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Conservative MP Bob Dechert responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday Feb. 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Conservative MP Bob Dechert responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday Feb. 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

The bawdy politic gets caught in the Web - again Add to ...

There should be a vaccine developed for every middle-aged married male politician who gets his head turned by someone young and pretty.

Then, instead of say, tweeting pictures of himself at full mast in his underpants, or even, as in the case of Tory MP and Parliamentary Secretary Bob Dechert, sending “innocent” mash notes to a lovely Chinese journalist who may unfortunately turn out to be a government insider, he simply gives his head a little shake, calls his wife, and then vows cheerfully: “Gotta read that briefing paper tonight!”

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But alas, there’s no immunity yet from crazy stupid love. Politicians are, after all, human beings, and if every member of parliament, in government or out, lost his job because he (or she, for that matter) inappropriately flirted with someone, the House of Commons would be a ghost chamber.

Mr. Dechert’s e-mails to Rong Shi, a Toronto correspondent for Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, surfaced a week ago - apparently after her irate husband hacked into her e-mail account - and they are gooey. He wrote to her after she sent him a photo, “You are so beautiful. I really like the picture of you by the water with your cheeks puffed. That look is so cute. I love it when you do that. Now, I miss you even more.” (In fairness, perhaps mindful of the line he was crossing, he signed this billet doux Bob Dechert, MP. But another one ended with “love, Bob”).

Granted this is not an Anthony Weiner sexting scenario, in which the Democratic congressman from New York was forced to resign after revealing himself to be a sext-addicted egomaniac. Nor is it former New York governor Eliot Spitzer brazenly hiring hookers. (Hey this isn’t New York, it’s Mississauga!)

In contrast, Mr. Dechert seems very sweet, courtly and a little old-fashioned in these e-mails. You almost feel sorry for him because he is so obviously not an alpha predator. It isn’t an air of sexual entitlement he gives off – it’s more a sense of yearning. Moonstruck in Mississauga-Erindale.

Nonetheless, it was wrong and self indulgent of him to send them. What his marriage allows or doesn’t, is of course his business and that of his wife. There are so many of these tales of politicians putting their libidos on “roam” that we’ve got to grow up about consenting adults and their sexual and emotional pursuits. If I were married to Bob Dechert, I’d be furious. But that’s not the point.

If I were his boss, I’d be even madder. As security experts have since pointed out, it is politically dangerous to embark on any kind of intimate relationship with a representative of an official Communist China news agency, where reporters, as Canadian security expert Wesley Wark succinctly put it in one media interview, “might not be journalists in a purely Western sense.” In other words, they could be working for the government as informers or spies. (Last year in fact, the head of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, warned that Chinese spies had infiltrated Canadian politics.)

In light of this, Mr. Dechert sadly seems, well, not too bright. Or as one expert kindly put it to CBC radio, “I think perhaps he should have had a better security briefing.”

It’s puzzling. Could Mr. Dechert really believe in this day and age and despite all scandal-ridden evidence to the contrary, that e-mails like these are private communications that never go public? Or does he think it’s perfectly okay as a government official to publicly swoon like that? Either way, he showed terrible judgment.

There are many strands, both human and political, to this story. Mr. Dechert, 53, has acknowledged sending the e-mails, apologized, but protests that “the friendship remained innocent”. Rong Shi’s husband meanwhile, has apparently sent out an angry e-mail claiming his wife was having “a love affair” with the MP.

So I guess it matters how you define “innocent.” It also matters how you define “love affair.”

There’s been something very wrong with how quickly this matter was dismissed by the government. Yet despite Mr. Dechert’s boss John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, airily waving it away as “ridiculous,” I think you can still expect Mr. Dechert, sooner or later, to resign his post as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and go back to being a simple “mild-mannered” MP.

Unless, in an unlikely scenario, Mr. Dechert is conducting espionage himself, he has embarrassed his government. If the Tories were in opposition on this one, they would be foaming at the mouth, calling for both resignations and investigations.

You could make a lot of money with that vaccine.

Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Mr. Dechert's position. Mr. Dechert is a Parliamentary Secretary, and this version has been corrected.

 

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