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Why would politicians engage in sexting? There's complex psychology at play

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: a glimpse inside the heads of politicians who engage in sexting; analyzing the impact of the midterm elections on Canada-U.S. relations, and what it means for politics here at home.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Tony Clement stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 26. The former federal cabinet minister has resigned as the Conservatives' justice critic following an alleged blackmail attempt from someone with whom he had shared 'sexually explicit images and a video.' (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The list of politicians who should know better but who get caught up in sexting scandals grows ever longer.
  • On At Issue tonight: How should a political party handle allegations of sexual misconduct?
  • It's been 48 hours since the most contentious and scrutinized American midterm elections in recent history, and one of the big questions for Canadians is what impact they'll have on our relations with the U.S.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

The politics of sexting

The list of men who should know better grows ever longer.

Anthony Weiner — the former U.S. congressman caught out sharing intimate images three times and sent to jail — remains the ultimate example. But politicians of all stripes and nationalities seem to have difficulty keeping their privates private:

Former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner leaves federal court following his sentencing on Sept. 25, 2017, in New York. He was sentenced to 21 months in a sexting case that rocked the presidential race. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

And now Tony Clement.

On Tuesday night, the former federal cabinet minister revealed that he was resigning as the Conservatives' justice critic following an alleged blackmail attempt from someone with whom he had shared "sexually explicit images and a video."

Yesterday, the married 57-year-old was suspended by his party following what Tory leader Andrew Scheer suggested was a pattern of troubling behaviour toward young women on various social media platforms.

And now today, Clement has issued a statement admitting to even more acts of poor judgment and infidelity, as well as a prior extortion attempt that he says he reported to the O.P.P last summer.

Maybe it's just that smart phones often make us dumb, especially when passions are at play.

Surveys suggest that sexting is either commonplace or rampant — with between 30 per cent and 89 per cent of adults having shared or received intimate images, depending on which data sets you choose to believe.

However, most exchanges come within a committed, or at least casual, relationship. Just 12 per cent admitting to using photos to help them cheat.

Ontario MP Tony Clement has been asked to leave the Conservative caucus after sharing sexually explicit images with a person online. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The reasons why people engage in sexting are at once obvious, and complex.

Some find it fun or flirtatious, although the research suggests there are strong gender differences. Women who sext often say they do it to please a partner, or enhance intimacy. For men, it is frequently a strategy to "satisfy sexual needs while keeping their partners at a distance."

People with high self-esteem are less likely to send nude photos or videos. Those prone to risky sexual behaviours are more apt to overshare. Alcohol and the use of illicit substances also play a role.

Is there something unique about politicians?

Italian research suggests that they use social media in a different way than the average person — primarily for self-promotion and public signalling, rather than seeking support and community. 

And when it comes to decision-making, elected officials tend to behave differently from the general public. Politicians are actually a little better at weighing the evidence at hand and making a rational choice. Yet they, too, fall prey to the "reflection effect" — being unduly influenced by whether an option is framed as a "win" or a "loss," especially in the context of votes.

People with high self-esteem are less likely to send nude photos or videos, while those prone to risky sexual behaviour are more apt to overshare, according to studies. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

Where politicians appear to really differ is in their ego.

Compared to other professions, legislators score extremely high on the leadership and authority scale, expressing qualities like warmth, extroversion and social boldness. But they are also far more narcissistic, deft at manipulating others to achieve their goals and highly social, with a preference for activities that involve informing, training and developing others.

And the higher the office a politician attains, generally the greater his or her sense of self-confidence and resistance to criticism.

In that context, perhaps sending a recent acquaintance, or even total stranger, nude photos of yourself is simply an unnatural extension of what makes politicians tick.

But it remains an incredibly foolhardy behaviour — if only because voters tend to take special notice of that kind of outreach.

Politicians behaving badly

Tonight's At Issue panel tackles improper behaviour and sexual misconduct in Canadian politics, writes Rosemary Barton.

Sometimes it's not a week that seems like a long time in politics, it's just 24 hours.

It has certainly felt like that since yesterday.

In the midst of preparing for many hours of coverage of the American midterms on Tuesday afternoon, some Canadian political news broke that could not be ignored. Former Conservative MP Tony Clement announced he was stepping aside from many of his committee duties.

The reason was surprising, to say the least. Clement admitted he had sent sexually explicit videos and photos to someone he believed to be a consenting woman.

