As far as political sideshows go, there's been nothing in Canada that can touch the Rob Ford spectacle. He's made the goings-on of our political class elsewhere in the country seem positively banal by comparison.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has been one of those civic leaders often characterized as the anti-Rob Ford, so allergic has he been as mayor to the kind of salacious controversy that has made his Toronto counterpart a worldwide phenomenon. Mostly, Mr. Robertson has cruised through two terms as the city's chief magistrate, happy to take advantage of a mostly flattering public persona and a deflated and disorganized opposition.
Mr. Robertson recently announced that he and his wife, Amy, were splitting up after 30 years of marriage. Normally, these types of pronouncements barely create a ripple of interest, especially in today's world. Of course it's always sad when any long-term union ends, especially when there are children involved. But it happens every day. Few cast judgments any more.
But in breaking the news, Mr. Robertson's political party, Vision Vancouver, also released an e-mail the mayor had earlier received from the vice-president of its main political rival, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA). Written by wealthy Vancouver developer Rob Macdonald, the missive said that he'd been asked to attend a meeting to discuss reports the mayor had been kicked out of his house because of his philandering.
In the same correspondence, Mr. Macdonald asserted that when stories first surfaced that he was considering a leadership run for the NPA, the mayor's chief of staff, Mike Magee, sent emissaries to deliver the message that Vision would destroy the erstwhile candidate's reputation by leaking details of alleged infidelities. And so it was sweet justice, Mr. Macdonald wrote, that Mr. Magee was now going to have to contend with the juicy rumours abounding about his own boss.
In its statement, Vision wanted to make clear that the mayor categorically denied the intimations made in Mr. Macdonald's e-mail as well as similar speculation and gossip that were apparently popping up on social media.
When all this was first made public on the weekend, most people were left to scratch their heads: What the hell was this all about? Admittedly, I'm still not sure what's going on here and what Vision was ultimately trying to achieve in releasing the Macdonald e-mail, consequently ensuring that the words "Robertson" and "philanderer" became easy search terms on Google.
Perhaps, it was designed to make the NPA look despicable in the eyes of voters ahead of November's civic vote – one in which Mr. Robertson and his Vision party are expected to be returned for a third term. Maybe it was intended to prevent the NPA from using the damaging innuendo against the mayor during the election campaign. It did prompt the NPA's presumptive mayoral candidate, former journalist Kirk LaPointe, to issue a statement decrying invasions into the private lives of politicians.
Still, there remains something unseemly about the way this entire matter has unfolded.
When Mr. Robertson and his wife initially split up last month, the mayor's office phoned select reporters to give them the heads-up. It was intended to be just that – a heads-up and not a news story. (Just in case they heard something on the street, they would know what was going on.) I think that was naive. Those reporters were told because the mayor's office knew this would eventually leak out and it would fuel speculation. In which case, why not issue a short statement at the time?
Make it short, sweet and abundantly clear that it's an amiable split and ask for the privacy that should attend private matters like this. And it's over. (Or should be.)
The mayor and his advisers decided to go in another direction and now, unsurprisingly, conjecture is rampant and things are being said on social media that are decidedly at odds with the mayor's insistence that his marriage breakup had nothing to do with inappropriate behaviour on his part.
Of course, if any hard evidence were to surface that irrefutably contradicted the mayor's version of events, then his political career would likely be over. Not because of the indiscretion itself, necessarily, but because he lied about it. But if the reports being posted on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere are false, then I would expect Mr. Robertson to defend his reputation vigorously and at all costs.
There are legal precedents for this now. And if Mr. Robertson wants to know whether it's all worth it, he should call up Brian Burke.