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Double standard

It used to be that politicians’ kids were off limits.

Specifically, reporters and columnists were careful about reporting where the children of politicians went to school. It used to be beneath contempt to use them as a weapon.

It was, we were told, none of our business.

The 2007 provincial election was all about education. Specifically, it was about faith-based schools. The McGuinty Liberals were on the attack against then PC leader John Tory’s pledge to fix the century old unfairness that is explicit in the Ontario public school system, whereby only one faith – Catholic – has its schools paid for from the public purse.

Tory suggested funding all faith schools.

In one of the most disgusting displays of hypocrisy, McGuinty and his Liberal sheep candidates prissily opined that Tory’s plan would confine students to silos. Never mind that McGuinty’s kids all went to Catholic schools and that his wife taught in a Catholic school, he sanctimoniously declared throughout that campaign that faith schools were bad.

And his finance minister, Greg Sorbara, sent all his kids to private schools – a fact no one in the media wrote about. So much for “silos.”

The only conclusion I could come to was that in the eyes of the Liberals, Catholic and private schools are good silos and Jewish and Muslim schools are bad ones. And that’s revolting. Apparently, I was the only person who came to that conclusion. Tory was roundly punished for his platform and McGuinty and all his wasteful baggage were re-elected.

Now PC leadership contender Caroline Mulroney is under fire for sending her kids to private schools. And since she’s a Tory, that’s OK. Liberals can send their kids anywhere they want and no one will raise that issue – even when it’s central to the campaign.

It used to be beneath contempt to drag a candidate’s kids into the campaign. But Liberals are losing badly in the polls, so no depth will be unplumbed. Their nasty attack dogs are already baying for blood.

Here’s the thing: Parents make decisions that are in the best interests of their children. Mulroney and her husband Andrew Lapham, like hundreds of thousands of other parents, have chosen what they believe is the best for their children. Perhaps what they see in the public system worries them. Looking at the math curriculum, I’d agree. The system is failing thousands of kids.

The Liberals have been in charge of the public school system for the past 15 years. Thousands of parents have voted with their feet and removed their kids because they don’t like what they’re seeing there. Perhaps Mulroney would like to bring the public system up to a better standard so that all parents can put their kids in it with confidence. It’s not her system to defend. That’s up to the Liberals.

Perhaps the question would be better put to Kathleen Wynne: Why are thousands of parents choosing to put their kids in private schools? What are you doing to reverse this trend? Why is the Ontario system no longer one in which parents show confidence? What are you doing to improve the math curriculum that is failing thousands of bright kids?

Her choice is a stinging indictment of the Liberal education system. It seems the politics of envy only apply when it is a Tory voters are envying and not a Liberal. When Liberals put their kids in private schools during an election when separate education is front and centre, everyone snoozes. When it’s a Tory, they go on the attack. I’ve seen it over and over.

Where does Mulroney send her kids to school? It’s none of your business – for any number of reasons.



Brown out

When it comes to allegations of sexual misconduct against Patrick Brown, the jury is out.

Or, more accurately, the jury will never be out, because the likelihood of charges being laid against him is zero to nil. Which makes it impossible for him to clear his name. The allegations are flimsy at best, baffling in nature and have now shifted from the original claims  that forced him to quit.

The precedent this sets is unsettling. Someone – or some people – have inserted themselves into the democratic process, thereby possibly altering the outcome of an election. Many of us are left wondering why, yet marvelling at how easy it was for them to do so.

In the U.S., they talk about Russian meddling. Here we just don’t know what happened.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting Patrick Brown for leader.  I think his decision to run is foolish and demonstrates why he lacks the judgment to be the leader. The provincial party, I sensed, was never really comfortable with him as leader.  He came across as young and brash.  Don’t forget, he was only a backbench MP in Ottawa. Some of these MPPs, such as Vic Fedeli, had years of public service behind them. Fedeli was a mayor in North Bay before running provincially.

I recall when Brown arrived at Queen’s Park he was full of bravado about how provincial MPPs kept losing elections. They didn’t know what they were doing. He’d show ’em.

