A Little Kindness Please …
I have had more than a few people ask me over the past few days if I intended to write about Tony Clement this week. The answer to many of them was no. It was too painful, too personal and too controversial. But I have reconsidered. After all, at least in Parry Sound-Muskoka, it is the elephant in the room. It is hard to talk about anything else and yet for me, it is hard to talk about it at all.
Let me start by telling you what I know about Tony Clement. I consider him a friend, but not a close friend in the sense that we do not see each other socially. I believe we have been to dinner with Tony and his wife once and there was a time we attended an Open House at his home in Port Sydney. Lynne and I have known each other since we were both much younger. I have also known her parents for most of my life and they are all salt-of-the-earth people.
I first knew Tony Clement through politics. His step-father was a popular Minister in the Davis Government and long before Tony was a member of the Ontario legislature, he was active in the Conservative Party. I would often run into him at various events. His politics were a little too far to the right for me, but he was a tireless worker and organizer for the Tory Party. When elected to the Legislature from Brampton in 1995, he was a hard-working member and he served as a Cabinet Minister in the Governments of Mike Harris and Erie Eves. As Minister of Health in the Eves Government, Tony Clement was widely and internationally credited with containing a SARS epidemic, which had the potential of endangering thousands of lives in Ontario and elsewhere.
When Tony Clement ran for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, I supported Ernie Eves and when he sought the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, I supported Hugh Segal. Consequently, although we were both affiliated with the same political party, he had no reason to feel warm and fuzzy toward me. And yet, some years later when I was Mayor of Huntsville and he was our Member of Parliament, he could not have been more helpful. I have never known a politician who responded so quickly and so effectively when called upon for assistance.
Tony Clement has been a public servant for more than 23 years. During that time, he has been recognized as a senior statesman for Canada and he has represented his Country, this Province and indeed our Riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka with distinction. One cannot take that away from him. I respect Tony Clement for what he has done for Canada and yes, I still respect him today.
To be clear, I do not respect his actions in recent months. I do not condone them and I do not understand them. I wanted to yell at him for being so stupid. What I do believe however, is that whatever has happened, whatever has motivated him in respect to his behaviour, it is separate and distinct from the person Tony Clement really is. It is simply not the substance of the man. He could not have fooled so many people at so many levels of public and private life, for so long, if this were the real Tony Clement.
Clearly, Tony Clement is in a very dark place right now. Often, when people do something that is completely out of character, it can be a sign of serious mental stress. We do not know what pressure he has been under or what demons he has recently faced, or what, if anything, has affected his mental health. We do know he has taken full responsibility for his actions and he is seeking the help he needs. We also know that he will pay a heavy price for his behaviour and the road ahead will not be easy for him or his family. Certainly, they will soon find out who their friends really are!
I am not among those who believe that Tony Clement should resign as our Member of Parliament at this time. It makes little sense to spend many thousands of dollars less than a year before a general election to replace a person who has provided exemplary service to Parry Sound-Muskoka and who continues to do so. Next year will take care of itself, one way or another, but for now, if he is able, Tony should carry on.
In the meantime, remembering that all of us have fallen along the way, in one manner or another, I can only wish Tony well as he embarks on his path to recovery. Sadly, there will be those who will cross the street when they see him coming. I for one will not.
No doubt, some wag will ask me if I would take the same position as I have with Tony Clement if he had not been a Conservative. The answer is yes. I actually did, and not that long ago. Some people have short memories.
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