Listen Up! I’m glad I caught Steve Paikin’s interview with Tony Clement

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

I am a big-time fan of Steve Paikin. He is an anchor on TV Ontario, a government owned outlet whose mandate is primarily educational. In a way it’s a shame, because TVO’s audience is limited and Paikin, in my view, is one of the best news commentators in the country. He is also a highly regarded political author. I do not often tune in, because many of the topics he deals with are more in keeping with TVO’s mandate than with things that interest me. However, when Paikin delves into politics, there are few better.

And so, the other night, I was clicking through the channels, when I came to TVO and saw that Steve Paikin was interviewing Tony Clement. I was impressed first, that TVO would schedule the interview, given Clement’s recent fall from grace, and second, that Tony would agree to it. And so, I stopped clicking and paid attention. (Watch the full interview here. Tony Clement: The Personal undoing of an MP, on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.)

Now, I would be very nervous if I were being interviewed by Steve Paikin. He asks the tough questions and he doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t exactly go for the jugular, but he doesn’t easily let those he interviews, off the hook, especially when he is talking politics.

There was no exception to this last week. Paikin was friendly and he smiled from time to time, but he did not hesitate to challenge Tony Clement on his abnormal behaviour, or what motivated him to let so many people down and what he could have possibly been thinking when he did so. It was a tough interview. It was not an easy ride for Tony.

In previous columns I have written about the Clement scandal. I have been clear that his behaviour, which came to light last year, was intolerable. I did not, as many did, call for his immediate resignation as Member of Parliament because first, I thought he had represented us well and second with a federal election a year away, it would have closed all constituency offices in Parry Sound Muskoka and left a by-election to the whim of the Prime Minister and allow his candidate, an open field leading up to a national election.

I did not believe however, that Tony should run again in the election this Fall and urged him to make a decision quickly so a new candidate would have time to run an effective campaign. He was not very happy with me when I wrote this.

What I also wrote however came back to me the other night, when I was watching his interview on TVO. I had written, “Whatever 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.”  I got pilloried for that comment, more so than any column I had previously written, including being told to just shut up and die.

But as I watched Tony Clement this past week, I knew I was right. He didn’t duck a single question. He was clear, he was articulate and he took full responsibility for his actions with no excuses. He has accepted the consequences which include ending his elected political career. He really has little else to lose.

The manner in which Steve Paikin pulled responses from Clement, convinced me that Tony had suffered a severe mental breakdown. That is not an excuse, it does not avoid consequences, but it is an explanation. He has sought and received treatment and he believes he is back on the right track. He also knows he has to work hard to stay there.

The interview reminded me of how insidious and how serious and how destructive mental illness can be. Now I know that there will be many, who for various reasons, will believe that is a cop-out for Tony. They would rather think of him as a dirty old man, who fooled us all and who got what he deserved.  All he has said about it, is that he found himself in a very dark place from which he could not escape. We will probably never know all the reasons for this. I may well be the odd person out here, but I believe him.

Many of us know about depression, about loneliness, about failure, about temptation, and how that can lead to a very dark place. Some can step back from the brink before it is too late. Others cannot.  Mental illness is real and it does not always reveal itself in a nice way. Sometimes it can be pretty disgusting. I find it interesting that some people who scream that government does not do enough to combat mental illness, are often the same people who condemn those who have it.

There are those who will continue to condemn Tony Clement, mainly those with political or other agendas. I will not be one of them. I believe he was ill. I believe he is trying hard to get better. I appreciate the good he has done for our country.

I wish him well.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks Hugh for your insight and directing me to the SP interview! Mr. Clement came across as areal “mensch”, and took responsibility for his actions. I am rather dubious of “the devil made me do it” defense, however, I do believe that he has been in “a dark place”, and managed to get himself out of it. Mental ill health is an insidious condition, and many, including me, are ready to make rapid judgments, are impulsive and more likely than not, are off the mark

  2. DAVID JOHNS on

    Hugh, thanks for allowing the public to view this incredible interview. It was really right to point, no holds bared. I wish you would interview Tony as you have had many years experience in politics. You have had your ups and downs also, so may know a lot more about Tony’s situation and feelings then the TVO interviewer. I for one would love to see this happen because you have spend most of your life in our fair Town. Thank you!

    • Crisco Brown on

      Let he who has no sin cast the first stone…. no one was more shocked than I with Tony’s fall from grace.
      Being generally a left of centre but fiscally conservative type I rarely found myself drawn to The Conservative Party candidates given the drastic shift to the right they took a few years ago….
      Tony however seemed somehow different. He seemed to genuinely care for the wellbeing of his constituents and did a lot to benefit the community over the years.
      I never knew him well but would often cross paths with him as we both had radio shows at HBR.He always came across as a really decent guy.
      It doesn’t surprise me that Tony had the guts to show up and face the music with Steve Paikin and I thank you for bringing the interview to my attention.
      While I don’t believe Tony should run again in the next election its not because I dont beleive he has a lot to offer the community but rather out of concern for Tony and his family who were no doubt deeply affected by this and need the time to heal.
      Having said that who knows what may happen four years down the road…. while politics can be a difficult arena for a comeback I would never count Tony out of anything.
      One thing is certain, as a relatively young man Tony will find a way to benefit his community one way or another in the future and I for one will be routing for him all the way…. Crisco Brown

  3. Gladys Middlebrook on

    Well stated Hugh. I totally agree with you. I believe Tony had every intention of serving his constituents.

    Thank you,

    G. Middlebrook

  4. Rob Millman on

    I would just like to add (as someone with a mental health disability, who has also suffered a severe mental breakdown) that Mr. Clement’s behaviour was extremely unusual. He claims to have been in “a very dark place” (a classic symptom of clinical depression); yet he acted very inappropriately sexually (a classic symptom of clinical mania). Personally, I have never heard of a breakdown attendant to mania: The individual is experiencing feelings of grandeur; totally irrelevant to his/her behaviour. I would allow that a mania rebound could cause a breakdown; although Mr. Clement was caught in the throes of full-blown mania.
    .
    And may I add my encomium to Hugh’s re Steve Paikin. I had the honour, several years ago, to be a panelist on a forum hosted by the particular gentleman. I found myself breakfasting with him; and while absorbing 3 morning papers; he painlessly extracted a backgrounder on myself. It is no accident that he is so incredibly “au courant”.
    .
    And Tony, best wishes for your continued recovery.

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