That never goes over well. It is,  I suspect, part of the reason why his own party was so quick to abandon him when the allegations first came forward. I think back to other leaders and the people around them. Mike Harris and John Tory were two very different  politicians, yet they had people around them who were fiercely loyal to them. In the worst of times,  they would at least have helped them through a brutal news conference before they quit.

The alacrity with which Brown’s people abandoned him, I believe, speaks not so much about their fear of the sexual misconduct allegations but to their frustration with him as a leader.

He doesn’t take direction well, and he needs to. He was very poor in interviews and never seemed to be prepared. He blundered into a lawsuit with Premier Kathleen Wynne, when all he had to say was, “I am sorry, I misspoke.”

Questions had swirled about nominations; his performance during Question Period was lacklustre. Many Tories feared that, once the election writ was dropped, voters would look to him – and not see in him the leadership they expect from a premier.

The allegations of misconduct were mishandled and now Brown is seeking to blow up his own party by inserting himself into the leadership race. He needs to reconsider before he becomes a sad footnote to history.



Rumours .. rumours ..

I’ve head a number of commentators say they weren’t surprised to hear of allegations of sexual misconduct against former PC leader Patrick Brown, because “we’d all heard rumours.”

Well, yes we had all heard those rumours. But they were just that – rumours, rumblings, whispers and scuttlebutt.  Someone’s cousin was at a party with someone else’s ex-girlfriend who said someone else told them something else had happened with a girl who looked pretty young.

Odd, then, that no journalist at Queen’s Park wrote that story.

Here’s what I learned in the more than 35 years or so I spent covering politics. Number One: If you’re going to write a story such as this, you pretty well have to have this nailed down with names, dates, witnesses and evidence. Preferably a witness who was in the bedroom at the time. Preferably with photos.

Second, consider the source – and this is key for any political journalist. Politics is a blood sport. There are some “black ops” political strategists out there who will do anything to bring down an opponent. They know – and I’ve had this happen to me – that all they have to do is plant a damaging story with a journalist and if the journo is not careful how she investigates it, the story will spread like wildfire – and truth be damned. I had people plant damaging stories with me about rivals and opponents, hoping I would start asking questions in a way that would actually spread the story.

Someone once told me that a person  in his own party had dressed as a neo-Nazi in his youth. He provided me with no photos, no witnesses. I interviewed this source at length, and he sounded credible and sincere. The story did not.

I was in an awkward situation: If the story were  true, it was in the public interest for people to know this information. Were it false, I could damage an innocent person’s reputation simply by asking the question in a ham-fisted way.

Before I even made any calls, I discussed the story at length with a very savvy editor, who advised me carefully on how to go about probing the story. In the end, we decided there was no story, and we dropped it.

Which is a long way of saying that you can’t write a story from whispers. If I’d written every rumour I’d heard as fact, I’d have been in serious trouble. When you cover politics, you hear wild rumours every day. The question is do the rumours stand up to scrutiny?

Journalists don’t write rumours. They write fact.

Or, at least, they used to.

Nothing to see here?

The outraged tone of CTV news last night suggested it was somehow unreasonable for former PC leader Patrick Brown to hire a team of investigators, lawyers and crisis managers to discredit the two anonymous women who made sexual misconduct claims against him.

I’m not sue how you discredit anonymous accusers, but I’ll take their word for it. Their allegations led to Brown’s rapid resignation as Opposition leader and threw the Ontario PCs into turmoil heading into the June election.

And CTV thought – what? That he was going to roll over and not fight back? That, his career in tatters, he would allow these allegations to just hang there unchallenged? Newsflash, CTV. If you bring down the leader of a political party on anonymous allegations, chances are that person will do everything in his power to fight those charges, to restore his previously good reputation and to revive his political career.

It seems one young woman is recanting claims she was “underage” and “in high school” at the time she was drunk in a bar. She allegedly went back to his house and went to his bedroom, where he allegedly dropped his pants and asked her to perform oral sex.

She complained Brown was a sober, older man seeking to take advantage of an intoxicated young woman.

Now the ground has shifted. The woman now says she was of drinking age – so at least 19. And it happened about 10 years ago, so Brown was about 29. Well, when I was 20, I was dating a guy who was 29. So that is not a big age gap, nor even a power gap. Brown is a lawyer and was at that time an MP – so quite  a good “catch” in the whole dating scheme of things.

