Circle the Wagons

SHE LIVES IN CALGARY and he lives in a bubble.

She stands by the story (and she wrote it), an editorial in small-town newspaper in the middle of the middle of nowhere. He remembers it differently, and speaks in parables.

August 2000.

All might have been forgotten and perhaps it should be, after all it was a different time, and a very different Justin Trudeau. He said he was sorry—back then (a day later, mind you). But it’s what he’s saying now, as the Prime Minister of Canada that’s most troubling.

There’s a circumstance in Rose Knight’s story that I personally have experienced. The icky bit bothers me, but I’m also ticked that the national media still hasn’t listened to what this woman is drawing our attention to about our prime minister. This is going to be a longer than usual post—please hang in until the end—there’s a punchline.

ALL THE WORLD IS A STAGE

Question: What is the difference between the performance of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada?

Both Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump like to occupy the spotlight. They are splendid actors and hold the screen—television and social media—continuously feeding the media machine that sustains them.  Last Thursday, for instance, the prime minister was spotted in Toronto jogging without his shirt on. Click-bait.

Donald Trump is the consummate salesman—telling you whatever he thinks will close the deal—that’s how business is done in America. Here in Canada, the prime minister is a vending machine of bon mots, a sales pitch for the holier-than-thou franchise. He’s been formally trained in the dramatic arts, and is familiar with ‘method acting‘. In order to be convincing in a role, an actor has to believe in and live the part that’s been written for them—a kind of friendly schizophrenia.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an example of a superlative method actor. For his role in Gangs of New York (2002):

“He took up lessons as an apprentice butcher and always stayed in character on-set. This included talking in a New York accent and sharpening knives between takes. He refused to wear a warm jacket because according to him, it wasn’t in keeping with the period. As a result he caught pneumonia but rejected modern medicine when it was offered to him to help with his illness.” —IMDb review

Living inside a story can come at a price. Jim Carrey admits he let the role of the dada comedian Andy Kaufmann (and alter-ego Tony Clifton) take over his personality in the biopic Man on the Moon (1999).  “[A]nd it took a while for him to get back to being just Jim,” says Chris Smith, the filmmaker who made a Netflix documentary about Carrey’s astonishing performance, and “the role he’d been training his whole life to play.”

THE GREATEST OUTDOOR SHOW ON EARTH

It’s the Stampede, and Justin Trudeau is in full regalia; as is every other political actor with a pulse, duded out in pointy-toed shit-kickers and a cowboy hat. It’s mostly good fun. A charade, let’s say. And everyone gets back to work in Calgary soon after the dust settles on the annual event.

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Saturday morning, you might have spotted the prime minister flipping pancakes with Kent Hehr.

Kent Hehr is a rare bird, a Calgary Liberal. And he held a cabinet post, until last January, when Justin gave him the toss. Allegations of improper elevator etiquette. Taboo words. Something said eons ago became known to the prime minister. It may have been a different time and a different legislative assembly—the context blown out of proportion even by today’s standard, but because it’s 2018, the boss gave him the boot.

Is this just me? Or do you detect just a whiff of, well… what? Like I said, it’s Stampede week in Calgary and there’s no shortage of critters that leave behind heaping piles of this and that with a distinctive odour.

Speaking of Kent Hehr during the Stampede breakfast: “We’re so lucky to have him and his voice here in Calgary Centre,” the prime minister gushed. “He’s a strong member of the team.”

And what about that woman in Calgary who stands by her story about, you know…

YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS S— UP

I imagine most Canadians are now familiar with the groping story. It occurred during a popular music festival in Creston, BC, where endless rounds of beer might have you think it’s Oktoberfest. The Kootenay region of British Columbia also has an international reputation for its BC Bud, and with everyone in high spirits, the festival-goers got a little rowdy that summer’s day in August 2000.

And Justin Trudeau put his hands where they weren’t welcome.

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CBC news had the story “earlier this year,” and had spoken and exchanged e-mail with Rose Knight, but it seems they opted to spike the story until it broke on a blog-post that went viral (and even then it was months after the original editorial-in-question was reposted in Frank magazine).

There’s a couple of things that really, really bother me about this story:

Kent Hehr, a former colleague of mine in the Alberta Legislature, is a wheel-chair bound C5 quadriplegic, with no feeling or independent movement in his hands and limited muscular control and feeling in his arms. At the time of Hehr’s cabinet ousting in late January, the prime minister insisted that women who come forward with complaints of sexual assault and harassment must be supported and believed.

I agree.

Women must be supported.

And Rose Knight, a cub reporter in her second job in journalism in the year 2000 deserves everyone’s support (if only to be left alone, as she has requested).

