If I was going to organize a union from scratch, the first people I would sign up are the workers who are forced to stand behind Stephen Harper when he makes an announcement. These presentations have ramped up as of late with the election in full swing and it’s becoming ever more painful to watch the people quietly suffering in the background every day. They need representation.
I don’t have any hard data as to when this trend officially started but the optics take their inspiration from what transpired in the initial chaos of post 9/11 America. George Bush hit the peak of his popularity in late 2001 as the USA closed ranks and stood behind their president, regardless of their opinion of him. His approval rating rose 30% in the aftermath. The images are unforgettable and strong:
On September 11th, President Bush was scheduled to make an announcement at Booker Elementary School in Florida about child literacy when within the hour, everything changed. A few days later, he was stumbling through the rubble of the World Trade Centre making his brief but famous bullhorn speech to the rescue workers. It was the lead story everywhere.
Two years later he landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit as if he’d just arrived from kicking Saddam in the nuts to give his Mission Accomplished speech (which it wasn’t but that’s another story)
This may have been the pinnacle of Bush’s War On Terror announcements, even though in retrospect it was widely seen as a failure on the facts. The Mission Accomplished Show was well suited to the with-us-or-against-us dichotomy of the time. The key difference between post 9/11 imagery and it’s imitators is that those who were gathered together behind Bush were for the most part in the public employ. No one is allowed an independent political opinion in these situations; they become props pure and simple. The US military answers directly to the commander-in-chief, so you can’t exactly call in sick when the POTUS arrives in a jet fighter with the full spin machine in tow. Attendance is mandatory.
Stephen Harper has desperately tried to harness the power of this type of address but he will use whomever is handy, not just the troops. In Canada the Prime Minister isn’t officially in charge of the military, it’s actually the Queen via her representative, the Governor General. This means if Elizabeth Regina gets into the gin one day and decides we need to invade Denmark, we’re on. Stephen likes to play head honcho though, at one point making a plethora of announcements in a green coat that is about as genuine as the uniform on the guy who was posing as an overdecorated elite soldier on Remembrance Day:
This military style attire has no actual meaning except for that which is inferred via the visuals. Captain Harper is whoever you want him to be today. As a young punk I used to wear army surplus clothing all the time but no one ever mistook me for a soldier, or the Prime Minister. The photo above is in post flood Calgary, with disgraced fellow Conservative premier Allison Redford looking for an escape on the left and the guy on the far right of the frame unable to suppress the WTF look on his face. What’s really going on here? Pipeline alignment? Oil spill cover up strategy? Drones being dispatched to buzz Rachael Notley’s house? It’s a farcical little show.
These days the photo ops are popping up fast and furious. Factory workers in Markham, children in a random gymnasium or miners in Hay River, NWT are being forced to dutifully line up behind The Chief In Waiting. What kind of a deal is struck to create this arrangement? Do Joe and Jane Lunchbucket or their kids have a choice in the matter? Hey guys, Mr. Harper wants to play working class hero for a few minutes, can you help him operate the widget machine? Resist and you will be fired. He wouldn’t survive a single shift as a factory worker. To pretend it’s otherwise is a continuous insult to working people everywhere.
Mrs. H sat in on this one as well, channelling a bit of a royal family narrative with the jewelled necklace and lovely dress. Do pass me a glove young man, I hear cutting oil is a carcinogen. Oh and by the way, Warren Buffett has just bought this place so you’ll need to move to Ohio if you wish to stay employed. I hope I can count on your support. Let me be as clear as the crystal on the supper table at 24 Sussex Drive. Families. Tax Cuts. Terrorists are on every corner. Justin Is A Punk Kid. End Transmission. Repeat.
A most spectacular photo op flame out happened just before the election call, when the man in the blue suit headed out to BC to “thank” the firefighters battling the countless wildfires out west. It certainly didn’t have the impact of the Bush Bullhorn speech it was attempting to emulate. Battling wildfires, it should be noted, is a provincial responsibility. Except for the brief period when the army was sent in, the feds have contributed zero dollars to the fight. So The Man Who Actually Did Nothing At All interrupted the work in the middle of a disaster to “survey the damage” and tried to coax exhausted soot covered bona fide heroes to spontaneously sing O Canada. He’s quick to pick up the tools in the factory but hitting the smouldering tree line with a shovel might have gotten a bit too much ash on the suit. The green jacket must have been at the cleaners on this day:
Take note premiers, the PM will stop avoiding you and swing by only if your province is in full disaster mode. Be prepared though, he going to try and take the credit for fixing whatever is ailing you. Best wear your nicest blazer, photographers will be present.
I might not be the right person to organize the Canadian Union of Harper Photo Op Workers but I sure hope someone will give it a go. An immediate wildcat strike should be called. Since parliament currently doesn’t exist, no one can be legislated back to work. Anything to make it stop. Solidarity!