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Politics Clement owns up to his actions. But he should have the first time

If you tried to look away from Tony Clement’s sex scandal, it kept coming back.

It wasn’t, as we were told Tuesday, a matter of a single weird but sad incident where a lapse in judgment – sending explicit photos to someone Mr. Clement thought he was flirting with – turned into a situation where he was being blackmailed.

Then there was all this other stuff. Online creeping: aggressively “liking” pictures of young women, in batches, or too quickly; direct-messaging after midnight; responding to a young woman who posted a nude photo.

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Now, it’s the fact that the blackmail happened before. He had already been blackmailed once, in the summer, before sending the explicit pictures that saw him blackmailed again.

So on Thursday Mr. Clement, presumably prompted by requests to comment on an impending news story, issued a long statement to constituents. It was not isolated now. He admitted to “a number of poor decisions,” “acts of infidelity” and two – not one – blackmail attempts he reported to police.

But when you’re on the second edition of your mea culpa, you’ve already lost.

Mr. Clement’s acts of infidelity are his business, or at least not a public-accountability matter. He’s not the first politician, or the first from any field, to have an affair. It’s ludicrous to consider that an affront to public mores, or automatic leverage for blackmail, in 2018. Sending sexually explicit pictures, therefore, is a foolish lapse for a public figure, but you could feel sorry for a blackmail victim.

The reason online creeping is a problem isn’t because Mr. Clement, in the words of then-U.S. presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, “looked on a lot of women with lust” – again his business – but because he made many feel uncomfortable, or harassed.

But that Thursday statement, the one that owns up to his lapses, his opportunity to come clean, only underlined he failed to do so the first time.

Amazingly, Mr. Clement had faced one blackmail attempt in the summer and yet still sent out the sexually explicit images that were used to blackmail him again.

There was no mention of that on Tuesday night, when he took a step back from his role as Conservative justice critic, nor Wednesday, when he was asked to leave the Conservative caucus because of the allegations of inappropriate online behaviour.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Mr. Clement hadn’t mentioned that first blackmail attempt even to him. “I just found out about the incident this summer moments ago,” he said on Thursday.

That’s embarrassing. But it’s not Mr. Scheer’s fault. It’s not his job to conduct surveillance on his MPs, and he doesn’t have a government responsibility for national security. Put on the back foot, the Conservative Leader handled it well. Yet it’s hard to imagine he’ll trust Mr. Clement again.

There probably isn’t going to be major political fallout. Mr. Scheer is right that every party has seen issues of the sort. Mr. Clement was a member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, a new body of MPs with security clearances, which reviews sensitive matters in camera. So there’s a question about whether Mr. Clement’s first blackmail report should have raised flags.

Mostly, this is one of those bizarre cases of an accomplished politician behaving in inexplicably reckless ways. It’s not the “acts of infidelity” that are remarkable but the fact he was making advances, welcome and unwelcome, on public, recordable social media, getting caught in a blackmail trap, then sending out explicit pictures to someone he never met.

Mr. Clement has been in elected office since 1995, with a short hiatus between provincial and federal politics. He spent about 16 years as a provincial or federal minister. He knew better. But so did many other more prominent politicians caught in reckless acts. Maybe it’s thrill-seeking risk-taking, or loneliness, or a feeling they can’t be caught, or something else.

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Mr. Clement’s own statement made it seem inexplicable: The mistakes he had made, he said, “do not reflect who I am.” He could not undo them. All he could do, he wrote, was own up. Yet he didn’t do that the first time.

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