The wagons are circling around Justin Trudeau. Even Kent Hehr stands by his man. But that’s not the story I want to draw your attention to—a story that’s been overlooked by the national media now that it smells blood in the water.

Forgive me if I speak of something that might seem out of place.

When I ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and then withdrew from the race, the story—the media narrative at the time—implied that I must have been harassed by misogynists in the party. Hounded out. Never mind that I said, repeatedly, that’s not true. And it isn’t true! I didn’t have the momentum to win. It was politics not misogyny. There was no point in continuing.

But my story didn’t square with the mainstream media’s narrative—a story they had already made their mind up about. And neither does Rose Knight’s.

WADING INTO THE SWAMP

Some people will condemn my decision to wade into this political quagmire on the grounds that I must be muck-raking. That I’m partisan. And I’m willing to take that risk for several reasons:

First: I’ve been working on advancing opportunity for females for decades, in Canada, in Yemen, across the globe. This isn’t a fad. Whatever my politics, I’m genuinely excited that we’re talking about feminism in 2018. But I’m unwilling to give Trudeau a pass just for the sake of advancing women’s rights.

ANOTHER BILL CLINTON MOMENT?

Gloria Steinem and other feminists vigorously defended Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in 1998. In 2017, Steinem admitted she downplayed accusations of Clinton’s womanizing and sexual harassment while he was in office and president of the United States. She had her reasons. I don’t agree with them. Liberal apologists have made it clear our prime minister is not in the same league as Bill Clinton (on this we can agree, but for completely different reasons).

I expect leadership from our PM. And from those within the Liberal camp. When there is a call to circle the wagons, many will chose to sit, safely, on the inside of those wagons. But leadership sometimes requires more than just being an ‘insider’ and reflexively rallying to defend a leader. I’ve talked before about edge-of-the-inside leadership. When you’re part of an organization—including a political party—it can be daunting to challenge the status quo. But sometimes that is what leadership calls for, and that’s what voters really expect of you.

Finally: I’m questioning the role of media in our understanding of the implications of this incident in Creston.  Given the critical role of our country’s leadership in these times (this is the man who will sign off on NAFTA, deal with asylum seekers, build critical infrastructure), we must resolve this shadow on our leader’s reputation and credibility. The integrity of the Office of the Prime Minister is at stake. If mainstream media was aware of this situation months ago (possibly in the same time frame as Hehr’s sexual misconduct review), why are we only now getting the story? Protecting Rose Knight is, of course, a priority but unlike many sexual harassment situations, the facts were already published and in plain view. 

Justin Trudeau’s response (or lack thereof) remains a problem. The gender equality superhero can’t waive a magic wand and absolve himself. Only Canadians can do that. And there’s something he still doesn’t seem to ‘get’. 

THE PUNCHLINE 

Rose Knight had every right to call out Justin Trudeau eighteen years ago. But have we listened closely to what this woman has said in that unsigned editorial? It’s not just the sexual harassment that irked her.

Consider: A young journalist, a woman at a small town paper making her way in the world of work is treated shabbily. “I’m sorry,” Justin Trudeau said. “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”

Feminism 101: Rose wasn’t taken seriously by Trudeau and she was deeply offended by that.

Me too.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, July 8th 2018

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Circle the Wagons

  1. Thank you, Donna…. but I still think you miss an important point. Justin is implying that he felt perfectly ‘all right’ groping this young woman if she was just a ‘nobody’ but he was willing to apologize as she was arepresentative of a national news organization. As far as I can tell the apology has not been accepted.

  2. Good thoughts Donna as usual. I was pleased to see your comments on Kent Herr and the treatment discrepency clearly noted. Herr made some mistakes but was inappropriately punished for them in my view. Also good to have Justin’s condescending apology brought to question. It would be great to hear Justin just admit that he made several mistakes in that event sequence and now realizes and regrets those errors. Maybe that’s the unrealistic ideal world though.
    Justin’s current attitude to women is much better in my view and he has made some good decisions wrt transmountain and Trump etc. Unfortunately we are all far from perfect.
    Happy Stampede
    Fred

    1. Thanks for the feedback Fred. Appreciate your perspectives. I agree with you that none of us are perfect!!! That’s not the aspiration. But when you are the PM of Canada and have made gender equality YOUR mandate, the way you treat women (now and in your past) is relevant. Sexual harassment aside (which doesn’t mean it’s not relevant, but) Trudeau’s attitude to this woman is really dismissive.

  3. Agreed Donna, very dismissive. It is easier to understand a young male doing inappropriate things with his hands than his later comment. It was a while ago and I hope and suspect he may now have a different attitude as he portrays.

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