Raj Grewal and Tony Clement have fallen, but Amarjot Sandhu is a worse kind of disgrace
Two have solid CVs. The other, he barely has one.
Tony Clement: Immigrant; lawyer; once a rising star in the Young Progressive Conservative movement; MPP for Brampton South; municipal affairs and then health minister during the SARS scare; then a candidate to lead the federal Conservatives; and now, still in Ottawa, in opposition as MP for Muskoka-Parry Sound, entrusted with state secrets as a member of the national security committee.
Raj Grewal: The son of immigrants; lawyer; recently a rising star in the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, MP for Brampton East; part of the committee that oversees four federal health agencies; a member of the parliamentary body that liaises with NATO; and (in an ironic twist) an active questioner on the Commons’ finance committee.
Both lacked something fundamental, something we used to call the chivalric code: a system of beliefs and laws that drove moral conduct. The mid-19th century American philosopher and poet (a vocation few pursue today) Ralph Waldo Emerson said no change of circumstances can repair a defect of character. And when that defect is exposed, especially in a politician, it is soul-destroying and career-ending, or at least, it used to be.
The past few weeks have been tumultuous times for the body politic in Brampton.
He was caught in a sexting scandal that has not only upended his comely life as a husband to a cherished Brampton literary figure and father of three, but superseded anything he had accomplished in his political life. It got him ousted from his beloved Conservative party (one he has long fevered to lead) and left him and his constituents, and no doubt his family, searching for an answer to the most basic question: why?
Why would a 55-year-old man who seemed to have it all, who was so smart and driven and dedicated to public service, be so stupid or immoral and give it all up for the cheap and vicarious thrills of the Internet? What dark forces of temptation drove him to the darker side of the web?
Grewal is another cautionary tale: a man weakened by personal peccadilloes.
For Superman, it was kryptonite; for Grewal, it was gambling — or, maybe, something even more troubling. This past week, The Pointer published a story that, because of a failing we excuse in others but can’t when it’s a protective figure like Grewal — vetted to ensure that our interests come before his — raised questions about his possible involvement in a puzzling transaction that appears to have cost his constituents, and Brampton taxpayers collectively, more than $1 million. Grewal has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
Both Clement and Grewal are subjects in RCMP investigations. They have become pariahs in their own parties. But more than that, their serious defects in character have helped undermine a vocation already riddled with contempt by the voting public.
In a HuffPost survey last year, Canadian politician was the “least respected” profession of them all – easily outdistancing number two, used car salesman.
At the local level, the political air in Brampton has been toxic with cynicism since the days of the Susan Fennell regime, 2000-2014. This open wound was fully exposed this past summer when a $28.5-million civil lawsuit between a local builder and the city played out in an Orangeville courthouse. Although a verdict has yet to be rendered, evidence of a flawed process, misconduct by staff entrusted to manage hundreds of millions of dollars that Brampton taxpayers pour into city coffers annually, and outright contempt for the public within the highest levels of municipal government was put to the court.
The four-year Linda Jeffrey regime that followed Fennell’s ouster was much cleaner, but still rife with bickering, a party-system attitude of disregard for large constituencies in the city and inaction. The public isn’t blind, and because of that Jeffrey joins a long list of politicians who failed while listening to her handlers and party operators instead of her instincts and the people who put her in power to help them out of a desperate situation. Maybe if she had been compelled to work harder for the job, instead of resting on the relentless journalism that exposed Fennell, making the outcome of the 2014 race an inevitability, Jeffrey would have appreciated what the voters expected in exchange.
Patrick Brown now finds himself in a similar situation. The voters of Brampton who saved his career will wait to see how he repays them.
Which propels us back to last spring’s provincial election. One of the candidates who won and now represents the ruling PC party at Queen’s Park is Amarjot Sandhu (Brampton West).
Since taking office, he has compiled an embarrassing voting record, and this should trigger a deep sense of unease with residents he now represents.
It also drives the stake deeper into the heart of the profession of politician.
Sandhu has become the new poster boy for outright indifference — not a crime of commission but omission.
