Opinion

Bizarre breastfeeding column is a viral gift for Michael Chong. He might as well own it: Robyn Urback

Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong has struck viral gold not once, but twice during his otherwise achingly mundane campaign.

Chong is, unfortunately, a normal person, which is a disadvantage in the Conservative leadership race

Conservative MP and leadership candidate Michael Chong has struck viral gold not once, but twice during his otherwise achingly mundane campaign. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Robert E. Kelly was surely destined to remain an esteemed scholar in an esoteric arena of foreign affairs had his children not spilled into his home office during a live interview with BBC News.

No doubt Kelly would've preferred the interview to go viral because of his insights on South Korea rather than because people loved watching his young daughter and her infant sidekick meander into the room, only to be thwarted by their panicked mother. But his interview nevertheless got hundreds of millions of views, a level of attention unfathomable to the average political science professor.

Robert E. Kelly will probably be 'BBC Dad' for a while. (Ha Kyung-min/Newsis/Associated Press)

Kelly will probably have a hard time shaking the "BBC Dad" label for the next little while, but if it gives him an edge over other scholars fighting for the same TV spots, would that really be so bad? Eventually, people might start listening to what he has to say, instead of quietly hoping for his kids to barge in the room and spread jam all over the professor's desk.

There's a lesson in all of this for Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong, who has struck viral gold not once, but twice during his otherwise achingly mundane campaign.

A recent poll found that only 10 per cent of Canadians were familiar with Chong (sixth from the left). (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Chong is, unfortunately, a normal person, which is a disadvantage in a campaign dominated by a bumbling reality television star who doesn't understand how government works and a self-hating establishment politician who pretends not to know how government works. The fact that Chong is not a cartoon character or a poseur renders him easily forgotten in a sea of more than a dozen candidates, and indeed, a January Ipsos poll found that only 10 per cent of Canadians said they were familiar with him (compared to 58 per cent for Kevin O'Leary and 26 per cent for Maxime Bernier).  

But Chong has an opportunity to capture the attention of a wider group of Canadians — however ephemerally — who haven't yet been lured by his promises of lower income taxes and reducing the power of the Prime Minister's Office.

Last week, Chong was discovered on a poster advertising sanitary bathrooms in Guatemala by one of those 10 per cent of Canadians who recognize his face. His team isn't entirely sure how Chong's photo came to represent hygienic waste disposal in Central America, but it has nevertheless been used since at least 2015. Chong offered a good-natured response, tweeting about the discovery and doing a bit about it for This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Then, over the weekend, readers unearthed a column that was published then quickly pulled from the Globe and Mail website on March 22, in which freelance columnist Leah McLaren described an incident from more than a decade ago when she attempted to breastfeed one of Chong's sons.

Leah McLaren wrote a column about almost breastfeeding Chong's son. (Twitter)

In the column, McLaren confessed that she was not lactating, nor did she have the parents' consent when she found the baby upstairs at a party, stuck her finger in his mouth and started unbuttoning her blouse. According to McLaren's telling, Chong intervened just before she tried to dry-feed the child, which she said she wanted to do "just to see what it felt like."

The column was mostly frightening — though the discussion about it online was shamefully entertaining — and speculation about the tale's veracity was weighed under the hashtag #lacgate. On Monday morning, Chong confirmed that it was indeed true, tweeting: "Incident happened over 10 years ago. It was no doubt odd, but of no real consequence. Let's focus on the important challenges facing Canada."

It's obvious why Chong wouldn't want his candidacy defined by the bizarre evolutionary urgings of a prattling columnist, but it is unquestionably the most interesting thing to happen to Chong's campaign since, well, his face was discovered on a bathroom sign in Guatemala.

Chong's platform is arguably one of the more interesting of the bunch: he is a Conservative who actually dares utter the words "carbon taxes," while also pledging to reduce government regulation and committing to empower backbench MPs. There are probably a lot of things centrist Canadians would like in Michael Chong, except the vast majority don't know who he is.

It might not be the worst thing in the world, then, if Chong became "Dry-Feed Dad" for a while (except perhaps, for his poor son) — if only so a few more Canadians might come to recognize his name. It is certainly not the most dignified way to run a campaign, though "dignity" arguably abandoned the Conservative leadership race long ago. Eventually, people might actually start listening to what Chong has to say, instead of quietly hoping he goes into detail about exactly what happened that night.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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: