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.