Column: Politics has rarely felt dirtier than it does now

Harper 02.JPGby Tim Harper – Toronto Star

It’s sometimes impossible to shake the notion that we are working in a giant frat house on the Rideau.

That’s not fair to the vast majority of MPs who come to this town to work, but they’ve been in this game long enough to know that perception in politics is everything.

Business is still getting done here – a Supreme Court justice is appointed, an auditor general’s report is tabled – but none of that dominates conversation after the last votes are cast each day on Parliament Hill.

We are in week four of a very ugly piece of business with no way out, and the sexual misconduct scandal is badly off the rails. It is having severe repercussions. There is extreme frustration among some New Democrats who, even as they have shown solidarity with the two MPs who have made serious allegations against two Liberal colleagues, feel a party already spinning its tires is now paralyzed with internal matters. It is a party which has apparently had to provide more internal triage on its neophyte caucus than previously thought.

Sympathy is now mixed with anxiety about what might be said next.

They accuse Liberals of leaking private information, playing politics with a serious, personal matter and getting away with it.

When our seat of national government is home to second-hand leaks about condom use in a hotel room, they have a point.

New Democrats are deep into social work while Liberals make political hay.

The level of distrust between the two parties seeking to become the progressive alternative to the Stephen Harper Conservatives has never been deeper.

Had the tables been turned, New Democrats believe Tom Mulcair would have reached out to Justin Trudeau to seek a solution. Liberals are convinced Mulcair would have burned Trudeau if their leader did not act quickly and decisively.

Regardless, Trudeau and Mulcair have never had a conversation about this matter or how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault complaints.

Into this mix Conservative MP Peter Goldring drops a (since retracted) suggestion that we all wear body cams in case there are unfounded allegations of “besmirchment,” a bizarre intervention that deputy NDP leader Megan Leslie labelled “slut-shaming at its finest.”

It’s easy to rationalize events in this town as the result of libidinous high-achievers tossed into a tiny workspace in a dull town, far from home and family. Here, we are asked to believe, a hotel room doesn’t mean a hotel room as it does in the rest of the country.

There is a stubborn mindset here that fosters this type of behaviour.

This is the town, after all, in which a disgraced senator-in-exile, Patrick Brazeau, ends up as a manager at a strip club a couple of blocks from his former office. By the way, some of his employees said at the time, wouldn’t we love to know some of the familiar faces who make up the club’s lunch time clientele?

Brazeau has yet to have his day in court where he faces a sexual assault charge, among others.

This is the town in which prostitutes upset with government legislation threaten to release a client list and, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you would be stunned to learn who is on that list.

This is also the town in which another senator, Liberal Colin Kenny, was cleared of sexual harassment charges in a probe in which the burden of proof rests with the accuser, in this case a young Ottawa woman who said the senator had made repeated comments about her appearance and had invited her to his condo.

And that’s just this year.

The events of recent weeks have also unleashed other tales of behaviour in the shadow of Parliament Hill, including the story of another MP and an incident with an apparently inebriated member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in a pub a good football toss from the Centre Block. You can’t get away from whispers of more coming, much of it being pushed by those with a vested interest in keeping this on boil.

One can’t help but be reminded of this old chestnut – two blocks from Queen’s Park, no one knows who the health minister is; two blocks from Parliament Hill you’re liable to run into the health minister.

Politics may be a dirty business, but it’s rarely felt dirtier. Can’t wait for the Christmas parties.

An institution which can’t find a way out of this mess has only itself to blame for the perception under which it now labours.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

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