Cringe-worthy moments

It's embarrassing when politicians use celebrities to up their street cred


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Only a few days into the federal election campaign, Stephen Harper came to Winnipeg and promptly began behaving like a barnacle.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2011 (4445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Only a few days into the federal election campaign, Stephen Harper came to Winnipeg and promptly began behaving like a barnacle.

Instead of foraging for votes on his own, Canada’s prime minister headed for the Brooklands home of YouTube sensation Maria Aragon and promptly attached himself to the 10 year old vocalist — and by extension, her budding star power.

If you choose to be generous to Harper, you could dismiss his duet with Baby Gaga as just another cornball move on the campaign trail. All politicians engage in cheesy behaviour and look ridiculous in the process.

David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press YouTube singing sensation Maria Aragon (10) sang Born This Way by Lady GaGa to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper at her Brooklands area home Tuesday afternoon. Prime Minister Harper joined in and played piano and sang Imagine with Aragon as well.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff looked just as foolish two days later when he carried a plate of hotdogs around Kelekis and patronizingly tweeted about the tube steaks afterward.

But there’s something about staged celebrity appearances that makes politicians appear to be even shallower than they already are.

When any politician — ideology and stature is irrelevant — slithers up to a famous athlete, actor or musician, they’re essentially asking the public to vote for a loser with no self esteem.

The message sent to the populace is that the candidate in question is a dud and must therefore bask in shadow of somebody far more desirable in the faint hope some of that celebrity’s hipness will rub off.

Ordinary human beings don’t engage in this sort of barnacle behaviour. When regular people pose for pictures with celebrities, it’s strictly for the thrill of the rare encounter.

When politicians pull this move, it not only possesses a parasitic quality but has the added detriment of overshadowing more substantive issues. Witness how the vast majority of the buzz about Harper’s visit to Winnipeg last week involved his Imagine duet with Aragon, in all of its Awkward Family Photo-esque glory.

It was one of the most cringe-worthy moments in Winnipeg political history, even when you ignore the inherent weirdness of a Conservative leader singing an ode to atheism with a 10-year-old girl who became famous by covering a gay-rights anthem.

I don’t blame Harper for the duet and I don’t feel sorry for Aragon. I blame both of their handlers and I feel sorry for us all.

And it wouldn’t be fair to the prime minister to skewer his photo op without recounting other equally embarrassing moments in this city’s recent political history. For posterity’s sake, here are some of the most face-palm-inducing incidents in Winnipeg over the past decade:


Glen Murray doubles down


SCENE OF THE CRIME: Portage & Main

DATE OF THE OFFENCE: July 6-7, 2002

INCIDENT REPORT: On the first full weekend of July, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray spent $700,000 on a Portage Avenue street party called Get Together Downtown, which featured 45 acts on two stages and a pair of incidences of a behaviour one could charitably describe as “copulation with stellar objects.”

On the Saturday night of the festival, Murray bestowed honourary citizenship upon actress Shirley MacLaine, who won an Oscar for Terms of Endearment. MacLaine became the 77th person to become an honorary Winnipegger since the city was incorporated.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz presents the key to the city to Henry Winkler who was in town at the World of Wheels Auto Show in March 2010. Henry Winkler best known for his TV character "The Fonz" has also published over a dozen children's books and is an advocate for education and literacy.

The following night, on the very same stage, Murray bestowed the same honour upon Shannen Doherty, the actress best known for once being part of the cast of Beverly Hills 90210.

Both MacLaine and Doherty were in Winnipeg to shoot a movie about cosmetician Mary Kay.

“When they tell me I’m going to shoot in Canada, my question is always, ‘Where?’ ” Doherty told the disbelieving audience. “But if it’s Winnipeg, I’m there.”

Rock ’em Sock ’em Gary Doer


SCENE OF THE CRIME: Manitoba legislature

DATE OF THE OFFENCE: Sept. 24, 2009

INCIDENT REPORT: Two years before he delivered his infamous “pinko” address on the floor of Toronto’s city council on behalf of newly elected Mayor Rob Ford, Hockey Night In Canada commentator Don Cherry made the political rounds in Winnipeg.

At city hall, Mayor Sam Katz gave Cherry a double-breasted suit. Then at the Manitoba legislature, Cherry presented former premier Gary Doer with a Canadian Olympic hockey jersey as well as a personally autographed Hockey Night In Canada sweater.

After dressing up the premier, Cherry proceeded to get even more personal.

“The premier, here, when I saw him, I didn’t know whether to kiss him or shake his hand, he’s so good-looking,” said Cherry, eliciting laughs.

Doer left office three weeks later to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States. After Don Cherry hits on you, there’s simply nothing left in office to achieve.

Sam Katz sits on it


SCENE OF THE CRIME: Winnipeg Convention Centre

DATE OF THE OFFENCE: March 28, 2010

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Don Cherry speaks at the Manitoba legislature Sept. 24, 2009, as part of the Premier Gary Doer's proclaimation "honouring Canada's Olympic and Paralympic Athletes Day" in Manitoba. He is joined at the event by Doer (from left), Paralympian Paul Rosen, and founding president of the International Paralympic Committee, Bob Steadward.

INCIDENT REPORT: Just like his predecessor, current Mayor Sam Katz has never been shy about posing for photos with celebrities, although he did do away with honorary citizenship and replaced it with granting keys to the city.

Katz has been particularly eager to hand out the keys to athletes, including Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Blue Bomber receiver Milt Stegall and gold-medal-winning Olympian skeleton racer John Montgomery, whose honour actually required the mayor to charter a plane to Russell.

Overshadowing these honours a year ago, however, was the decision to bestow the keys upon Henry Winkler, the actor best known for portraying Fonzie on Happy Days, the 1970s sitcom.

The dignified deed occurred on a Sunday afternoon at the World of Wheels car show.

“Is there any young man who didn’t go to bed saying a prayer, ‘Please let me wake up as The Fonz?’ ” asked Katz. “We love you Henry. We absolutely love you.”


survival guide


Three little things to keep you sane this week:

1. PASTEIS DE NATA: Depressed about the federal election? Bummed about the flood? What you need is a Portuguese custard tart, the finest comfort food on Earth. $5.50 for six at Lisbon Bakery, 709 Sargent Ave., 775-7612.

2. THE MUMBAI MULE: You have no idea until you try it, but you’ve always wanted a curry-flavoured cocktail. $7 at Peasant Cookery, 100-283 Bannatyne Ave., 989-7700.

3. CUISINART SG-10C: If you’re obsessed with grilled meat, you already make your own spice rubs. Instead of burning out the flimsy motor on a coffee grinder, invest in a dedicated spice and nut grinder such as this nearly indestructible model. $37.49 to $49.99 at various retailers.

— Kives

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