OTTAWA - A rare glimpse into the silly side of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has surfaced online.
In a video shot on election day in 2011, Harper does roughly two minutes of comic impressions of what appears to be John Diefenbaker — his favourite prime minister — as well as Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney and former Reform party boss Preston Manning.
"I do them all," Harper jokes at one point during his routine, as the handful of people in attendance laugh along — including Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, who has worked with all the leaders Harper spoofed.
Harper's a pretty good mimic, LeBreton said Wednesday.
"Not only was it the voice impression but it was the – also the hand movements," she said of the routine, which played out during sound checks for the Conservative party's election night event in 2011.
"It was very, very funny."
LeBreton said the video provides a glimpse of the Harper she's come to know.
"He's very respectful of the office and he is a very private person and I think that's a plus; I think that's what Canadians want," LeBreton said.
"But he does have a very, very funny side to him that obviously was revealed today."
It's likely no coincidence that the video's sudden appearance on YouTube comes in the wake of some pretty stressful weeks in the Prime Minister's Office.
Last week, Brent Rathgeber quit the Conservative caucus, complaining of rigid control emanating from Harper's office.
And though Harper is in Europe this week, that hasn't slowed the pace of questions about how Sen. Mike Duffy, formerly a Tory himself, ended up getting $90,000 from Harper's former chief of staff to repay expense claims.
"The prime minister likes doing imitations; why does he not try imitating an accountable prime minister?" NDP Leader Tom Mulcair quipped Wednesday as he led off question period with more Senate-scandal broadsides.
"We know why the Conservatives find it so difficult. There are no Conservative role models of an accountable prime minister to imitate."
A spokesman for Harper refused to comment Wednesday about the video, which was posted Wednesday under the name Steve Harper. The identity of the poster or the person who shot the footage is unknown.
Diane Craig, who runs Corporate Class Inc., a Toronto-based image consulting firm, figures Conservative strategists were waiting for the right moment to spring the video on Canadians.
"Now that there is so much seriousness going on, like a lot of people are asking a lot of questions, perhaps they said, 'You know, we didn't think we were going to show this but maybe this is the time,'" Craig said.
"This was a card they had in their back pocket if something like that happened. In politics, you never know what tomorrow is going to bring."
Harper's impressions are only part of the show. The playful interactions with his wife and son are just as compelling — and a stark contrast from Harper's first day in office in 2006, when he gave young Ben a firm handshake before school.
It fuelled a persistent image of Harper as a stern authoritarian, despite aides insisting the handshake was Ben's idea — he didn't want to be seen hugging or kissing his dad in front of the cameras.
In the video, it's clear neither Ben nor Harper's wife Laureen are all that impressed with Harper's antics — a sign they're used to that side of him, Craig said.
"So it's almost like saying, 'You know what, you can see here that I'm not stiff, I am fun, I am relaxed and I am friendly, approachable and all of that,'" she said.
"And that I think helps his image and at the same time brings diversion with everything that's going on."
It's not the first time images of Harper's softer side have surfaced.
A year after the 2008 campaign, during which Harper dismissed arts galas as inaccessible to ordinary people, he surprised attendees at a National Arts Centre gala by showing up on stage to play piano with noted performer Yo Yo Ma.
The next year, journalists were invited to the usually off-limits Conservative caucus Christmas party so they could see Harper playing the piano again.
But the last time seemingly candid footage of Harper was posted online, it was yanked down.
During a 2011 barbecue at the home of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Harper lauded the success of Conservative politicians at the federal and provincial level and described Ford as the one to complete the hat trick.
But the video was quickly removed, reportedly at the request of both the party and the Prime Minister's Office.
"In today’s day and age, the operating assumption is that everything is being taped," Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall was quoted as saying at the time.