flyers was carried out the next year with the same results.

After a year, there was a petition filed with the courts to have him declared dead, but it was pointed out that at that time, there was more evidence suggesting he was still alive, possibly a victim of amnesia. This, however, was never proved nor disproved.




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A family mystery

  1. Not surprising that a correcton to Mr. Martin's column is required. L Martin is not known to have anything approaching insight into anything to do Mr Harper or the Conservative Party. Now if this were Chretiens family, or something Chretiens or his family was a part of, then I might actually think there was something worth reading.

  2. Am I the only one who's uncomfortable with the notion that such a sensitive and personal matter would be discussed in opinion pieces in the Globe and Maclean's?

    • Nope, you are not the only one…but Lawrence Martin has no shame when it comes to the PM, that's his right…it is his credibilty to burn….

    • I am also uncomfortable with it.

      I'm no fan of Stephen Harper, but this topic is a family matter and doesn't related to SH in a way that is relevant to his position.

      It is an interesting story to some, granted, but one based on speculation…

    • Add me to the list of those who are uncomfortable.

      A tiny tweak in Lawrence Martin's defense, I don't think it's the PM alone who inspires him to do this sort of thing, he has done it before and he isn't ideological about it: he's an equal opportunity offender.

    • No, you are not the only one at all.

  3. No you are not.

  4. Martin's column broke when I was on vacation in NB, and since the quoted Helen Tippett is my father's cousin, well we were all talking about the column — in which Martin attempts to reason why Harper attended Dave Batters's funeral and spoke about depression, drawing a personal link for Harper that apparently wasn't ever there.

    Now his uncle, without mentioning his famous nephew or his deceased brother, has made a mincemeat of that story. And with a carefully written and seemingly open letter too — he doesn't sound like he believes his father committed suicide.

    It does make me raise my eyebrows to Lawrence Martin, whose column I regularly enjoy. Why did you hang the whole thesis on the reminiscences of a 97-year old woman who was never anywhere but on the periphery of the story in the first place — it was her husband Ray who worked with Harper's grandfather, not even her!

    Oh and the G&M won't allow comments on it either. Hmm, wonder why?

  5. I'm quite surprised that Lawrence Martin thought it appropriate to shine the spotlight on a relative of the Prime Minister who passed away before the Prime Minister was even born. It seems like a private, personal matter, not one that should be relevant to Canadians.

  6. I'm quite surprised that Lawrence Martin thought it appropriate to shine the spotlight on a relative of the Prime Minister who passed away before the Prime Minister was even born. It seems like a private, personal matter, not one that should be relevant to Canadians.

    • Well, in the context of that column — which was on the prime minister's eulogy at Dave Batters' funeral — it was — or would be — relevant, since he — Martin, that is — was exploring why Batters' death might have been particularly emotionally moving for Harper.

      • You are being charitable.

      • It made me a bit uncomfortable. If Harper had brought it up, that's one thing. But he didn't. Lawrence Martin seemed to use the PM's eulogy as an opportunity to speculate about possible links to depression in the PM's family history.

        I'm not saying that Lawrence Martin had sinister motives — his piece is certainly neutral in tone, and sympathetic to the impact on the family — but then he writes a paragraph like this:

        In his book Full Circle, Bob Plamondon writes about times in which Mr. Harper has “gone dark,” turning inward and reclusive. Others, including Preston Manning, have written how he was quick to draw away from situations where he was not in control. But it would be dubious dime-store psychology to draw any link between such tendencies and the family tragedy. Who knows what traces such traumas can leave?

        Despite the disclaimer, I felt uncomfortable reading the segueway to the "times in which Mr. Harper has 'gone dark' ".

        • "I'm not saying that Lawrence Martin had sinister motives"

          Oh I am. And your quote from his article is why.

          Thats neither here nor there. Some columnists have insight into some leaders due to fmailiarity, direct contact or better sources. Martin was worthwhile on Chretien and Martin (for different reasons), Simpson was worhtwhile on Mulroney, Wells is good on Harper.

