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A tale from the political crypt: A tip o' Broadway Bob's Top Hat to Hizzoner Rob Ford

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Bob McClelland

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a province far, far away, there dwelled a minister of the Crown who was very, very naughty.

Robert "Bob" McClelland, then 52 and the MLA for Langley, was discovered in 1985 to have availed himself of the services of what was quaintly known, in those days, as an escort service.

Now, this is a term that for me summons up the image of plucky little destroyer escorts, pennants asnap in a stiff ocean breeze, escorting bigger ships of the line into action.

Alas, in the case of this particular minister, a former broadcaster with a mellifluous voice who grew up in Calgary, the action in question was apparently of an entirely different variety.

I know of this this because, for a spell, I worked as a civil servant in the fellow's department, and followed his career with interest thereafter. Lest you doubt me, let's let Canada's National Website take up the narrative:

"Social Credit MLA Bob McClelland found himself in a sticky situation in 1985 when it was revealed that he had procured business from an escort," one of the Globe and Mail's British Columbia reporters recalled earlier this year as he strove to put in context the then seemingly novel expenses scandal involving Conservative Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

"During a police investigation of Top Hat escort services, a credit-card slip bearing Mr. McClelland's name turned up," the story rambled on. "Mr. McClelland, who testified at the prostitution trial of Top Hat owner Arlie Blakely, said he had been drinking when he called the service requesting an escort."

But what does this have to do with Hizzoner Robert "Rob" Ford, you wonder, the mayor of Toronto who has so recently admitted smoking crack cocaine while in office?

Well, for one thing, there's this: Minister McClelland's testimony was a variation of the political defence Ford offered yesterday, which might be summarized as, "I'm sorry, m'lord, I was too drunk to recall."

At any rate, said Ford, according to the same Globe and Mail: "Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine but … am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago."

As for McClelland, said the Globe, he similarly "claimed to have vague recollections of the evening and did not say what type of services he purchased." The Vancouver Sun reported at the time he'd testified to having "had a fair amount to drink."

"Mr. McClelland resigned as minister of industry shortly after Bill Vander Zalm's election as Social Credit leader in July 1986, and did not seek re-election," added the Globe in apparent conclusion.

So there you have it -- except that, there you don't. Because, in the case of "Broadway Bob," as McClelland was also known for having billed a visit to Sugar Babies while in New York on government business to the long-suffering taxpayers of B.C., there was an important epilogue.

First of all, his political friends may not all have approved, but nonetheless "Social Credit caucus colleagues and politicians and private citizens in his home riding of Langley rallied behind him," the Sun reported in its Nov. 28, 1985, edition.

Premier Bill Bennett said he wasn't about to fire him; NDP critics largely held their fire; and Langley School Trustee June Driediger, who was apparently the only local politician from his riding the Sun could find who was willing to be interviewed, observed, "I think his private life is his private life" -- a comment that would surely not be heard in similar circumstances today!

Regardless, and this is the real point of this story, while McClelland's political career may have come to an end, he enjoyed a gentle landing in the bosom of our nation's tolerant and comfortable corporate boardrooms, where attitudes are forgiving and the camaraderie runs deep -- as long as one holds the right sort of economic views.

McClelland certainly did. Back in 1973, when he ran against Bennett as a dark-horse candidate for the Social Credit leadership, he was introduced as a "philosophic right winger" who, perhaps a little ironically, "expressed serious reservation about teaching sex education in public schools."

Mind you, the author of the foregoing words, the late Sun scribe Marjorie Nichols, who is said by the Wikipedia to have been a close associate of Senator Wallin, also described him as having a "sober, reformer image."

While the details are mostly lost in the mists of the years B.G. (Before Google), there is enough information about what became of McClelland out there to suggest there is no reason for Ford to fear for his future, no matter how attached he feels right now to the Chief Magistrate's chain of office.

Should he fail to hang onto power, today or in the future, Ford is bound to be welcomed into the loving embrace of the Canadian boardroom, where everything is forgiven, and the perks are generous -- although not necessarily extending to crack cocaine.

So don't cry for Rob, Ford Nation! His landing will likely be a soft one.

+ + +

Christy Clark's pipedream: Could Solomon have come up with a better deal?

Speaking of British Columbia, were you shocked yesterday to learn Christy Clark, recently re-elected premier of our westernmost province, has patched up her former frosty differences with Alison Redford, who holds the same job here in bitumen-rich Alberta?

It seems that whatever pre-election chill separated the two future BFFs has thawed, and amity prevails between the New West's political soul sisters.

Oil, tar or whatever, it now seems a certainty that as a result the product of the 'sands will move serenely through the Rockies to the sea, since Clark's five pre-election pre-conditions have apparently been settled.

The agreement, seemingly hammered out in 15 or so minutes yesterday morning in Vancouver, even solves the big sticking point for Clark back in May when her political future looked bleak and British Columbians were casting jaundiced eyes on the idea of pipelines brimming with toxic sludge from Alberta passing through their literal peaks and valleys.

To wit: That B.C. should get a fair share of the economic and cash benefits of Alberta's heavy oil projects, seeing as they were going to be taking so many risks shipping their product, even though Redford had vowed this would never happen.

The solution: British Columbia may ask the oil companies nicely if they have anything to spare. And with that, the deal was done.

It'd hard to imagine Solomon himself having come up with a wiser solution since the day he offered to saw that baby in half!

As for those British Columbians surprised by this outcome, I can only offer my condolences -- and an oceanfront lot here in Alberta.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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