One of the most damaging impressions Canadians formed of Stephen Harper came back in 2006, when he awkwardly shook his son Ben’s hand as he saw him off to school.
Now we’re watching a very different dynamic between father and son, courtesy of a video that surfaced of Mr. Harper doing an ad-hoc stand-up routine, imitating former prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney and former Reform Leader Preston Manning.
(The stand-up was recorded on May 2, 2011, when Mr. Harper, clearly anticipating victory, rehearsed for the evening celebration. The text he was using came from an earlier event featuring former MP Chuck Strahl.)
Aides have always chafed at the handshake-with-his-son episode. Mr. Harper, they said, made the impulsive gesture because he couldn’t think of what to do, with cameras and reporters watching the scene.
But as anyone who knows Mr. Harper can attest, he’s actually a pretty funny guy, and pretty good with imitations. In a rare appearance at the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, some years back, his send-up of then-Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum had us rolling in the aisles.
The more interesting aspect of the video, however, may be the dynamic between Mr. Harper and his now-teenaged son. Every father, and every son, knows that dynamic: the horsing around, the youthful exasperation at a dim-witted parent. It’s all so familiar.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt made that point Wednesday when asked about the video by reporters.
“You know what my mom said about it from Cape Breton? The part that she liked wasn’t about the impressions, it was Ben, talking to him. She thought it was nice to see the family aspect.”
Though the best line of all came from Treasury Board President Tony Clement, when he was asked whether voters may have a different impression of the Prime Minister than the one conveyed in the video. “Discretion is the better part of valour, especially before a cabinet shuffle,” he replied.
It’s unclear how the video got leaked, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Mr. Harper’s office had something to do with it – a small effort to humanize a politician who is often demonized, an attempt to deflect attention from the controversies roiling Ottawa.
Stephen Harper love kittens! He plays the piano! He’s a hockey nut! He does impersonations! What Senate scandal?
None of this will change how people feel about Nigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy.
But for those who are curious, the video at least suggests that father and son are getting along fine, handshakes notwithstanding.