In fact, it was apparently an extortionist, who then asked Clement to pay some 50,000 euros or see the videos and photos released publicly.

Things got worse for Clement on Wednesday when he was also asked to leave Conservative caucus, because leader Andrew Scheer believed there was enough evidence to indicate the sexually explicit messages were not an isolated incident.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer delivers a statement in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. He has asked Tony Clement to leave the Conservative caucus. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
And so, here we are. And it's just a week since Ontario Premier Doug Ford lost a cabinet minister.

No party is immune. All of them have had to deal with allegations of varying degrees of bad behaviour.

So, the questions for At Issue tonight: How on Earth do you handle it as a political party, and does it cause any lasting damage? Or is it a cultural reality and politics is simply not immune?

This may not be the most comfortable of conversations, but it is one worth having.

We will also talk about the U.S. midterms and whether a split Congress means anything different for Canada in the months ahead.

Andrew Coyne, Paul Wells and Althia Raj will join us.

See you tonight on your screen of choice.

- Rosemary Barton
  • WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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The National Conversation: Canada - U.S. Relations

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and two top Washington Post journalists will join CBC's Adrienne Arsenault, Rosemary Barton and Keith Boag tonight to talk about what the U.S. midterm results mean for Canada's relations with our southern neighbour, writes senior producer Lara Chatterjee.

    It's been 48 hours since the most contentious and scrutinized American midterm elections in recent history, and one of the big questions for Canadians is what impact they'll have on our relations with the U.S. 

    The new structure of the U.S. government could affect everything from diplomacy and the economy to national security and the climate. 

    To make sense of how international relations could change,    The National is hosting a special conversation tonight in front of a live audience — both in person in our Toronto studio and digitally via Facebook. 

    We're bringing together Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, top Washington Post journalists Aaron Blake and Karoun Demirjian,    The National co-hosts Adrienne Arsenault and Rosemary Barton, as well as CBC's senior Washington correspondent Keith Boag. 

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at a news conference at the Embassy of Canada in Washington on Aug. 31. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
We'll tackle the state of the relationship between the two countries, and explore what Canada can learn ahead of next year's federal election.​ 

    Freeland will be interviewed live on stage by Rosemary Barton and Aaron Blake. As Canada's direct diplomat to the White House, where does she see the challenges, how does she plan to approach them and what will the new make-up of the House of Representatives mean for Canada's priorities going forward? 

    Then there's the matter of the media. 

    Blake and Demirjian face the label of "fake news" daily while doing their job. From congressional representatives using it as an excuse not to grant interviews, to journalists receiving death threats from the public simply for publishing an article summarizing the days events in the White House, the reality is that covering U.S. politics is becoming more challenging. But is it really so different here? 

    There's a lot to talk about and we want your input. Watch the livestream and ask your questions through 

    We'll also be livestreaming on,, and

    CBC News will air a full hour of conversation tomorrow on CBC News Network at 8 p.m. ET, and highlights will be on    The National tomorrow night. 

    - Lara Chatterjee

Quote of the moment

"There's no way to make sense out of the senseless."

- Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean on a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., last night. Thirteen people are dead, including a police officer and the suspected gunman.

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean briefs reporters on the shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., early Thursday morning. Twelve people, including a police sergeant, were shot dead. (J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Bombardier cutting 5,000 jobs, selling Q Series aircraft (CBC)
  • China's brightest children recruited to develop AI 'killer bots' (South China Morning Post)
  • Prince Charles documentary: 'I won't meddle when I'm King' (Telegraph)
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized after fall (CBC)
  • Elon Musk has a new boss at Tesla (CNN)
  • Oil drops as rising global supply forces price U-turn (Reuters)
  • Norwegian warship collides with tanker (BBC)
  • Dutchman, 69, applies to legally reduce age so he can meet more women (EuroNews)

Today in history

Nov. 8, 1952: Rocket Richard becomes NHL's all-time goal scoring leader

It wasn't one of his prettier tallies, but Maurice Richard's wrister through traffic put him into the record book as the NHL's then all-time goal king. Number 325 — one more than Montreal Maroons' great Nels Stewart — came as part of a 6-4 Canadiens win over Chicago, and on the 10th anniversary of the Rocket's first NHL goal.

The Rocket becomes NHL's all-time scoring leader

4 years ago
Duration 0:35
Maurice Richard breaks Nelson Stewart's record for most regular-season goals.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.