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Why Ms. Harper joined the PM’s Christmas interview

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Note to readers (updated): 

As many of you know by now, The Globe deleted "Why Ms. Harper joined the PM’s Christmas interview" from its website around noon on Friday, after it elicited a flurry of comments--both con and pro--in the six hours it was online.  As is the paper’s right.

Still, "Why Ms. Harper joined the PM’s Christmas interview" continued for most of the day to draw a large number of comments elsewhere on The Globe site--again both pro and con, and all of which I've read. For those who were surprised at the pile-on by the Ottawa press gallery, I'm linking my recent criticism of them for withholding information from Canadians in a matter concerning Brian Mulroney and Doug Finley--as well as specific barbs directed at  Sun Media (here, here and here), Maclean's (here and here) and the Ottawa Citizen. As regular readers know, I could go on and on--as, in the coming days, may some of those who've been on the receiving end of my media criticism over the past few years.

In any case, we’ve now all had the opportunity to view the Prime Minister’s most unusual year-ender on CTV. And to ponder why he and Ms. Harper decided to do their first joint interview since the Conservative government came to power in 2006.

A source who’s well-connected at CTV tells me she did it as a “tribute” to the retiring Lloyd Robertson—one of the two journalists who served up the syrupy questions (though not the one related to their relationship). A Senator who’s involved in Conservative election planning hinted strongly via an e-mail to me that Ms. Harper will be involved in an upcoming ad campaign. For my part, after considering these and a couple of other suggestions forwarded to me privately, I’m still of the opinion that the deleted piece best explains why the Prime Minister and his staff decided to have Ms. Harper join the CTV year-ender in the last segment. Accordingly—and with versions of varying accuracy in circulation--I’m posting it here on my website, as it originally appeared, for your consideration. 

Your comments, as usual, are welcome.

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Why Ms. Harper joined the PM’s Christmas interview

Friday, December 24, 2010

Perusing the Special Holiday Edition of my morning read, I see that Laureen Harper has given her first television interview with the Prime Minister since he took office in 2006. And that we’ll all get to see her full nine minutes under the lights tomorrow night, when Lloyd Robertson and Robert Fife sit down with Mr. Harper for their annual one-hour chat on CTV.

According to The Globe article, Ms. Harper “is not shy at all...she has a wonderful sense of humour and a good political nose – but she has declined offers to sit down with journalists, preferring not to be the story. Rather, she wants the light to shine on the work of her husband and his government. …(Cynics may think that the couple agreed to the interview because an election may not be far away).”  

Perhaps. But, I think that something else is at play here. 

Three weeks ago, a most extraordinary paragraph appeared in a column published in the Ottawa Citizen. It read as follows: 

“In Ottawa, tongues have been wagging for two years about trouble in one political marriage. One of the partners is now said to have left the nest. It hasn't made the newspapers, at least not yet.” 

The column was written by Andrew Cohen—who’s not your ordinary thumb-sucker—and you would expect that it would have elicited a reaction. For one thing, Mr. Cohen is President of The Historica-Dominion Institute, “the largest, independent organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship.” He’s also an Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University—the premier school of its kind in Canada. For another thing, Mr. Cohen has a long and distinguished career as a journalist himself, including stints as a member of the Globe and Mail editorial board, and as foreign editor and foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Post. As to his political preferences, I’d simply observe from having followed his writings over the years that Mr. Cohen once worshipped at the feet of Pierre Trudeau. And that the same cannot be said of his views of Stephen Harper. 

In any case, Mr. Cohen’s “tongue-wagging” column was subsequently picked up by only one other PostMedia paper, the Windsor Star—a thinner take-up than usual for his offerings. And then there was silence—at least on the record. 

Perhaps the silence was due to the limited circulation of the two papers that carried the column. Or maybe it was because the reference to the troubled marriage came at the end of the column, and many readers would likely have missed it. Or, and this is my guess, the same factors that kept the rumour of a troubled marriage out of the papers for the past two years continued to be at play. 

Having been in the business myself, my guess is that there was one group of readers who would not have missed the reference to the troubled political marriage: staff at the PMO—up to and including the Chief of Staff--and the Prime Minister himself. In particular, none of these readers would have missed the kicker in the paragraph: that it was only a matter of time until someone reported the rumour--with names attached. 

These days, being as far away from Ottawa as one can get, it was only a few months ago that I caught wind of rumours that the first couple (to borrow an Americanism) were living separately (Mr. Harper at 24 Sussex, Ms. Harper at the Chateau Laurier). And, truth be told, I learned this startling news, dear reader, in the comment boards on this website. Intrigued, I checked out the rumour with two journalists in Ottawa. From both, I got the sense that it was likely true. And that it was not being reported because it was deemed to be a personal matter.  

I found this reasoning to be a bit strange—if the PM’s marriage was in trouble, that was something that could affect his performance and lead to bizarre decisions. (Have you heard about the census being abolished?) And given the power of the office, the troubled marriage could impact all Canadians. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged this, according to the Globe report, in one of his answers in the Christmas interview: 

Asked about the stresses and strains of the job on their relationship, the Prime Minister jumped in to answer: 

“Well, you know, we have a strong relationship,” said Mr. Harper. “I think, to be frank about it, I mean the demands are all on Laureen. Laureen is a very giving person. Laureen allows me to concentrate as fully as I do on the job and then on other things. She doesn’t put a lot of demands on me.” 

The Prime Minister said his wife’s support is one of the reasons he has been “successful in this business.” 

Having worked in the PMO myself, my guess is that Mr. Harper and his advisers have been struggling for some time over the best way to put paid to the rumours of marital discord. In the wake of Mr. Cohen’s column, wait-and-hold-your-breath was no longer an attractive option.  

To deny the rumours formally would be counter-productive, as it would make out of them a huge news story that the media would have no choice but to report. The option decided upon--an interview with two friendly broadcasters—was the best course of action in the circumstances--and Christmas night you’ll get to see the results for yourself. A warning to all you Stephen Harper non-fans out there, however: Unless you have a PVR, you’ll have to stick with the interview to the end to see Ms. Harper scotch the rumours as untrue—albeit indirectly.

 

 

   

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