Instead of drunken women complaining about sober men taking advantage of them, perhaps those aforementioned drunks should stay sober, so sober guys don’t have the advantage. Then you drive yourself home, instead of having the sober guy make sure you get home safely.

And words to the wise to all young women from a much older woman: If, when intoxicated, you agree to go back to a man’s house, and if you agree to go to his bedroom, do not be all that surprised if that guy drops his pants. Just be rather relieved when/if that guy takes “no” for an answer and has the courtesy to drive you home.

And, oh yes. If you are going to make allegations of this gravity, please tell us your names.

Chris Stockwell, RIP

Chris Stockwell was a funny guy, a witty heckler who, as a backbencher, could be passionate and eloquent. He was possibly the most effective Speaker of the provincial Legislature I’ve ever covered.

Why? Because if you want the class to behave, you put the naughtiest kid in charge. The  most disruptive kid knows the rules.  He knows how to break them  – and he’s more likely to hold others to account.

Stockwell was legendary in the Speaker role because he held his own party – Mike Harris’s Tories – to account. During the megacity debate, when the government was amalgamating the six municipalities into what is now Toronto, Stockwell forced the Tories to sit through hours and hours of amendments.

In a majority Parliament, no one person can stop legislation from passing. But they can slow it down. They can force the government to consider what they are doing – over and over again. They can focus media scrutiny on the bill. They can raise red flags.

That’s what Stockwell did. He loved this city and its government – serving as a Metro Councillor before running provincially in 1990.

He was outspoken, but not out of control. He was feisty and funny, while always respecting the Parliamentary tradition. He had a true fire in his belly for the democratic process and wielded the often arcane rules of parliamentary procedure as a sword in its defence.

RIP, Chris. Gone too soon at 60.


Passing the trash

One of the most shocking press conferences I’ve attended was 17 years ago, at Queen’s Park, when Justice Sidney Robins released his searing report on sexual abuse in our school system.

It was alarming in how devastating the revelations were and how little reporting or follow-up the stories received. That was back in 2000. Now, almost 18 years later, it seems Robins’ report and its recommendations have been forgotten. Here’s a reminder of the heart-breaking details of that report.

While Robins probed sexual abuse by a number of teachers, he focused mainly on separate school teacher Kenneth DeLuca, who over 24 years taught in five Sault area schools.

Robins noted in his report: “For the most part, when he was transferred to a new school, no inquiries were made of his former school in order to obtain any background on him, even when the new principal admittedly heard about problems DeLuca had had at his former school.”

So kids continued to be victimized by a system that allowed a predator to continue his evil acts.

On one occasion DeLuca announced to his class that they were going to have a quiz. Then he went to the back of the class and told students if they turned around, he’d fail them. He then sat down next to a Grade 7 student at the back of the class, took his penis from his pants, removed the pen from her hand and placed her hand on his penis. Although she was unable to write, DeLuca gave the girl a perfect score on the test.

In other cases, DeLuca kissed, fondled and grabbed young students.

In 1994, DeLuca was charged with 41 offences, involving 21 victims — all but one former students — aged 10-18.

He eventually pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, 14 offences: Six counts of indecent assault, seven counts of sexual assault, and one count of counselling a young person to touch for a sexual purpose.

The Robins report prompted Mike Harris to institute the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) with the aim of providing some kind of central registry and complaints procedure with teeth that would report and track perverts who prey on kids. You’d think that would end such abuse. Clearly from the reports in the Toronto Star, Dec. 4, they haven’t . We have learned nothing. We leave our children vulnerable to these horrific acts by the people they trust the most, after their parents: their teachers.

What’s it going to take?

Minimum wage – maximum job loss

When I arrived at my local Cineplex this afternoon, there was a sign saying the counter with sales staff would only take cash. If you wanted to buy with debit, credit or a gift card you had to go to one of the machines.

Staff at the theatre told us we were lucky. The original plan was to have no staffed cash registers. You either had to buy on-line or at the machine. And that’s the plan for Cineplex in future.

So now with the minimum wage hike, all those youngsters who used to make a few bucks on weekend working for Cineplex are out of luck. It’s cheaper to send customers to the machines.

What a shame.