KAHAR'S STATE OF NATURE (column by Andres kahar)
Public Eye Online (Victoria, BC)
(editor and publisher Sean Holman)
June 27, 2004
Exclusive: the real Stephen Harper (sort of)
I fret for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. I'm starting to suspect his campaign is actually run by a sinister cabal of teenaged girls - of an acutely mean-spirited kind, as caricatured in movies like Mean Girls. Let's just say the Cons' campaign has taken on a particularly vindictive and uneven feel. What made me start fretting for Harper? Three recent things...
1. Consider the Cons' suggestion that Liberal leader Paul Martin supports child pornography. Whoa! Talk about a flailing and CHEAP attempt to blacken an opponent's credibility! (Teen equivalent: "Don't trust Tammy with a secret - she's a slut and a two-timing tramp! She did it with Shlomo under the bleachers.")
2. Consider the Cons' plan to scrap federal legislation requiring bilingualism at Air Canada. For a politician whose apparent campaign strategy has been to limit potential for controversy, Harper sort of painted a bull's eye on his arse with that silliness - bilingualism being a sacred cow among Canucks and all. It struck me as impetuous and ill-considered - but, perhaps, understandable. After all, raging hormones can cause irrational behaviour.
3. Consider Harper's weird announcement - and subsequent denial - that he received a secret briefing on the Maher Arar case. (Remember? Harper told a CBC Town Hall audience, in cryptic terms, that his inside information suggests Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested by U.S. authorities and deported to Syria for torture-interrogation following encouragement from Canadian authorities.) What's with that? I mean, was this just macho man-child bragging? ("Ya, spies and Mounties consult with me. But, trust me, you, Joe Q. Public, can't handle the truth.") Or was Harper hinting at something murkier still?
And those three things don't even get into the Cons' ambiguous utterances on matters of abortion and health care.
So, as I fretted on Harper's behalf, I thought to myself: Who is Stephen Harper? I mean, Who is the real Stephen Harper?
Thus, I went on a quest for an exclusive interview with this media-shy titan of Con politics.
But how could I hook such a big fish?
I'll go light on the vain journalistic exposition. Let's just say my colleague Skip (Public Eye's resident fact-checking guru) has a contact inside Con HQ. Codename: "Hedgehog." So, I stuck a blue flag in my flower pot, which signaled to "Hedgehog" that I desired a covert meeting in a public lavatory. (Official media business, of course) "Hedgehog" pointed out a "top secret" phone number scrawled inside one men's room stall under the initials "SH."
I called the number. It was a direct line to the party leader himself. Thus, I scored my exclusive interview with Harper. A recent Jan Wong profile in the Globe and Mail made Harper out to be something of a cold wiener. However, the Harper I met actually radiated a strange sort of charm.
We met in the back of a very private club in downtown Toronto. (Turkish bath-house) The Cons' leader was there early - before I arrived - and extended his hand as I approached. Harper's hand was uncalloused, and felt like a warm ham.
Here's a transcript of what transpired during my interview with "the real Stephen Harper":
SH Allow me to introduce myself...
Andres Kahar No introduction necessary, Mister Ha-
[interrupted by the sound of coughing, scratching and moaning from the next room]
AK Thanks for meeting me. Are you sure we couldn't go to a coffee shop though?
SH No. I've been around for a long, long time. Have some courtesy and taste.
AK Huh? Excuse me?
SH My team's saying I should keep a lower profile. Because I'm in need of some restraint.
AK Oh. That explains you taking Monday off, even though it was the final week of campaigning.
SH I suppose you want to know the nature of my game.
AK Yeah, okay. Let's start with abortion. That issue has caused some turmoil for you.
SH Ya. I was a founding ideology secretary of the Con Party...
AK The Conservatives, you mean? Or was it Alliance? Or, then again, Reform Party?
SH Uh, er, whatever. We call ourselves the Cons of Canada.
AK Oh. So, about abortion...?
SH Ya. Y'know, moral issues have no place on a party platform. And as party leader of the Canadian Cons, I should be careful not to take a decisive position. That's what free votes are for.
