The Cult of Personality Without The Personality

A cult of personality or personality cult arises when a country's leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are often found in dictatorships but can be found in some democracies as well.

A cult of personality is similar to general hero worship except that it is specifically built around political leaders. However, the term may be applied by analogy to refer to adulation of non-political leaders.
I have been in the government and opposition lobbies of the House of Commons a few times, all prior to the Harper government, and while I do recall seeing portraits and photographs of politicians, including the party leaders of the time as well as former Prime Ministers, they were all of a more formal or historical nature and did not dominate the walls. It was certainly nothing like the description provided by Elizabeth May, which strike me as being campaign type photos.
What may have been the most fascinating part of the afternoon was my time in the Government Lobby. Behind the curtains that run along the last row of benches on both sides of the House, are doors to long skinny living room areas. One is called the Opposition Lobby; the other the Government Lobby. In my pre-Green Party leader life, I have spent a lot of time in both. The Government Lobby was a frequent work space when I was Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Minister of Environment back in the mid-1980s. And I frequented both lobbies when I was with Sierra Club of Canada from 1987-2006. It did not strike me until I walked into the Government Lobby to await my turn as Speaker that I had not been in there since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister.

It used to have some paintings on the wall. Past prime ministers, certainly a formal portrait of the Queen. Landscapes. I know there was the occasional photo of current Prime Ministers, but when I walked in this time, I felt chilled to the bone. Every available wall space had a large colour photo of Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper at Alert. Stephen Harper in fire fighter gear. Stephen Harper at his desk. Stephen Harper meeting the Dalai Lama. Even the photo of the Queen showed her in the company of Stephen Harper. None were great photos. None were more than enlarged snapshots in colour. They didn’t feel like art.
This is, of course, “Canada’s New Government” led by the new Conservative Party without a past.

This is the government that decided using Canada’s official colours of red and white on the government websites just had to go because red is also the colour of the Liberal Party. So now we have blue dominated government websites, because blue is the colour of the Conservative Party. If only it was just a symbolic change, but we see so many examples off the new Conservative government’s attempt to politicize the Public Service, as well as independent public agencies.

This is also the government that wants to control how the press does it’s job covering the government and its actions and in particular Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This is a party without a past, or at least with a past that it does not want to remind people of. It certainly does not want people to be reminded of it’s extreme right wing roots in the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance, and at the same time it does not want to be associated with those “progressive” elements in the old Progressive Conservative Party. In fact better not to have people think about party at all, but rather about a strong charismatic leader.

Stephen Harper is no Pierre Trudeau, and neither is he a John Diefenbaker. So what to do when you do not have a strong charismatic leader. How do you build a cult of personality without a personality. Images. But why the government lobby of the House of Commons when only insiders will see the images. The press of, course, also gets to see them but they apparently did not notice until it was drawn to their attention by Elizabeth May. Is support for Stephen Harper so wishy washy within his own party that they need to inundate Conservative Members of Parliament with photos of “The Leader”.

Perhaps it is all innocent and they are simply using caucus members as a “focus group” for the next election’s campaign images.

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