Tony Clement began his political career in Brampton — a ‘sexting’ scandal might end it
Irony can be a wicked word. Tony Clement, a long-time A-list name in Brampton’s political scene and apparatchik with the Conservative Party of Canada who began his political career in the provincial riding of Brampton South, might want it expunged from the English language.
Especially after Wednesday’s news from Ottawa that the Conservative MP for Muskoka-Parry Sound has stepped down from Canada’s National Security Committee and resigned from the party caucus after acknowledging in a statement Tuesday night that he sent sexually explicit images and video to an unknown recipient and claiming he was a victim of an extortion attempt.
“Over the last three weeks, I have shared sexually explicit images and a video of myself to someone who I believed was a consenting female recipient,” Clement said in the statement, adding that the person who received them was “an individual or party who targeted me for the purpose of financial extortion.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already been informed, along with the RCMP, which has since confirmed it is investigating.
The irony lies in Clement’s recent proclivity for social media, which could be part of his undoing.
His wife, author, poet and lawyer Lynne Golding, a Brampton native, provided a statement Wednesday.
"I sincerely appreciate your concern at this difficult time for our family. As Tony mentioned in his statement, he will now be taking the action he needs to get help. I am hopeful that in time we will resume the happy life we shared with our family and friends. I won’t have anything more to say about this for reasons which I hope you will understand. I have made a number of commitments to my clients and my publisher and people in the community, most of which I intend to keep. Thank you for your supportive thoughts and respect for our privacy at this time," Golding wrote in her statement to ParrySound.com.
The news was particularly hard for Gary Collins. The former president of the Brampton Board of Trade is one of Clement’s best friends and served as his political assistant for his first eight years in office, beginning in 1995, when he was first elected in Brampton.
“Tony is your boy scout kind of politician,” he told The Pointer. “He has always been fairly straight as an arrow. This is a guy that doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink. He doesn’t get caught up in some of the crazy shenanigans that I have seen in Queen’s Park, and I’m sure they’re no different in Ottawa. Tony knows the issues. He does his homework. When he gets briefed by senior bureaucrats, Tony understands the issues. He’s read the briefing package before comes to the meeting.”
Collins said he was shocked by the news. “I got the CTV news alert on my phone last night as I’m starting to think about the U.S. elections and the Toronto Maple Leafs game, and I’m thinking: ‘oh my god. You got to be smarter. Public officials [have] got to be smarter about stuff like this’.”
Said Collins: “I knew something was wrong because, basically, his social media feed went quiet. ... I emailed Tony the other day and said, ‘You’re very quiet on social media.’ But I never got a response.”
Since his bombshell statement, Clement, who has three children with Golding, whose roots in Brampton run deep, has asked for privacy. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer initially told CBC News he had met with Clement Monday and it was mutually decided that the long-time MP should resign his justice critic role and positions on a number of Commons committees — including a top-secret national security and intelligence committee. Clement remains MP for Muskoka-Parry Sound.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday Scheer was telling the CBC that he had asked Clement to resign from the party caucus, citing new information that “became available today to suggest that this was not an isolated incident,” and that there had been reports of additional allegations that made it untenable for Clement to remain.
When he announced his second run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, in mid-July 2016, Clement promoted himself as a tech-savvy frequent tweeter who knew his way around social media. He did so not in his placid cottage-country home riding but at the Streetsville Legion in Mississauga.
It might have been a surprising choice of venue, but the greying career politician, then 55, said he had a soft spot for the area because of his earlier service as MPP and later MP in Mississauga and Brampton. (Clement was MPP for Brampton South beginning in 1995, and later in the new riding of Brampton West–Mississauga, before moving to federal politics after the Ernie Eves’ government’s defeat in 2003.)
The 2015 election had made it clear Canadians didn’t like Stephen Harper’s stiff look and were fed up with his uncompromising policies. Harper’s loss in the general election was reason enough for Conservatives to demand a rebrand. Clement, the greying son of immigrant parents of Greek and Syrian-Jewish heritage—who later took on his English adoptive stepfather’s name of Clement—didn’t seem the obvious choice to remake the party.
But at his press conference, at the time, he said he was totally a young-at-heart politico, plugged into the latest social media technology. He promised to use it extensively in his bid to lead the Conservatives. He did have a reputation for being a frequent user of Twitter, and his campaign logo was the power symbol on a computer. His slogan was #empower.
He boasted that he would empower the party’s grassroots and the “next generation of voters.”
