British Columbia·Analysis

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Wanting Qu and wanting more

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's staff say his personal life is not news, but that doesn't stop the public from having a legitimate interest in who the mayor is dating.

Are reporters right to ask questions about alleged relationship between mayor and pop singer?

Wanting Qu tweeted and Facebooked this photo to promote an evening with Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver party. In other social media posts, she explains: "V" for "Vote". "V" for "Vision". "V" for "Vancouver". (Wanting Qu/Twitter)
The handsome mayor of a major West Coast city is reportedly dating a beautiful celebrity at least a decade younger than him: be honest, who wouldn't expect that to show up on the front pages of their local newspaper?

Except this relationship wasn't the one between Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chinese pop star Wanting Qu, but his Los Angeles counterpart Antonio Villaraigosa and former Miss USA Lu Parker.

Their courtship and break-up made the pages of the LA Times and The Guardian in the summer of 2012. So why is that fine for celebrity-obsessed Los Angeles, but not Hollywood North?

"There's a certain Canadianism to not pursuing personal stories. This is not something that we traditionally have done in Canada. But it seems to be something that is growing in interest...We have to accept that as public figures," said Non-Partisan Association Coun. George Affleck (no relation to Ben or Casey).

No comment

Robertson's office issued a curt statement saying it won't comment on the mayor's personal life this week after Early Edition columnist Frances Bula reported an alleged relationship between the mayor and 31-year-old pop star Qu.

It's the first the public has heard about Robertson's marital status since he issued a statement this summer confirming his separation from his wife Amy.

But it's not the first time the mayor's name has been linked to Qu, the Tourism Vancouver ambassador to China who invited Twitter followers to "Meet @MayorGregor & I" at a "votevision" party back in May.

Robertson has attributed his following on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo, in part, to the Chinese-born, Vancouver-based singer and pianist, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on the site.

And Qu has not been shy about giving shout-outs to mayor.

On mobile? Click here to watch Wanting Qu sing Happy Birthday to Gregor Robertson on Chinese video site Youku

All of which is interesting, but does it make a purported romance between them fodder for public discussion? The answer: Yes. And no.

How can you know if you don't ask?

University of B.C. political science professor Max Cameron says the public has a right to expect a politician's personal relations don't put them in any type of conflict of interest or ethical quandary.

But how can you know those conflicts don't exist, if you don't ask who they're involved with in the first place?

"We should expect our politicians to be exemplary," he said. "But we should also - I think - cut them the slack that is from the perspective of the public to recognize that they are human beings, many of whom are struggling to do their best in difficult circumstances."

Former B.C. premier and former Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt often speaks to Cameron's students about the rigours of public life. He says the mayor's private life should remain his own business, as long as it doesn't impede on his public duties or conflict with an image he's trying to sell of himself.

But he acknowledges times have changed since he first entered politics.

"People that were having affairs or drank too much or said inappropriate things, usually, unless it really became a serious interference with their capacity to be a leader, be an elected person, it didn't come up," he said.

"The whole political culture said that's their private life. And the media wasn't as 24/7 and as intense and overwhelming as it is now."

Wanting Qu posted this image to her Facebook page in November 2013 saying, "A gift from China to Canada! A traditional Chinese water painting from a fan of mine who initially did a painting of me and I loved it so I asked if he could do one for my friend Gregor Robertson (who just happened to be the Mayor of Vancouver Canada, Lol!) So artist Jianfeng did an amazing job and Gregor loved it!! So proud of Chinese art!" (Wanting Qu/Facebook)

'Does it matter?'

LA Times reporter Kate Linthicum says the paper debated long and hard before doing stories about Mayor Villaraigosa and Parker, the beauty queen turned television reporter.

"That was absolutely the question we asked, is, 'Does it matter who the mayor is dating?'" she said. "It's a complicated question in this era when politicians really are pseudo-celebrities."

She says the line for her was crossed once Parker moved into the taxpayer-funded Getty mansion, which serves as the mayor's official residence. Villaraigosa didn't see things that way.

"He repeatedly told me that this was none of my business and that this was really bad journalism basically."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, right, and then girlfriend Lu Parker arrive at the 82nd Academy Awards on March 7, 2010, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (Amy Sancetta/The Associated Press)

'Boring is good'

The owner of a communications company and a former journalist himself, Coun. George Affleck says elected officials have to expect questions about their private lives. And that anyone associated with a politician can expect to have their social media account trawled by reporters.

"Even if I'm out having a beer at a pub, I will be concerned about being careful about what I might say," he said. 

"There are people who you may or may not know who are watching and listening to you, and you have to think about that and be respectful to your role in public life."

Harcourt says that kind of scrutiny can be hard on family, especially in a province like B.C., where politics can be a blood sport. The worst anyone called him is boring.

"Boring," he says. "Is good."

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