Update Aug. 22, 2015: A top story on our site today thanks to Margaret Atwood and hair gate.
Scott Feschuk, 2010: As word now arrives that the travel expenses of Mr. Bubble’s personal psychic stylist have been paid not by the Conservative party but by taxpayers, I invite you to journey back in time to this column of mine from three years ago: May 7, 2007.
Canadian politics has a rich tradition of believers in the outlandish. Mackenzie King sought spiritual guidance from his dead dog. Aline Chrétien wrote a testimonial letter for Montreal medium JoJo Savard. And Peter MacKay actually thought Condoleezza Rice was hot for him.
But none of this prepared Ottawa for revelations that Stephen Harper employs a personal stylist who claims to be endowed with sufficient psychic power to commune with angels, bring back news of the dead and, presumably, straighten God’s tie before his annual State of Heaven address.
According to friends, Michelle Muntean doesn’t just have a steady hand with the eyeliner. She also has the uncanny ability to tell people incredibly insightful things about themselves. For instance, I bet she told the Prime Minister that hauling a primper and her lint roller all the way to France just to mousse his hair and gloss his lips would make him seem like a complete doofus. She’s eerily perceptive that way.
Now sure — you could make the argument that Canada is better off with Stephen Harper having abdicated the onerous task of dressing himself. Left on his own, the man is to sartorial elegance what napalm is to shrubbery. Years ago, he and I met for a business lunch. I showed up in a suit. He showed up in a green flannel shirt and olive corduroys (the worst part: it was a good six blocks to the closest emergency eyewash station).
More recently, Harper went to Mexico in a fishing vest and stood in front of TV cameras in a snug golf shirt that hugged his contours in a manner so loving and intimate that it would have been the hottest thing ever if only he were Charlize Theron. And of course none of us have forgotten, notwithstanding pricey therapy and the repeated blows to the head that I was sure would do the trick, the Village People homage that passed for his Calgary Stampede getup.
So fine: who says a populist can’t hire a professional to lay out his jammies? But Harper has been unwilling to discuss the details of his groomer’s compensation. Reportedly, while travelling in the prime ministerial entourage, Muntean has her expenses reimbursed by the Conservative party — and believe me, the costs really add up when you exist on multiple planes of reality! Gruff, old-school Reformers already irked by Harper’s spendthrift ways may want to avoid opening the next Conservative fundraising letter: “Donate NOW!! Help Buy Stephen Harper a New Aura!”
But Muntean’s salary is covered by taxpayers — and neither Harper nor his minions will reveal how much she’s paid. (Let’s try ourselves: psychics typically earn $3.95/minute while I can rake in as much as $1.35/hour brushing dandruff from the suit jackets of passing businessmen downtown — so I’d wager her compensation falls somewhere in between.)
For their part, New Democrats have submitted a formal request to Parliament in which they ask such queries as: how much does the psychic earn? What is her official title? And will it be splitsville for J. Lo and Marc Anthony? If the government fails to respond within 45 days, procedure dictates that the matter be referred to a joint committee of the House of Commons and Entertainment Tonight.
Whatever the sum, Harper’s silence has prompted commentators to remind Canadians that this very same Stephen Harper pledged to deliver real accountability as Prime Minister. “You want to know that your tax dollars — money you’ve worked for — are being spent properly or wisely,” he said during the campaign. (Though, to be fair, the crowd was pretty noisy and it’s entirely possible that Harper added under his breath. “Or on a clairvoyant who combs my hair for me.”)
That said, political insiders point to an important subtlety in Harper’s promise. The accountability pledge was made before election day, they note. And now it is after election day — and Harper totally won and everything, so clean slate, right? I mean, he also promised never to appoint a senator to cabinet and never to tax income trusts and to never spend wildly at budget time and to create 250,000 new child care spaces and … well, let’s just say it’s fatiguing to think about the amount of effort it would take to do the opposite of all that.
Initially, Harper’s people seemed rather testy about the whole psychic thing. His chief spokesperson, Sandra Buckler, a woman who usually displays the charm and courtesy of a wounded puma, was irritated enough to behave in the manner of a wounded puma getting hounded by telemarketers at dinnertime. “[Muntean] is very helpful,” she sniffed. “She carries the bags. She opens the door.” Yes: the door to alternate realities.
But then the Harperites abruptly changed course. His cabinet ministers and even Harper himself began to make light of it. The Prime Minister said global warming opponents need not have gathered last weekend for a protest — they could instead have sent their opinions along via medium. It was a lame joke poorly told, but revealing. Given the choice, Harper would rather we think he’s a flake than a hypocrite. Increasingly, Canadians are figuring out that he just might be both.