A feast of Stephens
I know it’s personal, perhaps even petty of me to get caught up in what was clearly a minor moment from a major occasion — Stephen Harper’s first annual round of year-end media interviews as our prime minister.
I mean, Harper was nothing if not newsworthy, generating plenty of pre-Christmas headlines even if nothing he said was actually new — acknowledging the “tremendous challenge” of the environment and claiming to lead the “first government in history” to propose national regulations for air pollution; defending his decision to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada as a way to “feel good about ourselves” while giving the finger to the separatists because now “we’re not going to pay attention to them” (nyah, nyah); reiterating his reiteration that he won’t “cut and run” in Afghanistan (“I tell people,” he told people, “I couldn’t care less if the opposition ultimately brings me down and defeats me in an election over this,” and meaning not a syllable of it); speaking for “all of the civilized world” in declaring that we cannot deal with duly elected Middle East governments “whose principle and only objective is the eradication of the other side;” claiming his personal relationship with George W. Bush had solved the softwood lumber logjam; and, of course, declaring himself ready, willing and eager for an election on any and all of the above.
I’m sure in other circumstances I could find something to disagree with in every one of those statements, but I won’t.
That’s because, somewhere in the middle of Harper’s “wide-ranging” year-end interview with CTV’s Lloyd Robertson and Robert Fife, the TV network replayed a sound-bite from a news conference last summer in which U.S. president George W. Bush referred, more than a few times, to our prime minister as “Steve.”
Which raised — finally — the only important question from 2006: Should it be Stephen or Steve?
Two thousand and six was the Year of the Stephen… er, Steve.
In January, we got a prime minister named Stephen.
In December, the Liberals elected a Stephane as their new leader.
In between, ATV news anchor Steve Murphy wrote a best-selling autobiography of his life Before the Camera.
Stephen Colbert, the American satirist who says he’s “no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas,” became Merriam Webster’s word-maker of the year for the now ubiquitous new word “truthiness.”
And then there was Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns’ point guard, who won his second straight NBA MVP and third Canadian male athlete of the year honour.
And Steve Downie, the feisty good bad-boy star forward for Canada’s world junior hockey team.
And Stephen Lewis, who completed his five-year term as UN special envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa.
And, of course, not to forget Steve Wright, the cross-dressing British truck driver who wore high heels, a PVC skirt and a wig when meeting prostitutes, and was charged last week as the Suffolk Strangler…
OK, let’s forget him.
The point is, which should it be? Steve or Stephen?
I was born a Stephen, briefly endured playground taunts of Step-Hen, and became Steve through little league and minor hockey. In my high school yearbook, I’m both Stephen and Steve, depending on who was writing the entry. My first yellowed newspaper bylines say “By Steve Kimber.” Some people called me Steve, some Stephen. I’m not sure I cared.
It wasn’t until I met my wife 30 years ago that I became Stephen, and woe to anyone who suggested otherwise. I’ve been Stephen — and happy to be — ever since.
Which may be why, listening to Stephen Harper talk about his reaction to being called Steve made me — for the first and likely last time ever — feel some kinship to the man.
“I have to say I was a bit surprised when [Georgie Bush] called me Steve,” Steve… er, Stephen told CTV. “It made my mother quite angry, because she’s made it her whole life to get people to call me Stephen instead of Steve, so I don’t know if she called the White House or not.”
I’m guessing she did, Steve… er, Stephen. And a Happy New Year to all.
Steve Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations, all written under the name Stephen.