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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