Opinion

For a politician like Clement, a $100K gazebo is bad, but a sexting/extortion scandal is the end: Robyn Urback

Previous scandals were survivable for Tony Clement. But the trouble he now finds himself is different. This time, it is profoundly, devastatingly humiliating.

The impression is of a guy incapacitated by his own sexual urges and unable to make rational decisions

Constituents might forget the intricacies of the scandal, but they probably won't view MP Tony Clement with the same esteem they once did. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

This business is easier on the conscience when the players, however bruised and battered, get to leave the ring with some dignity. Politics is a blood sport, yes, but it tends to leave one's personal character intact, even if his or her political reputation is damaged.

Tony Clement has endured all kinds of blows to his professional reputation during his decades in Canadian politics, and often deservedly so. He was reamed for misrepresenting the position of Statistics Canada during the Harper government's campaign to eliminate the long-form census. He was pounced on for misleading Canadians about millions of dollars worth of G8 spending, which conveniently went to "infrastructure projects" in his riding, including one very expensive gazebo. He was chewed up and spit out by three failed party leadership campaigns.

Those blows were all survivable. But the trouble Clement now finds himself in — of sending "intimate" photos of himself to women he met online and facing not one, but two potential extortion attempts as a result — is different. This time, the scandal is profoundly, devastatingly humiliating.

Demand for €50,000

The original story, reported Tuesday, was that Clement had resigned from all committee roles after someone allegedly tried to extort him over sexually explicit images and a video he shared with a recipient he thought was a "consenting female." In fact, the recipient was a foreign actor, Clement says, who reportedly demanded €50,000 ($75,200 Cdn) to keep the images private.

Initially, it seemed as though the Conservative MP did all the right things: he admitted to sharing the files; he informed the RCMP, his party and the Privy Council Office about the attempted extortion; and he apologized profusely in a public statement. According to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Clement also told him this exchange was an isolated incident.

But this was not an isolated incident, of course. In a letter to constituents published Thursday, Clement disclosed that he was subject to a previous potential extortion attempt last summer, which he says he brought to the Ontario Provincial Police.

Watch: The National's report on the Clement scandal

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has asked longtime MP Tony Clement to leave the Conservative caucus after he shared sexually explicit images and a video with an individual online. 3:37

More than the nature of his interactions, Clement's grotesque lack of judgment makes the decision to remove him from the Conservative caucus unassailable. Not only did he make himself vulnerable to extortion while serving on Canada's national security and intelligence committee, but he apparently did so repeatedly, somehow managing to keep the first case under the radar. This can only be explained by hubris, or stupidity, or both.

(It is also concerning, assuming that Clement really did report the first case to the necessary authorities, that he was still somehow cleared to sit on the 11-member parliamentary committee tasked with overseeing Canada's security and intelligence agencies.)

That said, lack of judgment has plagued — but not buried — plenty a politician before. Indeed, many have made boneheaded political and personal decisions but still managed to hang on, or even totally recover. But what makes this situation different is the location from where Clement appears to be making his decisions.

Granted, there is nothing inherently wrong with two consenting adults sharing intimate images with each other. One could also make the case that Clement choosing to stray from his marriage is none of the public's business (though it certainly becomes our business when the integrity of our national security apparatus is potentially compromised as a result).

But Clement's online activities are suggestive less of a simple affair than of a man trolling social media for sexual gratification. Indeed, it's reminiscent of the antics of Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman who was repeatedly caught sexting multiple women, even after he resigned and then returned to politics. 

The impression is of a guy incapacitated by his own sexual urges and unable to make rational decisions as a result. That makes him tough to look in the eye, a failing that is devastating on a personal level, and deadly in politics.

That loss of dignity is what might make this episode one from which Clement's career may never recover. Constituents might forget the intricacies of the scandal, but they probably won't view him with the same esteem they once did. And even in this ruthless business of news and politics, that makes the fallout difficult to watch.

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About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at: