Scandal and the sad loneliness of political life
Sad — It’s the first word that came to mind for a lot of people I spoke with after the news broke that Conservative MP Tony Clement had gotten himself involved in some sort of sexting extortion scam.
It’s something any prominent politician should know better than to get wrapped up in. Then again, you can probably say that about any personal scandal members of the political class finds themselves in.
On top of this, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer removed Clement from the Conservative caucus Wednesday afternoon due to what has so far been described as concerns voiced by other women about his online behaviour.
It’s almost every week that we hear about a new screw-up of this variety. Clement’s is far from the only one and certainly not the worst.
As the former cabinet minister put it in a statement: “I have shared sexually explicit images and a video of myself to someone who I believed was a consenting female recipient. The recipient was, in fact, an individual or party who targeted me for the purpose of financial extortion.”
The RCMP is now investigating and reports say the extortionist was seeking 50,000 euros.
An added element of concern is that Clement sat on an important national security committee. Was he targeted? We’ll perhaps learn more later.
“This is someone who I supported to be prime minister!” one senior Conservative insider, who backed Clement for the leadership in 2004, told me in exasperation Wednesday morning. The frustration wasn’t rooted in what Clement had done, but in how someone you’re supporting for PM should have the judgment to not do this sort of stuff.
“How lonely are you?” another told me, also a Clement supporter. But he wasn’t so much referring to this situation. It was more a statement about the political scene in general.
The frustration from women was slightly different. Female political operatives and staffers I spoke to see this, and other stories, as part of a broader continuum — one of men who just can’t keep it together and make poor choices.
This story aside, sometimes it’s booze or drugs that comes along. Other times, it’s being a little bit too friendly. In the worst cases, it’s predatory and even criminal behaviour, the sort that fuels political #MeToo stories we’ve heard lately.
There’s a story about how after an election, newly elected MPs were at a meeting in Ottawa and the Speaker asked everyone to raise their hands if they were married, then said half of them would be divorced by the end of their political career. Anecdotally, there appears to be some truth to this.
It’s a strange job. It seems incredibly glamorous, at first: Your picture in the paper all the time; People talking about you and what you’re going to say and how you’re going to vote.
Then when the cameras are gone, question period is over and committees wrap for the day, it’s just you, trudging through Ottawa in fall and winter — the worst times to be trudging through Ottawa — braving wind tunnels en route to your one-bedroom condo or hotel room that you live in for a few nights a week while Parliament’s in session.
A rookie MP once told me he was excited that his hotel would let him keep some of his things with them, and then they’d place his stuff in whatever room he was assigned when he came back to town next week. As if this somehow turned it into a home.
I knew one older parliamentarian who had a pretty strict routine of going back to her condo, having dinner, watching TV and going to bed.
A lot don’t, though. People head out into the night, to one of those catered industry functions or just a bar. A way for people to be alone together.
So much noise and busyness one moment, quiet and empty the next. And then the poor choices get made. firstname.lastname@example.org