Monday, 9 June 2008

Out of Their Depth: Politicians, Sex and Winning When You Shouldn't

Putting Maxime Bernier front and center in Ottawa was part of Stephen Harper’s strategy to capitalize on the supposed swing to the right among Quebec voters, Chantal Hébert says in Le Devoir this morning. Not only was the Alliance démocratiqe du Québec (a close cousin of the Reform Party if there ever was one) riding high, the Federal Conservatives were doing well too. It seemed time to solidify that support by giving an attractive Quebecker a star role.

Well, it didn’t work, as Hébert commented in The Toronto Star when Bernier was forced to resign 10 days ago. The ostensible reason was his questionable relationship with that foxy lady Julie Couillard. But the real reason was everything else questionable Bernier had done since his arrival in the Harper government. A man really out of his depth, Hébert says.

Brian Mulroney appointed a number second raters after the 1984 election which the PC won decisively because of an astonishing Quebec vote. When the writs were dropped that year, the party didn’t have a full slate of candidates and put forward a number of people who were “poteaux,” telephone poles, who in ordinary times would have lost their deposit. When many of them got elected, the result was jubilation, and then embarrassment because several who got good posts were simply not equipped to handle them.

That year I was involved in the campaign of a similar candidate for the NDP in Montreal-Outremont who got nearly 19 per cent of the vote in that year of change and who would have been a disaster had she been elected. (The PC got 29 per cent, and the Liberal, 41 per cent.) The experience influence me in two ways. First I became sure the NDP would eventually win in Outremont, which Thomas Mulcair in fact did do nicely last fall. But secondly I began mulling over the accidents which occur in politics and which can have far reaching effects. My novel The Violets of Usambara is in part about that: Thomas Brossard, the hero, runs for the PC in 1979 as a lark and wins, but he, unlike Maxime Bernier, has some substance to him. He also has a strong woman behind him, who guides his career for years even though she remains in the shadows.

A politician’s private life should be private, but the choices one makes about who to present publicly as a partner often say a lot. Bernier and Nicolas Sarkozy seem not to realize that. What stupidity…but then what do you expect from right wingers.

Note from Valentine's Day 2009: There's a new reading guide available for The Violets: Click here to find it.

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