          Correspondingly, Martin is useless on anything not related to Chretien or the Liberal Party, Simpson is unconnected to much to do with harper, unless it is through the bureacracy…Simpson on Governemnt is always a gpood read….. Wells has already admitted to his lack of contacts willing to return phone calls on Iggy….that may change as he uses his wit and charm.

          Martin has no contacts with the Harper people (can you blame them), it is clear MArtin doesnt like him so he resorts to this kind of stuff. Hey, we all have to earn a paycheque.

        • I can definitely understand that discomfort; I don't think, however, that Martin intended it as any sort of an attack on the prime minister. I suspect that he, like many of us, was somewhat surprised by the depth of feeling and candour in the prime minister's speech at the funeral, which had a much more personal tone than we normally hear from him, and was trying to give some background as to why this particular death might have affected him as much as it did, beyond simply the tragedy of losing someone so young.

          • I think you're right on the button. I was surprised as well by the speech, because the PM has never struck me as a particularly sensitive person. So it seems to me that, even if the alleged suicide never happened, many (including the Harper family) until now did believe that it happened. And it's no stretch, then, to imagine that the Harper family has given the issue some thought.

  7. "Of course politicians are not actually insane but my question is not entirely spurious. Privately, over lunch at Westminster, MPs frequently question the sanity of their colleagues. In an age when, as Drew Westen, the American writer, has put it, “the political brain is an emotional brain”, psychology is as powerful a force at Westminster as ideology.

    Mr Brown was famously described as “psychologically flawed” by the Blairites — I remember one of Tony Blair's aides predicting that he would be “carried out of No 10 by the men in white coats”. To the Brownites, Mr Blair was out of control, messianic and mad with power. Only last week a Cabinet minister described Harriet Harman as bonkers. When the Tories lost power in 1997, MPs said the experience was like having a “collective nervous breakdown”.

    This may not just be rhetorical. According to a survey by the all-party parliamentary group on mental health, one in five MPs has had mental health problems. Just before the Commons rose for the recess, the government whips met to discuss their concerns about politicians' psychological wellbeing after the expenses row — some MPs have been suicidal, others paranoid, convinced that everyone is muttering about them whenever they go into a shop." Rachel Sylvester, The Times, Aug 11 '09

    Just finished reading the column and then I see this thread. An odd coincidence because I was wondering if similar things could be written about our pols. Martin's article left me conflicted because I am of two minds on the issue of writing about pols family history.

    • Well .. you lnow if you stop and think about it .. how long would any of us political junkies last in any leaders chair right now – I am an old martial artist and I would be up for assualt within 48 hours. If I put my partisan blinkers to the side = which I hate doing but in this case – who would want the job in canada as it don't pay all that much as I earn more than an MP does and work considerably less hours as well. Then you add all the insulting diatribes that are espoused on by the rabid partisan types (like myself and mix that with the fact that in canada our politics is more akin to a bloodsport ather than a logical exchange ofmetimesand suggestions (like that has ever happened) and mix it all up and quite frankly I don't know how they all do it. Soemtimes I think we should have a time put to the side or a forum where soemthing postive has to be posted – ROFL – nevermind I don't what has overcome me – forget I posted anything!

  8. You know, this has me thinking. We keep talking about Lawrence Martin's motive for the column — but what about Mr Harper's motive for his rebuttal?

    It could be to slap at Lawrence Martin for his tenuous hold on …journalism, but it wasn't an unkind column to PMSH, so he didn't need protecting. He certainly corrects dear old Helen Tippett, dismissing her words as quoted by Martin, as ill-informed and quite far removed from his family in the first place — more of a memory of what the gossip of the time was.

    It seems as though he thinks his father left the family, perhaps under duress or disorientation, or maybe he thinks it is possible that his father abandoned the family?

    Certainly a public declaration that it isn't absolutely clear that his father committed suicide was unnecessary. So was condemning Helen Tippett.

    ?? Any ideas?

    • Dunno — just plain old correction of the record, maybe?

  9. Anyone who has lost a friend to suicide knows the absurdity in questioning why the loss is taken so personally. Trolling for links dating back generations is repulsive.

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