Gregor Robertson knows how to swear. Who knew?
So much for the Vancouver mayor's Boy Scout image. Turns out he's got the mouth of a sailor.
Mr. Robertson joined a dubious political club when remarks not intended for public consumption were picked up by city hall microphones he thought had been shut off. As these things happen now, the audio was soon posted on the internet, picked up by the media, and, before noon on Monday, the mayor had issued an apology for comments he called "inappropriate and disrespectful."
It invoked memories of microphones picking up a campaigning Gordon Brown calling a constituent he'd just chatted with a "bigoted woman" and former U.S. president George Bush referring to a reporter who'd just walked into a conference hall as "major league asshole." There is, in fact, a long list of politicians who hold membership in this guild of dummies.
Mr. Robertson, however, did not seem like a prime candidate for admittance.
As it happened, the mayor made the faux pas last week at the end of a long day and after a succession of presentations by citizens upset with the process set up to deal with a proposal to increase the amount of rental space in the city's West End.
Rental space, I might add, the city desperately needs. But not all people want it in their neighbourhood. Anyway, it was late, the meeting had just broken up and the mayor was chatting with a couple of councillors from his Vision Vancouver party about the motivations of those who'd just been talking. And he said: " Who are all these fuckin … who are these hacks man? Are they NPA hacks?" NPA being the call letters for the Non-Partisan Association, the civic party that voters dumped from power in Vancouver in spectacular fashion a year ago.
Later in the conversation, the mayor would lament the fact the angry citizens didn't understand that all he was doing was setting up " a little advisory committee, for fuck sakes."
But all three are heard mildly mocking the presenters, which prompted one of them, councillor Heather Deal, to issue an apology of her own on Monday.
Now, to say we expect better from our political leaders is stating the obvious. Some will cut Mr. Robertson some slack, given that the comments were made after a long and exhausting day - it was 10 p.m. There will be those who say it doesn't matter.
But to think comments like these aren't made all the time by politicians is asinine - they just aren't made in public. Few mayors in the country, I'm sure, haven't, at one time or another, privately bad-mouthed somebody who appeared before council. And they probably uttered a profanity or two while doing it. Someone should ask Mississauga's 89-year-old mayor, Hazel McCallion, if her temper has ever got the better of her behind closed doors.
This is known as being human. So for all those inclined to start mounting high horses over Mr. Robertson's foul-mouthed gaffe, I'd say resist the temptation.
The incident does, however, create a couple of practical political problems for the mayor.
He's been having a hard time getting many residents in the West End to buy into his vision for more rental apartments in the area. His comments will embolden the opposition and make his plan that much harder to realize - which is too bad.
Additionally, the sound of Mr. Robertson and a couple of his Vision colleagues belittling a group of people who were simply voicing a dissenting opinion will only help add another layer to the patina of arrogance that the mayor's party has begun to demonstrate.
It's manifested in an impression created by many Vision councillors that they know what's best for the citizens of Vancouver because they are so much smarter than everyone else. It's the eye-rolling impatience, the drum of the fingers on the desk, that you get when they are forced to listen to anyone who disagrees with their granola-munching, bike-riding view of the world.
That, to me, is the biggest problem with the mayor's comments. Not that he swore. Big deal. If you want to hear the f-word go to any elementary school playground. It's become a word almost devoid of meaning. Rather, it's the derision wrapped around the word, a disdain that could become a symbol of the pompousness for which Mr. Robertson's governing party is increasingly becoming known.