An obscure Albertan politician made national news in Canada this week after getting entangled in what is possibly the country’s most lurid sex scandal of all time.
Albertan oil is very popular in the United States right now, what with continental “energy independence” being such a trendy cause and all. The province’s politicians seem to be spending more and more time south of the border as a result, schmoozing and cajoling to strengthen this suddenly most fashionable American trade relationship.
Michael T. Allen, a Conservative member of the Alberta legislature from the oil-rich northern riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo was on one such junket to Minnesota last week. Among other things, he was helping press the state government to approve an expansion of so-called Clipper pipeline connecting the two regions, and by all accounts things went well.
But lobbying is hard work, and on Monday night Representative Allen figured he’d relax in the arms of a nice woman. Or two. So he went online and found a couple ladies who seemed interested in hanging out. For the right price, mind you.
Alas, a short limo ride to a motel later and Allen was shocked to find not the friendly prostitutes he was expecting, but rather undercover Minnesota cops, who proceeded to arrest the foreign lawmaker — along with a dozen other johns — as part of a sting operation organized by the St. Paul police department.
Allen flew back to Alberta post-haste, and resigned from the Conservative Party in shame. He’s received quite the lashing in the local press, and from his former boss, the premier, but has said his larger political future remains up in the air. But “it happened,” he glumly admitted during an airport interview. Charges were formally laid last night, and he’ll be heading to a St. Paul courtroom in November.
Historically, there haven’t been a lot of good political sex scandals in Canada. This Maclean’s list of the “8 best” is mostly mild and dated, with four of the top eight occurring before 1980.
A Depression-era provincial premier was forced to resign after being “sued for seduction” by an innocent young waif. One of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers got his mistress an abortion back in the days when such things were still illegal. A couple provincial legislators here and there have admitted to soliciting hookers. Even the most scurrilous incident, the so-called “Munsinger Affair” of 1966 — in which it was revealed that East German prostitute/KGB agent had slept with Canada’s former defence minister as a way of obtaining state secrets — is largely forgotten today.
Allen’s affair, in contrast, being the most sexually decadent and occurring in the obsessive spotlight of the social media age, might linger in the national memory a bit longer. But it’s equally possible (as is so often the case) that the Canadians are coming way too late to a passing fad.
Consider that former New York governor Elliot Spitzer is currently leading the polls to become the next comptroller of New York City, despite his famed 2008 resignation in the aftermath of revelations that he was a chronic client of some of the Big Apple’s most upscale escorts. Or how about fellow New Yorker Anthony “twitpic” Wiener, whose equally infamous resignation, following some unsolicited social media crotch-shots, haven’t prevented him from emerging as the favoured candidate to succeed Mayor Bloomberg in Gracie Mansion? Or “Appellation Trail” veteran Mark Sandford, recently re-elected in South Carolina? Or wife-swapin’ Newt Gingrich, winner of that same so-con stronghold’s Republican primary sweepstakes? Or, or…
Since Canadians are supposed to be less uptight about sexual impropriety than Americans — and certainly less bothered by the dirt in their politicians’ personal lives — it’s hard to argue there’s any compelling reason for Mr. Allen to leave the Alberta parliament when even the supposedly puritanical US would probably consider his indiscretions to be no biggie. Booted from the Tory caucus, fine — that’s his party leader’s prerogative — but out of the legislature altogether? Such an act would imply a complete absence of public legitimacy, and that’s one conclusion jump too far. Particularly for a man who represents Fort McMurray of all places, an isolated city where lonely oil sands workers have hardly made hookers an unknown vice.
I personally think prostitution is a cruel and exploitive crime, and would have a hard time supporting even the most competent politician whose past included an affinity for it. But that judgey perspective seems to be increasingly passé these days as society becomes more socially libertarian, with live-and-let-live-who-am-I-to-judge-if-everyone-consents-there’s-no-problem mantras the dominant mentality of our age. I’ve heard it said this change of attitude is not entirely selfless, of course — as more and more of us expose more and more of our own disturbing habits and fetishes online, one’s ability to condemn the misdeeds of others without committing massive acts of hypocrisy becomes a ever-more awkward challenge.
In that sense, the most reasonable thing for Mike Allen to do would be to follow the Spitzer-Weiner-Sanford precedent: quit, but then immediately run for re-election. Let the voters decide which sins are truly unforgivable. Chances are high it won’t be this one.
Governor Spitzer was on the Stephen Colbert show the other day, and was asked a fairly powerful questioned that succinctly summarized the uncomfortable realities of this new political normal.
“Do you think,” said Colbert, referring to Spitzer’s high poll numbers, “that voters are more forgiving than they used to be? Do you think that signals progress for our country or the slow decay of our moral values?”
Is there an answer other than “yes?”