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Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

What could be duller than our PM? Plenty, actually Add to ...

So what is it that makes a man boring? Might it be that his favourite sport is badminton? Does he spend his spare time researching a book on the history of Ontario? Is it his fervent wish that baseball games go 12 innings instead of nine? Does he dress in what used to be known as the full Winnipeg - box suit, checked shirt, orange tie, white belt?

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The question arises because our allegedly dull Prime Minister is about to host the G20. It's Stephen Harper's biggest image test yet, and some seem to think that with him in the chair, the ennui will be unbearable for the other 19.

Our Prime Minister has been unfairly burdened with the image of being the Calvin Coolidge of Canada. We all know the Coolidge stories - the 30th U.S. president was so dull that upon hearing of his death, writer Dorothy Parker asked, "How could they tell?" While alive, he was renowned for his groundbreaking economic analyses. "When people are out of work," he once declared, "unemployment results."

While there may be the odd similarity, Mr. Harper is no Coolidge. Can we imagine Coolidge hanging out with some of the big bands of his era, jamming in the back rooms of the White House with, say, Hoagy Carmichael? Mr. Harper has recently had Bryan Adams and Nickelback over to 24 Sussex - and it wasn't for talks on a new equalization formula. Rather, for live sessions (with Adams at least) with the Prime Minister at the keyboard. He's got a music room set up for visiting virtuosos. Son Ben joins in with some wicked guitar playing.

This is the same father who was once pilloried in the media for a scene outside of his son's school. He shook Ben's hand while dropping him off, which was said to typify the Harperian rigidity.

The rigidity is overstated. Behind the scenes, the Prime Minister is not, as it often appears in public, in need of a blood transfusion. He has a piercing sense of humour that on a good day, aides attest, could give Jon Stewart a run for his money. Another unknown talent is his capacity as an impersonator. Mr. Harper cracks up his cabinet on occasion with splendid imitations of those across the floor facing him in Question Period.

Our PM isn't researching a book on Ontario's lineage but on the history of hockey. He can outdo anyone in Ottawa in a hockey knowledge contest. As for the wardrobe, he used to wear box suits, but his image consultant found him a tailor.

All is not to say that Mr. Harper should be sending off his entry form for a charisma contest. The deficiencies, he would readily acknowledge, are appreciable. Like Coolidge, he has a permanently plain look about him. His standard countenance is that of a fellow watching a tree grow. It does not endear him to the masses.

When Mr. Harper enters a room, the temperature invariably drops. Although he is probably not unhealthy, you get the impression that doughnuts are his primary source of nutrition. As a wordsmith, no one every accused him of being Kennedy-esque. His speeches reverberate with the timbre of a dripping faucet.

But given his talents and interests, Mr. Harper has been done a disservice by those who suggest he moonlights as a mortician. He comes from (next closest thing) a family of accountants, actually. Once asked why he didn't follow in their footsteps, he quipped that he lacked the magnetism for that profession.

Aides say his image problem has stemmed from shyness. No one knew much beyond the blandness until the past year or two, when advisers finally convinced him that coming across as the driver of a hearse was not helping him in the polls. They got him to don a blue sweater - major breakthrough! - in the 2008 election campaign. Then there was the shocker of seeing him doing a Beatles number at an Ottawa gala. Now he's seen heading off to Nickelback concerts, sitting with his teenaged son among 18,000 tattooed fans as Chad Kroeger turns the air blue.

So much for the deadbeat image. That's not dull - it's the opposite. After the G20, bring on Saturday Night Live. Rockin' Stevie Harper in the host slot.

 

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