An empty chair can symbolize a lot of things. John F. Kennedy's empty rocking chair symbolized the loss a nation felt after the president's assassination. But, in Stephen Harper's case, an empty chair at the consortium's leaders debate would symbolize many things -- none of them good.
To begin with, an empty chair is a pregnant emblem for a leader whose most salient characteristic is arrogance. Michael Harris writes:
Canada’s national political conversation has been emptied out by a sitting prime minister who is contemptuous of anything he can’t control. He believes that he can pay his way to re-election through the black magic of marketing and the usual bribing of the electorate with taxpayers’ money. There is nothing left but Harper’s cynicism – and his personal conviction that Canadians don’t want to talk about government anymore.
And that arrogance has led him to conclude that he has no obligation to talk to anyone:
When you think about it, Harper has never really wanted to talk with anyone other than the country’s corporate elites, and then really only a few resource peddlers. He talks at the rest.
He doesn’t answer the Opposition in parliament. Harper has never convened a first minister’s meeting where the premiers as a group could talk with him about the state of the country. Instead he talks down to them, if he talks to them at all.
Harper didn’t want to talk with Chief Theresa Spence about tangible ways to improve the lives of First Nations people some time before there is a human colony on Mars. He doesn’t talk with organized Labour about anything. He has more interaction with cats and chinchillas than journalists.
But, more than anything else, an empty chair at the consortium debate would symbolize Harper's cowardice:
Harper might be able to spin the 2015 election process into a vast electronic cattle-drive. That, after all, is what he has done with governance in Canada. But avoiding the huge audiences of the TV debates being staged by Canada’s major broadcasters can also be viewed as chickening out on the rumble.
At least Patrick Brazeau climbed into the ring with Justin Trudeau. Perhaps Harper has figured out what Brazeau never did – that underestimating your opponent can make you look weak. At the same time, hiding away from the electorate is no place to be for a man who keeps telling everyone he’s a leader. Then again, Harper is no stranger to hiding from things.
When historians write the saga of the last ten years, Stephen Harper may go down as the prime minister who hid in the closet. That's why his chair was empty.