AK That sounds like a cop-out. How can voters know what they're voting for if the party doesn't have a clear policy?
SH I'll tell you what the Cons are clear on - firewalls. We all need firewalls.
AK You're talking about federal encroachments on what you say are provincial areas of jurisdiction, right? Here I refer to your "open letter to Ralph Klein" in January of 2001.
SH I don't know about that letter-opener you're referring to. I was actually talking about surfing erotica with a sense of web security. But you make a good point about hostile federal incursions. Look, dude, like any self-respecting Con, I don't give a [expletive] whether Canada degenerates into two, three or fifty-one national governments - that's tertiary.
AK You must know your comment about Canada, um, "degenerating," will upset many Canadians. Some will say a government led by Stephen Ha-
AK -a government led by you will weaken our sovereignty. Some might even say you'd turn us into the fifty-first state of America.
SH I'm tired of this subject. I don't want to discuss this anymore. I just want to say that, ya, Saddam is a war criminal and a Con government would end diplomatic relations with the likes of him. Anything else is moral relativism.
SH One more thing - support the troops. Only provincials with a defeatist welfare mentality wouldn't support the troops.
AK Ah, yes. Referring to your controversial comment about Atlantic Canada's "culture of defeatism," right? Are you suggesting that Atlantic Canada is a weak link in the war on terror?
SH I think Atlantic Canadians are great. And they'd be even greater if they got their federal money without strings attached.
AK Are you thinking of health care?
AK Um, well, if you were prime minister, would there be a Canada Health Act?
SH I'll leave that one to the provinces. So long as they support the troops, they can do what they want. Behind firewalls. I don't think we should be imposing values on people. Except for our common values with America.
AK Speaking of the United States, Canada's participation in Missile Defense - or "Star Wars" - has been a recurrent issue...
SH Ya, sure, whatever. Wanna see some pics of me vacationing in America? I was visiting a rancher friend of mine down in Oklahoma.
[SH reaches into his jacket pocket and produces a pile of photographs and newspaper clippings. Something plastic falls to the ground.]
AK Here, you dropped your driver's licence. Hey, hold on a bloody sec! This isn't your name on the licence! But it is your picture!
SH Sure it's my name. Please allow me to introduce myself...
AK The name here on your licence is "Steven Hooper" - not "Stephen Harper."
SH Ya, okay, you got me there. Touche.
AK So, let's get this straight - you aren't "Stephen Harper."
SH All depends on what the meaning of aren't isn't.
AK But you look exactly like the real Stephen Harper. It's uncanny.
SH But look closely. I'm better-looking. Less jowly. But I've got this [expletive] lazy eye. Mind you, the lazy eye's been a handy sympathy card with the ladies. Eat your heart out Harper!
AK Oh, [expletive]! I'm ending this interview. You've wasted my [expletive] time.
SH No, please don't.
AK I'm sure there's some law against masquerading as the leader of a federal political party.
SH But I am the leader of a party. The Cons of Canada. It's a growing and ecumenical constituency of felons across this great country of ours.
AK I haven't even heard of you guys, so what good is that to me?
SH Look, I need the publicity. And, no offence, buddy - but an exclusive interview wouldn't do your career any harm either.
SH Think of it as symbiosis. Y'know, politicians and journalists scratching each others' backs. How novel, eh?
AK It's tempting. But...
SH You want me to pose and answer questions as the real Stephen Harper, right?
AK Well, you are a dead-ringer. We could have a picture taken of me interviewing you. No one would be the wiser. Can you be the real Stephen Harper?
SH I can be anyone or anything you want me to be, pal.
And with those words, the man I'd been interviewing metamorphosed before my eyes.
Stephen Harper - no, Steven Hooper - melted and transformed into someone else. It was a weird, smoky, blurry effect. And then, two eye-blinks later, he'd turned into someone else. I was staring at a dead-ringer for Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.
RK Next question?
Tangents Next week, Public Eye might consider running an exclusive interview with "the real Ralph Klein."