Not any more

The sad tale of Tony Clement

In Canada on August 11, 2010 at 13:33

Tony, Tony, Tony.  What has happened to you?  From your days as a front line warrior in Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution, to a plucky leadership candidate on the provincial and federal Tory scenes, to the never-say-quit politician who sucked up defeat and ran until he won, you had the admiration and loyalty of thousands of small and big-C conservatives across Canada.

But this just isn’t your year.  First, you welcomed the G8 to Parry Sound-Muskoka, treating your constituents to a new gazebo and repaved roads, while the rest of the country howled at this partisan misuse of tax dollars.  Now we learn you attempted a Sheikh-down, trying to convince the head of Statistics Canada to, er, lie, about the value of a voluntary long-form census.  But Mr. Munir Sheikh would have none of it, and quit rather than compromise his integrity. 

Bested by a bureaucrat?  Oh, the shame of it.  Taking the fall for the Prime Minister’s follies is one thing, but being upstaged by the very civil servants this government loves to hate is just pathetic.

Rather than fudge the census issue, you could have borrowed a cup of backbone from your colleague, former Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Michael Chong.  Four years ago, Mr. Chong resigned his cabinet post on principle, when he disagreed with the government’s decision to recognize Quebec as a nation.  Mr. Chong respected his conscience and quit rather than sell something in which he did not believe. 

While Mr. Chong’s personal sacrifice was significant, the impact on the government was negligible: the resolution still passed, and the “controversy” quickly disappeared.  Mr. Chong went on to win two more elections and is now spearheading a package of reforms to try and clean up the three-ring-circus that is Question Period.  He is one of the few MPs with the clout to do that, because he has walked the walk as a man of principle.

I predict the same thing would have happened this time, had you stood up to Mr. Harper and said, “Sorry boss, but I can’t misrepresent the government’s case on the census to Canadians.  Find yourself another Minister.”  The Prime Minister had a shuffle in the works anyway; it would have been easy to step aside.  Sure, there would have been some damage control for the PMO to do, but hey, they got the government into this mess, let them get it out of it.

Of course for you, the personal loss – salary, prestige – would have been serious.   Going from Minister to backbencher is no one’s idea of fun.  But the damage to your career now is greater than the sum of those parts.  It is clear from the memos that your office pressured Mr. Sheikh to fib about the impact of the government’s change on the value of the census.   And you yourself lied when you told an audience at McGill University that “We’ve come up with a way that is statistically valid, that StatsCan feels can work.”

While the census issue will not become the ballot question in a national election, integrity is always an issue for a candidate at the local level.  And at the highest levels, when that person is entrusted with ministerial responsibilities to the Canadian public.  Sorry Tony, but there’s a palpable odor of disappointment rising from this mess – and it’s not one that will easily blow away.

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