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Sink or swim 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

If a sailor falls overboard, should a journalist standing on deck throw down her notebook and try to save him? Or should she calmly record the dramatic scene as he drowns? The answer’s a no-brainer. The reporter should try to rescue the unfortunate sailor. So why aren’t I dropping my pencil and throwing a safety line to Rodney MacDonald? Because it wouldn’t help, that’s why. Nothing can save our sailor premier. The tidal wave his political career is sweeping away on is of his own making—three parts poor judgment, one part bad luck.

OK, so Rodney didn’t exactly make his own lousy luck. It’s not his fault that the Tories crowned him leader (and premier) before he was ripe. Premiership’s mainly an old fart’s game and Rodney just turned 35 this month. He barely had time to blow out the candles before the newshounds were on him. When did he find out about Ernie Fage’s Excellent Adventure, they inquired. The mustachioed cabinet minister’s Jetta had rear-ended a chariot carrying two Herald sports guys. They say they smelled booze on Ernie’s breath before he sped away, chased by a professional photographer brandishing a cellphone camera. That was on November 24. On January 4, the Fage phone pix were all over CBC television. And that’s when the shit rear-ended the fan.

Newshounds kept asking the old Watergate question. What did Rodney know and when did he know it? Right question. Wrong answers. Rodney claimed ignorance of all the main facts. There had been no attempt by the premier’s office to cover up allegations that a boozed-up cabinet minister had fled the scene of an accident. Rodney’s chief of staff, Bob Chisholm, and his top spinmeister, Sasha Irving, dispatched a junior employee to tell reporters that the premier’s office didn’t hear about the accident for six days and that Fage led them to believe it was only a minor fender-bender. Then it came out that Chisholm and Irving knew about the accident the night it happened and that Chisholm suspected alcohol was involved. Now, here’s where Rodney’s poor judgment crept in.

He should have lambasted Fage for concealing the seriousness of his accident and he should have fired both Chisholm and Irving for misleading him and for lying to the public. Instead he said he was “disappointed” in Fage, who resigned from cabinet, and he actually defended Chisholm—“a good man” who “does a good quality job.” Sheesh! A good quality job of drowning Rodney’s credibility in the bathtub, I’d say.

I suppose Fage-gate wouldn’t have been fatal on its own. But it’s part of a pattern. In June, Rodney reappointed the

accident-prone Ernie to cabinet without fully explaining the conflict of interest that forced Fage to resign as economic development minister about four months earlier. (Fage’s family had leased land to a spud farm that received a $250,000 government loan.) Rodney also appointed Heather Foley Melvin, his former chief of staff, to head the government’s new agency for energy conservation without being able to explain convincingly why she was qualified for the $130,000 job. And for some reason, Rodney decided to throw store doors wide open every goddamn Sunday and legal holiday except Remembrance Day. A more experienced pol would have sought compromise—Sunday openings to please the shop-til-you-drop crowd, but no shopping on legal holidays as a concession to the majority of us who voted against Sunday shopping in the first place.

I know, I know. Politics is a rough game. I’ve covered four provincial legislatures and done a stint on Parliament Hill. My spouse works for an NDP MLA. Most people have no idea how hard politicians work and how hot the glare of publicity can be when something goes wrong. So I can’t help feeling sympathy for a floundering sailor premier whose own worst enemy stares back at him every morning in the mirror. Yes, I’m still holding my pencil, recording the scene.


Wanna toss Rodney a life jacket? Email:

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