BTC: Better halves


Amid the praise for his decisiveness and leadership and decisive leadership, one of the Conservative supporters featured in that ubiquitous pre-campaign television ad remarks of Stephen Harper that “I like the idea that he’s a family man with young children.” 

This was probably not a throw-away line.

Indeed, if you go to the Conservative party’s website, you’ll find a banner photo of the smiling family. And if you move your mouse over the “leader” tab, you’ll find two options—Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper.

If the prominent billing of Mrs. Harper seems a bit odd, it’s probably because it is. If you check the websites of the NDP and Liberal party, the respective wives of Jack Layton and Stephane Dion are given only passing mention in the leaders’ biographies. In the case of Mr. Dion’s family, his wife and daughter can only be spotted in the background of one photo, standing beside Ken Dryden (and you’d have to already know what they look because they’re not identified in a caption). Even the “our families” section of the Liberal website features individuals who appear to be completely unrelated to Mr. Dion.

Of course, a politician’s using his or her family to bolster his or her image is hardly a new concept. And as Stephen Taylor suggested some months back, the Harpers were ready to contrast their “ordinary” family with the fact Mr. Dion’s wife hasn’t taken his last name (scandalous!). But the odiousness of that line aside, Mrs. Harper’s sudden rise to the rank of political “leader” does raise all sorts of entertaining questions.

For instance, is she now fair game for questions from the press? Is it reasonable now to ask for her opinions on government policy? Can she be quizzed about her views on climate change, the war in Afghanistan, democratic reform, taxes, abortion, federalism, minimum-sentencing for criminals and the economy? Can she be asked to account for her husband’s statements and positions? Should she be asked for her own ideas and policy proposals? Or are we still to accept some unwritten agreement that the Prime Minister’s personal life and family is off limits?

This is all rather ridiculous, of course. But perhaps no less ridiculous than the suggestion that Stephen Harper’s ability to procreate says something about his leadership of the country.


BTC: Better halves

  1. One primary reason why Madame Kreiber has not taken Dion as her last name is probably because, in Québec, a woman must legally keep her “maiden” name.

    Of course, Stephen Harper, being so in tune with Québec, would know this, right?

  2. I think the press’ willingness to go along with “unwritten agreement that the Prime Minister’s personal life and family is off limits” is outrageous.

    The media are quite keen to behave like proctologists with big fingers on just about everyone else in the country so why should spouses get a pass. The only people I think should be off limits are children under the age 18/19, everyone else should be fair game for fine tooth comb treatment.

  3. Or is Harper modelling himself and his Party on the strong leadership principles as exemplified by Antony and Cleopatra…..Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette…..Nicolae and Elena Caeusescu……?

  4. That’s esp. odd about Layton considering who is wife actually is.

  5. Did the fact that Cons are perhaps combating Harper’s portrayal as an evil scumbag with a hidden agenda by his opponents and some in the media cross your mind?

    Like, maybe the message isn’t that his “ability to procreate says something about his leadership of the country,” but rather it is, “hey, look, he’s actually a normal guy.”

    Of course not. You’re too busy making lame attempts at being glib.

  6. This “wife of” surname issue is nonsense. Is someone seriously suggesting Conservatives would try to use the fact that Kreiber kept her own name against the Liberals? That stupid tactic would last oh, I don’t know, 2 minutes? Laureen Teskey didn’t want to be called “Harper” until after moving into the PM residence.

  7. Emmett has it bang on. The very fact that the Conservatives are forced to remind Canadians that Stephen Harper is, yes, a father with a normal wife and normal children, is a testament to how absurd Canadian politics is in general, and how awful the demonization of all things “right-wing” and conservative in particular, has been used so effectively by their opponents.

    Look, I really don’t care for Jack Layton or Stephane Dion’s policies. Yet for some reason that doesn’t cause me to asser they’re all fire-breathing demons with no soul and no normal feelings. Not so with those who dislike Stephen Harper, the majority of whom have ascribed almost every dehumanizing adjective under the sun to him

    Twas ever thus with attacks on conservatives. But why is anyone surprised the Tories are turning the tables by leveraging what should be a given into an actual asset? It wouldn’t even be an asset if the Left hadn’t set the bar so low for him in the first place.

  8. I have never heard anyone claim that being a idealogue with extremely poor policy prevented one from having children. Have mainstream sources been publishing this view?

  9. The very fact that conservatives think it matters whether Stephen Harper is a father with a normal wife and normal children is a testament to how absurd the conservative position is.

    I don’t care of the PM of Canada hosts S&M orgies at 24 Sussex and enjoys making love to the Thanksgiving turkey before cooking it.. I wouldn’t go over for dinner, mind you.. but it’s irrelevant to how the person governs, the types of policies they support, and whether they are honest to Canadians about what the government does and is going to do.

    Harper falls down on the last three. That’s what really matters.

  10. T Thwim

    Maybe conservatives are pitching to people who are tired of millionaire lawyers from Quebec being PM. It seems to me english canada will relate more to a middle class guy/family from calgary. I was wondering if they are trying to make Harper more average, like they are doing with Palin.

    However, I would most definitely care if the PM was hosting orgies and shagging turkeys. Would speak to his state of mind.

  11. Well said ALW : and I for one would be very concerned if it was leaked that there S&M orgies @ 24 Sussex : Noboby invited me and after all the work I have done for the party .. this is completely unacceptable what did the PM know and when did he know it? I demand a full pubic inquiry and failing that at least an invite to the Ethics committee. Personally I have stopped shagging turkeys ever since the PETA endorsed the Liberal Party as they got their exemption from the new Shaft shift!

