Out in front

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It’s hard from the available line drawings to make out if either HMS Erebus or HMS Terror, two of the vessels on the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845, actually had figureheads.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen take a closer look at an iceberg in a rigid inflatable boat Sunday August 24, 2014 west of Pond Inlet at sea on Eclipse Sound.

HMS Resolute, one of the vessels sent to look for Terror and Erebus, certainly did. The Resolute’s figurehead? Records show that it was a polar bear.

The figurehead on the current search for the lost Franklin vessels?

Well, that’s even easier to figure out.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper Sails The Northwest Passage With The Franklin Expedition Search Team — Harper Government leads an expanded team of partners to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic Expedition.”

That’s the head note on a news release from the prime minister’s office Monday.

The rest of the news release better describes the mission, and Prime Minister Harper’s distance from it: “As part of the 2014 Search for Franklin Expedition, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent two nights with members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, travelling from Pond Inlet to Arctic Bay in Nunavut. The HMCS Kingston is en route to Victoria Strait, as part of a broader 2014 team searching for the ill-fated 1845-46 Franklin Expedition vessels: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. During the course of his voyage, Prime Minister Harper and members of the Canadian Armed Forces travelled through a storied part of the Northwest Passage, actively asserting Canadian sovereignty in the region. On board the ship, Prime Minister Harper’s activities included the testing of one of the remotely operated underwater vehicles being used in the search for the lost Franklin ships, which is part of an impressive array of advanced tools that includes cutting edge Canadian technology.”

Arctic Bay, by the way, is 794 kilometres from the Victoria Strait in a straight line, or a little more than the distance from St. John’s to Halifax.

By water, it’s far, far further — days away, in fact, from where Harper was on board the Kingston.

In other words, the only way Harper was leading was by claiming to be right out there in front.

It is just one more example of the way Canadian politics has turned into leader-puffery — it’s all about Harper or Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau.

It’s not about policies. Even the attack ads are aimed at individuals — witness the Tories’ non-stop attacks on Trudeau, rather than attacking Liberal party policies.

Hyperbole is not, by any means, the exclusive preserve of the federal Conservatives. More and more, the cult of the leader has found its way into the country’s federal politics, as well as into provincial and even municipal campaigns. Surely good government is about more than one prime minister, one premier or one mayor.

And figureheads? Everyone knows it’s the rest of the ship that does all the work.

Organizations: Canadian Armed Forces, Conservatives

Geographic location: Northwest Passage, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet Nunavut Halifax

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