“Tonight we’re here for homeless cats.”
This was Laureen Harper’s notoriously underwhelming response in 2014 to a student activist who interrupted the former PM’s wife midspeech at a charity film festival dedicated to internet cat videos called, what else, “Just for Cats.”
The activist in question wanted to know, understandably, why Harper (who was, at that moment, wearing a hair band adorned with fuzzy cat ears) appeared more concerned with the welfare of stray felines than she did with the arguably far more pressing crisis of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. Harper told the protester matter-of-factly that while the latter was “a great cause,” tonight’s theme was homeless cats. And that was that.
Fast-forward nearly four years and Harper’s passion for pointy-eared carnivores has made headlines again. Only this time, the 54-year-old Calgary resident stuck up for her beloved animals with gusto most Canadians did not know she possessed.
This week, after Steve Ecklund, the Alberta-based host of outdoor TV show The Edge, posted a photo to social media of himself beaming behind a humongous dead cougar, an animal he shot and killed in order to “stir fry” it later, as Harper shot back at the hunter on Twitter.
“What a creep,” she wrote. “Chasing a cougar with dogs until they are exhausted then shooting a scared, cornered and tired animal. Must be compensating for something, small penis probably.”
Wow. Laureen. Is it really you?
Apparently it is. “Wasn’t hacked,” Harper tweeted after many wondered if an impostor had taken over her social-media accounts. “I was really angry that some guy flies all the way to Alberta to kill a magnificent cougar, so he can make a stir fry.” All right. You go, girl.
Whatever your feelings about animal-rights activism or cougar stir fry (a dish, I admit, I had never heard of until this week), it’s pretty hard not to take pleasure in a moment like this, when a previously guarded and seemingly square public figure removes herself from the rigid cocoon of government life to reveal that she is, in fact, a real person with a dirty mind and a sense of humour. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day but when it does – when a former prime minister’s wife makes a joke about an arrogant man’s shortcomings, you have to laugh.
But more to the point, you have to ask: Why is it that in Canada, politicians and their spouses must exit the spotlight of public office before they can assume a voice that isn’t totally stilted? Political accounts on Twitter and Facebook in this country are endless streams of pancake breakfast photo-ops and salutations – in English and French, respectively – to various religious and community groups.
God forbid a leader or their spouse should indicate that they have any semblance of a life outside work that doesn’t involve reading Margaret Atwood in a Muskoka chair and watching the Junos on TV.
To be fair, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s Twitter account reads like it belongs to a real human being. The proudly geeky politician recently shared a photo of a sci-fi poster given to him for Christmas by his co-workers – a “Starship Size Comparison Chart” – alongside a tweet directed to his wife: “Now to frame it and ask Jill: living room or dining room?” (My guess is she said basement.)
Of course, penis jokes ‡ la Laureen Harper’s this week are decidedly unparliamentary, verging on Trump-ian. But it would be nice if Canadian leaders could try for a happy medium in their personal communication style. A voice somewhere between, “Tonight we’re here for homeless cats” and “Must be compensating for something, small penis, probably.”
Personally, if I had to pick between the two, I’d take the latter.
Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.