  12. @ Baloneyman

    Talking about such ruling couples, let’s not
    forget Brian and Mila Mulroney.

  13. Excuse me, but didn’t Loreen go by Loreen Tesky until he got elected?

    God, this is 2008 remember.

    What a shocker – Harper is married with kids – wowie – good reason to elect him.

    Uh, I think the last PM that wasn’t married with kids was Mackenzie King. Whoops, sorry Diefenbaker was married with no kids.

  14. So, a leader poses with the wife and kids, and one line in an ad mentions he has a wife and kids, and all of a sudden you want to suggest (a) the wife and kids are “fair game” or (b) the leader should have hidden / disavowed the wife and kids?

    Biz. Arre.

  15. jwl, I really, really don’t think the current Conservative Party has any desire to revive the whole “no more Prime Ministers from Quebec” line. That turned out to be disastrous for the Reform Party back when they didn’t have a shot at winning a single seat there; I can’t imagine how it would go over now that they’re hoping to build a majority there.

    As for the ads – and the banners, and the PM’s preelection talking points (“As a father who buys luncheon meats …”), what interests me most is how incredibly, awesomely, Barry McLoughlintastically focus group findings-aware the entire party, including, but not limited to the leader, seems to be. It’s amazing. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — it’s just fascinating to watch.

  16. Kady

    I don’t think he would take that line out loud, I do realize he is trying to court Quebec, but I think of it as subliminal message. Hey, look at us, we are normal family and not some rich, fancy pants lawyer/clan from Quebec who’s cut off from the average Canadian.

  17. Seriously, jwl, why does it have to end with “from Quebec”? Aren’t there rich, fancy pants lawyers and/or families in Calgary?

    I just — I dunno, it seems like the kind of divisiveness that I thought we were well beyond as a country, especially when that “we” includes the people campaigning to lead it. I have to say that I very much hope you’re wrong about that subliminal message; I would hate to think that any politician would go back to those bad old days of pitting one region of the country against another. (Next on the list of things that we should really try to get over already: pitting one kind of family against another for crass political gain.)

  18. I would hate to think that any politician would go back to those bad old days of pitting one region of the country against another.
    And the response, to that expressed hope of yours, from the BQ was…?

  19. That’s rich, fancy pants ARTS-LOVING lawyers.

  20. It ends with ‘from Quebec’ because that’s where they are from for the past 40 years or so. If Canadian PM’s had been from Sask for the past 40 years, I would have written ‘from Sask’.

    Human beings are tribal and I think it’s only the chattering classes that buy into this kumbaya, can’t we all get along nonsense. Regionalism seems to be Canada’s great dividing point, sort of our equivalent to class/uk and slavery/us.

    I, too, would love to see Canada get past it but it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Too many politicians are willing to play one region against another. And regular people play their part as well: there are plenty of big city folk who look down at people from rural areas and vice versa or Ontarioans getting snooty about hayseeds from Manitoba.

  21. “It ends with ‘from Quebec’ because that’s where they are from for the past 40 years or so. If Canadian PM’s had been from Sask for the past 40 years, I would have written ‘from Sask’.”

    Of course, this “from” definition is problematic and usually pushed by people who have a vested interested in defining someone “from” an area. Plus it’s a throwback to the days where people usually were born, grew up, worked and died in the same 10km radius.

    Is Paul Martin from Windsor or Montreal? Is Stephen Harper from the GTA or Calgary? Heck, where was Diefenbaker from?

    What defines where you’re from? My four grandparents grew up in: Ottawa, Saskatchewan, rural Southern Ontario and the United States. I was born (and now live) in London, ON, but have lived in Kingston, Toronto, New York state and the Netherlands.

    So where, exactly, am I from?

  22. So where, exactly, am I from?

    Nowhere, I believe.

    And as soon as ex-PMPM leaves public office and finagles his way back to Canada Steamship Lines, I figure he’ll be from Liberia.

  23. “Nowhere, I believe.”

    I knew I shouldn’t have given away the answer.

  24. Hey, if nobody else wants the low-hanging fruit, I may as well…

  25. If Harper wants to showcase the family and it works, then blame the voters.

    If it does not work, well then, I don’t see much reason to complain about it.

    I’d have to agree with some of the commenters. If the opposition did not paint the conservatives as fire-breathing baby-eaters, then Harper would not need to focus so much on his image, and would instead be talking about policy, because in reality, he is a policy guy, not a populist.

  26. I agree with SF! Its unfortunate when people paint conservatives as “fire-breathing baby-eaters” or as an “evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet”. Oh. wait a second…

  27. So we’re agreed. Truly evil scumbags don’t have families.

  28. Aaron, who in blazes are you agreeing with here? My best guess is you are responding to Emmett, way up above here, who suggested this advertising tack was an attempt to defend against Harper’s portrayal as an evil scumbag by his opponents.

    Which means you should also look at Emmett’s incredibly apt last line: You’re too busy making lame attempts at being glib.

  29. “lame attempts at being glib” (Emmett & madeyoulook)

    Um, you can’t “attempt” to be glib. You attempt to be funny and come off as glib.

  30. Good call Jack. How about just being lame and glib then?

  31. I wonder… Perhaps glibness describes the speaker and lameness describes other people’s perception of the speaker? But though people might perceive all glib remarks to be lame, not everything perceived to be lame is glib. You could, for instance, have a car-chase scene that was perceived to be lame, but which was not trying to be funny, just trying to be cool.

  32. Perhaps nomination candidates should take paternal tests and have their fertility analyzed just to make sure they are not family-challenged.

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