Political PR: fix or repair daily

You can’t help but begin any accounting of political scandal these days with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. How could you not begin with the crack-smoking, drunk-driving, criminal-friending, foul-speaking, gut-spilling, help-needing, deepin- denial, why-should-I-resign, I-will-be-primeminister mayor of Canada’s largest city?

Depressingly, Mayor Ford is only a physically and psychically super-sized representation of an all too common and troubling phenomenon in public life: the politician as public embarrassment.

Time to begin our abridged (there’s only so much space in one column) roll of shame tour.

First, let us consider Peter Kelly. Halifax’s longest serving if not most deserving mayor should have been looking for work two years ago after his secret, city-charter violating sweetheart deal with concert promoters cost taxpayers $400,000. In the end, however, it was the scandal behind door number two (his years-long private mishandling of a friend’s estate), that finally led to his political downfall last year.

And then there’s Brampton, Ontario chief magistrate, Susan Fennell. In November, the press reported Fennell had racked up $186,000 in taxpayer-reimbursable expenses, including two grand for personalized barbecue aprons (“Sue Chef”?) and another $1,500 to attend a concert. I hope it was a good one.

And let’s not forget those Quebec mayors forced to resign in the last two years under billowing black corruption clouds following revelations at the Charbonneau Commission. First, there was Laval’s Gilles Vaillancourt, who resigned while proclaiming his innocence. Ditto for Montreal’s Gérald Tremblay and Tremblay’s successor, Michael Applebaum. In November 2012, Montreal city council appointed Applebaum interim mayor to clean up Tremblay’s mess but then he had to resign himself seven months later after he was indicted on 14 charges of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and corruption.

And so it goes. Shall we move on to provincial politics and consider criminal matters closer at hand?

How about the Great Newfoundland House of Assembly Spending Scandal of 2006? By the time it was over, millions of dollars had disappeared, then-Conservative Premier Danny Williams had fired his natural resources minister, Ed Byrne, live on TV. Byrne, two former Liberal cabinet ministers, Jim Walsh and Wally Andersen, an NDP MHA, Randy Collins, a senior civil servant, Bill Murray, and a St. John’s trinket peddler named John Hand were all convicted of various fraud, breach of trust, corruption and assorted bad behavior, and served prison time.

Not to be outdone, Nova Scotia’s auditor, Jacques Lapointe, turned over the rock of his province’s MLA expenses in 2010 and found it crawling with big screen TV buyers… I need my cappuccino maker… why shouldn’t I have a publicly funded portable electric generator… I want that camera, the one with the fancy gizmo… entitled-to-their-entitlements politicians starring in their own political edition of Dialing for Dollars. Four MLAs, an equal opportunity collection of Liberal Dave Wilson, Tory Richard Hurlburt, New Democrat Trevor Zinck and Liberal-turned- Independent-married-to-an- NDP-MLA Russell MacKinnon, did the perp walk for that one.

Those provincial politicians were… well, provincial when it came to living frugally on $16 glasses of Bev Oda orange juice … er, the public toonie. Can you say Senator Mike Duffy, Senator Pamela Wallin, Senator Patrick Brazeau, Senator Mac Harb?

Can you say, as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney once infamously did, “there’s no whore like an old whore”? (Yes, that Mulroney, the one who took those cash-stuffed envelopes from convicted corrupter Karl Heinz Schreiber, but I regress. The statute of limitations on that one has passed.)

Not one to let the good deed of a $90,000 personal cheque given to silence him, Senator Duffy has now managed to spread the stain of public embarrassment (and perhaps potential criminal liability) to his benefactor, Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s nowformer- thanks-to-Duffy chief of staff, as well as to his own Senate Tory colleagues Marjory LeBreton, David Tkachuk, Irving Gerstein and Carolyn Stewart Olsen. Duffy may even ultimately be seen as the man who brought down the Senate, if not Stephen Harper’s government.

No mean feat for a newsboy from Prince Edward Island who grew up to be the senator from, well… nowhere.

Wait! I’ve barely begun. There are all those others — Pierre Poutine, Anthony Weiner, Elliott Spitzer — as the shame roll rolls on.

But the column ends. •

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