He was giving off the right impressions: Hip. Tech savvy. Totally connected. Clement, who had served as municipal affairs minister in Ontario — one of several major portfolios during his 1995-2003 service at Queen’s Park — said he knew the importance big cities will play in the future success of the Canadian economy. The cities are where the votes are, too, and perhaps that’s why he chose the “swing riding” of Mississauga–Streetsville to officially announce his candidacy.
During the press conference, an attendee’s cellphone rang in the middle of his presentation. “If that’s Justin Trudeau, tell him I’m busy,” he quipped. The crowd laughed, and although Scheer eventually won the leadership, Clement was being touted as a politician who knew the power of social media — and how to use it.
Ultimately, his attraction to social media may have stymied his political career, and left him in a personal crisis.
On Wednesday, Scheer, his old rival for the leadership, essentially threw Clement under the bus, saying he would let national security agencies determine if the MP had been compromised as a result of this sexting scandal. “I will leave it to them. Those are the experts,” he said.
The CBC quoted sources as saying that the would-be extortionist asked Clement to pay €50,000 ($75,200 Cdn) or risk seeing the images and video released publicly.
Scheer didn’t answer questions about whether Clement can run under the Conservative banner in 2019. If he can’t, it will end a Tory affiliation that goes back almost 30 years.
A graduate of the University of Toronto law school and called to the bar in 1988, Clement married Golding, now a partner and chair of the health law practice at the international law firm Fasken Martineau in Toronto. Lynne Golding, born and raised in Brampton, is also a noted writer and poet, whose just-published novel The Innocent, depicts the early years of the city’s settlement before and after the turn of the previous century.
She wrote a piece for the Faith in Canada 150 website about the little-known Canadian Primitive Methodist movement, which got its start in Brampton in the mid-1880s.
Clement was named president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in 1990 and was closely allied with party leader Mike Harris; he helped draw up the policy directives of the Common Sense Revolution that would make Harris premier.
Clement won his seat in Brampton South in 1995 by beating Liberal Bob Callahan. He was named transport minister and won re-election in 1999 in Brampton West—Mississauga. Serving as environment minister, he implemented the province’s Drive Clean program before moving on to the municipal affairs and housing portfolio, and finally minister of health and long-term care.
He lost a battle for the party leadership in 2002 to Ernie Eves, but hung on to the health portfolio, where he became a prominent figure after the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Defeated along with the Eves government, he went back to practicing law. He served as founding president of the Canadian Alliance, then ran for leadership of the new Conservative Party. He lost again, this time to Harper, and then lost the race for Brampton West in the 2004 federal election. He won in 2006 when he switched to the Muskoka-Parry Sound riding, but kept his home in Brampton.
Under Harper, he served in a number of cabinet positions, including health minister. He also found himself reviled for pork-barrel politics after his riding got $50 million for improvements that were supposed to be related to the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville but mostly went to completely unrelated projects such as renovating a bandshell and paving roads.
He was primarily responsible for the killing of the long-form census of 2011, a move that brought widespread public censure and international ridicule.
Clement certainly isn’t the first politician to get himself in hot water over sexting. The most infamous is Anthony Weiner, the unfortunately named Democratic former congressman from New York who repeatedly got into trouble for sending sexually explicit photos of himself to women, before and after his marriage to Huma Abedin, a prominent aide to Hillary Clinton.
The Clement story comes days after the release of a new movie, The Front Runner, a film about Gary Hart’s 1988 losing presidential bid and its ignominious collapse, fueled by his involvement with a 29-year-old model-actor. There was no redemption or happy ending for Hart, or Weiner.
In the age of the #MeToo movement, charges of sexual impropriety have dogged many others, including Patrick Brown during his winning run for mayor of Brampton in October. Brown, who has always furiously denied the charges, will unveil his new book, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown on Nov. 16 in Brampton.
Clement has tried reaching for the top of the Conservative movement for much of his adult life. Although he helped draw up the Common Sense Revolution, stickhandled Ontario through the SARS crisis, and helped unite the Reform and PC parties into a new Conservative Party, it was Harper, Scheer, and Doug Ford who were to score the top prizes.
Now his political future is extremely iffy. His story has spread across news platforms and social media — the image being portrayed of the man who for decades has lived in the public eye, is not good. Do a Google search under “sexting” and you can’t miss his name.
Now, it's unclear if Clement will step away from public life altogether.
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