Brampton West MPP Amarjot Sandhu
Donald Savoie is a university professor and author of 45 books and 200 articles on political governance. He has been an unflagging critic of those walking the halls of power. He should be must reading for all elected officials and those who put them into office.
In his latest book, What is Good Government, he says that only “27 per cent of Canadians think that Ottawa deals with issues that are important to them.”
Over his writing life, he has pulled from his quiver many arrows, but the one that always finds its mark is aimed at those who are elected and then become unanswerable to those who give them authority. The latest example: Sandhu.
As they say in the halls of power: his record speaks for itself.
A recent story by The Pointer's Mansoor Tanweer, which received an avalanche of angry response from Brampton readers, laid it out.
At the recent Remembrance Day celebration at the cenotaph in Memorial Square, the five rookie MPPs from Brampton were invited by Rev. Joseph Murphy to step forward to place wreaths in honour of the thousands of Canadian soldiers who died in the war to end all wars.
The weight of their expected presence was surely felt by the proud public officials citizens of the city have placed their trust in. They represented hundreds of thousands of Bramptonians, including military families whose loved ones fought for Canada and Great Britain and America and what would be India and many other countries whose young soldiers met their end in the epic struggle for the very freedom we all value above everything.
Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh
It was a touching ceremony, and even more significant since it was the 100th anniversary of the armistice. Four MPPs stepped forward. One was absent: Sandhu. His name was called again. But, as seems to be his habit, he could not be found. The no-show is particularly jarring in contemplation of the millions who died protecting the freedom that allows politicians, in the name of representation by the people, for the people, to sit in legislatures around the world.
While his disgraceful absence at the Remembrance Day ceremony represents a certain moral flaw, Sandhu’s troubling inaction on legislative matters signals his indifference to the city he allegedly lives in.
The PC party, under leader Doug Ford, pulled the $90 million in funding that was to be used to bring a satellite campus of Ryerson University to the downtown core, a driver to bring much needed postsecondary education to the backyard of Brampton families and urban renewal to an area sinking from inactivity. An NDP motion to reinstate the funding was brought forward in the legislature. Apparently, Sandhu was seen at Queen’s Park but couldn’t be found for the vote.
Ford also announced $90 million in healthcare dollars to help relieve “hallway healthcare,” but none of the money was directed at Brampton Civic, which gave the movement its name and remains the poster boy for overcrowding in Ontario. Another NDP motion on Oct. 16 to fund more beds at the Civic was called in the legislature. Sandhu was again a no-show for the vote.
Another motion to stop the crippling sky-high auto insurance rates for drivers with a Brampton postal code on their licence, 70 percent higher than the Ontario average, passed by without input or support from the Brampton member.
All of it begs the question: Is Sandhu working against the interests of Brampton?
Maybe voting on motions brought forward by an opposition party isn’t something Sandhu is comfortable with. Maybe remaining quietly in the backbenches as a rookie, 33-year-old member of his party, is part of a plan where soon, very soon, he will speak up and debate and propose legislation that will help the constituents he represents.
Or maybe he is what he is — a pleaser, a rubber-stamper, a Ford stooge. That’s how Kevin Yarde, NDP member for Brampton North, describes him. He called Sandhu “a puppet of the premier” and told The Pointer he simply takes his cues from Ford. It’s clear that Sandhu represents his party don, while laughing at the Brampton taxpayers who elected him to help make their lives better.
While the other four Brampton MPPs stepped up at the Remembrance Day ceremony, and have also done so when contacted by the media to discuss Brampton issues, Sandhu has been deadly silent. He hasn’t returned calls or emails, and his voice mailbox is always full.
While his fellow PC MPP, Prabmeet Sarkaria, was also absent for key votes, Sandhu has taken unaccountability to a new level.
His CV says that he is from India and was the first international student elected to the Ontario legislature. He attended George Brown College, worked in wireless networking, became a network analyst, and was also a realtor at Royal LePage.
