Here comes a softer, Steve-ier Steve

Yes, an election is in the air, for our PM, aided by a series of levers and pulleys, is smiling

There’s no longer any doubt: a federal election is on its way. We know this because Stephen Harper has started Giving Something of Himself.

Last time around, we could tell an election was coming when Harper donned a sweater vest and appeared in TV commercials in which he spoke in gentle tones and—aided by a series of levers and pulleys operated by a team of stout men and a pack horse—smiled.

This time he’s taken it up a notch, giving a magazine interview in which he “opens up” about his hopes, his children and the fact that, “When I play the piano, I become very involved emotionally. I’m no longer the same person.” (Spoiler alert: the person he becomes is named Denise and Denise doesn’t take requests, okay?) Another few weeks of laying the groundwork for a campaign and the Prime Minister will be “reluctantly” sharing some of his poetry from a Hello Kitty diary while braiding Lloyd Robertson’s hair.

The interview with Harper, published in Quebec’s Prestige magazine, is quite revealing. “My main preoccupation is not my personal image,” confesses the man who hired a stylist to comb his hair and pick out his ties, “but rather the country’s higher interests.” I think we all know what this means: Harper is getting his stylist to make over the entire country! You know, play down those unsightly bulges out west, spruce up those Prairies and—ugh!—that Canadian Shield has just got to go. It is so 540 million BCE.

The magazine piece features photographs of Harper skating with his son, playing cards with his daughter and building a temple from the bleached skulls of his enemies. (One of these examples may be made up.) But even as the PM rolls out his softer, Steve-ier side in the press, he remains focused on bringing serious, hard-nosed change to the way Ottawa works.

For instance, Liberal prime ministers used to dole out cushy jobs to their party loyalists, but Steve changed all that. Now he doles out cushy jobs to his party loyalists. Status quo, consider your mind blown.

Harper has named donors and party workers to government boards and authorities. He’s named them to government tribunals and commissions. Recently, he named so many close friends and associates to the Senate that we should all be relieved he didn’t accidentally appoint one of his cats. Although that would have given Conservative campaign mastermind Doug Finley—one of the new Senate appointees—something to stroke menacingly while preparing to kill James Bond. Now he’ll have to make do with Mike Duffy.

To be fair, it’s not as though Harper is appointing only party hacks. He’s also appointing a few non-hacks whose job it is to draw attention away from the hacks. Incoming senator Jacques Demers, former coach of the Montreal Canadiens, was so humbled by the honour of serving his country that he immediately asked if he could keep his day job as a hockey analyst. Life as a Canadian senator: drop by if you can squeeze it in.

Harper’s slew of patronage appointments riled those who, adorably, fail to understand that political pledges, especially those regarding integrity and accountability, are the Velveeta of promises—they vaguely resemble the real thing but then on closer inspection, umm, no.

National Post editors were so distressed by the shots being taken at their boy Steve that they rushed to his defence with an editorial, which had all the intellectual heft of the “Leave Britney alone!” video and twice the girlish whimpering. The Post posited that poor, helpless Harper was simply left with no choice—he had to stuff the Senate with senior Conservative party figures. Don’t you understand: he had to! LEAVE STEPHEN ALONE!!

Anyway, Harper’s principles may have gone bye-bye but his reading of the political climate is as savvy as ever. The Liberals do indeed seem poised to force an election this fall. According to reports, the party will soon roll out a “massive” ad campaign designed to let Canadians “get to know” Michael Ignatieff—to help them put their feet in his shoes, their necks in his ascot.

Apparently, Ignatieff has “an inspirational dream” to turn Canadians into the best-educated people on earth by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation. How he plans to deport Don Cherry by then is unclear.

Which brings us back to that interview with the Prime Minister. What earned the attention of headline writers wasn’t Harper’s piano-playing alter ego but rather his assertion that he is more concerned about God’s judgment of his time on earth than historians’ judgment of his time in office.

Frankly, this seems a sensible viewpoint for a man of faith. But that doesn’t mean Stephen Harper is willing to leave that judgment entirely to fate.

Hey God, any interest in sitting in the Senate? You can keep your day job.

There. Now He owes him.