Stephen Harper has dropped his prime ministerial gloves and put on his hockey historian’s helmet to wade in on the subject of violence in Canada’s most popular sport.
And he did so from a beach-front hotel in Bali, Indonesia, of all places.
The prime minister, who has a book coming out next month on the early history of professional hockey, prefaced his unsolicited comments Tuesday on his role as an author, not as a politician.
“Since I’m taking off my hat soon on this (hockey historian) business anyway, as you know, I welcome the opportunity to comment on it,” he told bemused reporters at a closing news conference following a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.
Harper — a sharp-elbowed partisan in the political game — said hockey is a rough sport but he’s an admirer of skill over brawn.
“I do think that authorities have historically not taken their responsibility to try and keep the rough, tough part of the game within the rules,” he said, adding he’s particularly concerned about head shots.
“These are very serious issues and they do have to be taken seriously by the NHL and other sports bodies.”
Last week’s opening of the 2013-14 NHL season saw a nasty incident in which Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros pitched to the ice during a battle with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr, falling hard on his chin and knocking himself unconscious.
The Parros incident was one of several that marred the early season and renewed yet again the debate over fighting on ice.
“I’m not trying to be nonchalant about some of these incidents, which I think are of concern to any parent watching this and seeing examples set and worrying about what could happen to their own boys and girls when they step on the ice,” Harper said, speaking in a hotel penthouse room overlooking the Indian Ocean.
“That all said, what we all have to realize is that this debate is as old as the game itself.”
In fact, said historian Harper, “there has never been an era in hockey, including from the very beginning, where violence was not an issue of controversy.”
Matters are actually less rough today, said the prime minister, who called the level of violence in pre-war hockey “quite shocking.”
Harper’s coming book is titled A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey. Author and Globe and Mail columnist Roy MacGregor acted as an editorial consultant on the book, which is to be released Nov. 5, with proceeds going to a military charity.