It’s not a well-rounded background, but to be fair, he is still young. Is Sandhu just learning the ropes, and ready to step forth at a later date to fight the good fight for his constituents?
Or does his lack of interest in all things related to Brampton point to a deeper problem? Is his seeming indifference a show of contempt for the people who voted for him? Does he have any real connection to the city he just happens to represent (the place where he somehow scored a nomination)?
Getting a party’s nomination nod and wearing the cloak of MPP comes with certain responsibilities. These are clearly articulated by Savoie, and even if personal peccadilloes rise up that make voters question the person they put into office, indifference, and a lack of input — not being transparent with voters or media is a no-no — are bad, but being utterly absent is tantamount to a crime against the office.
It’s what drives the numbers down in surveys on the respectability of vocations.
Clement put his family in hardship and his career in peril and left himself open to being compromised by his voyeur voyages on the Internet.
The fact he could be extorted means he can’t be trusted in a position of power.
The same holds true for Grewal.
His pleading on Facebook that perhaps he was a little premature in saying he would resign over his gambling affliction is extremely unfortunate. His immediate promise to resign was the right one, despite his recent claim that his initial instinct was “ill-advised.”
Clement should do the same.
As for Sandhu, his dismal performance so far raises the deeper question about how he got his party’s nomination in the first place. Did he deserve to be put in such a position of power if he was unready for the challenge? Did he merit the nomination, or come about it for other reasons?
Patrick Brown saw firsthand the Machiavellian maneuvers that won many in the PC party their nominations in the run-up to the 2018 vote. In his book, Takedown, he articulates that it was a “shit show” and he should have stepped up and taken a more pro-active approach to make sure unqualified candidates didn’t slip through the cracks.
Whenever a party in control for so long, like the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty then Kathleen Wynne, becomes so unpopular with the public, the vacuum creates an opportunity for power. It was Ford, not Brown, who led the PCs to a majority win. But it is in the aftermath of that win that the nomination process, so fraught with the thirst for power, starts to show its warts.
Is Sandhu an ugly manifestation?
Our political system needs repairing. The vetting system for candidates at all levels needs tightening up. Those who suspect a candidate has personal problems that might have a negative effect on doing their duties as an MPP or MP, or even city councillor, should expose them in the interest of protecting the public, and to help protect the candidate from him-or herself.
What Clement and Grewal did has bled over into their jobs as representatives of the people.
Sandhu’s indifference grabs fewer headlines but may be even more destructive to the democratic process, alienating politicians even further from the voting public.
We don’t need more cynicism in politics.
What Clement and Grewal did cost them their good names, and the public’s trust.
The RCMP will disclose their findings and we will eventually see if public security was breached, or if Grewal’s financial problems led to actions that could lead to criminal charges.
The former Liberal MP's Facebook post, explaining why he should retain his job, would be laughable if it wasn’t so pitiful: “My sins are not ones based in corruption and dishonesty, they are born of human frailty.” Let’s just say, the RCMP will decide that.
Grewal's role in the Brampton land deal that cost taxpayers a cool million is also easily explained away, he says.
Again, let’s let the Mounties clear his name.
But these actions are easy to resolve. Sandhu’s inaction is much more insidious. He should know he’s on notice. The Pointer and others are now watching his every move — or non-move.
He represents not only himself at Queen’s Park, but the people that voted him into office.
Like all public servants, he is duty-bound to show up for a memorial that is deeply important to many of his constituents and brings into sharp focus why he has been given the privilege of holding office in the first place. Not showing up for votes in the legislature on their behalf — that’s beyond the pale.
Clement and Grewal are already guilty of breaking the chivalric code and demeaning their offices. They have done a great disservice to themselves and the public that showed enough faith in them to put them in positions of power.
Sandhu has to understand that indifference — and not speaking for your constituents — is like a crime as well, one many in our democracy view even more severely.
Savoie says more and more Canadians believe politicians do a better job pursuing their own interests or those of their political parties. It’s a lesson that continues to go unlearned.
Mr. Sandhu has been put on notice by the people of Brampton.
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