The Parliamentary Press Gallery spent the weekend yukking it up with Justin Trudeau at the annual gallery dinner, demonstrating that relations between the Prime Minister and the press were back to normal, the master and his voice in sync again.
Things had been a little strained a few weeks ago when Trudeau, determined to show that he was a tough guy and not to be trifled with in the House of Commons, delivered a hard elbow to a female MP's breast while manhandling an Opposition MP who wasn't moving fast enough to suit the PM.
The reporters and pundits had to do quite the soft shoe to excuse Trudeau's boorishness when video of the incident contradicted his initial explanation for how his elbow smashed into her chest. Luckily, the controversy subsided quickly and the press gallery could go back to work--- adoring the Sun King.
And then, last week, damn it, up popped another matter that threatened to blemish the reign of Trudeau II. Its name---Hunter Tootoo.
Hunter Tootoo turned out to be Canada's Fisheries Minister
( Who knew?). Only he wasn't, because he quit.
There was a bit of fanfare when he was appointed in November, 2014. His was a historic appointment, we were told. He was the first aboriginal and the first northerner (he's from Nunavut) to hold the cabinet post. "It is a proud day for Inuit” declared the president of the national Inuit organization. "We survived the long, dark night of the Harper government and we're coming into the dawn of a new day with the Trudeau government," declared Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
But last week Trudeau was treating Tootoo like the Zika virus.
He couldn't put enough space between himself and his historic appointment.
Tootoo's departure was announced in a late-in-the-day release from the PM's office that consisted all of 70 words, none of which spoke of what a great job he had done or what a terrific role model he had been or how much Trudeau would miss him. He quit, said the news release, and, oh, he left the caucus too.
It was all too mysterious, so Justin addressed the press and pundits personally the very next day. The former minister was going for addictions treatment. Ignore the rumours. There's no story. Drop it.
And the press did as their master said, with one small exception.
Last Wednesday, following Trudeau's brief statement, the CTV National News anchor read this tidbit: "sources say there was an incident with Tootoo at the Lib convention on the weekend, serious enough to be kicked from caucus."
And that was it. No follow up. Some niggling questions on blogs and posts on news media comments sections, but as far as information, dead silence.
* From the initial flurry of news reports, we gather that Hunter Tootoo was in fine spirits following his attendance at the national Liberal Party convention in Winnipeg last weekend.
* He returned to Ottawa and attended cabinet meetings Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
* The 9:30 a.m. Tuesday cabinet meeting was followed by Question Period at 2 p.m. QP lasts roughly an hour.
Something happened in the 90 minutes or so between the time Trudeau left Question Period about 3 p.m. and the time the initial news of Tootoo's resignation hit the news wires.
* The earliest alert we could find is from CBC's Aboriginal service:
Hunter Tootoo resigns as Fisheries minister, leaves Liberal caucus. cbc.ca/1.3609915
4:36 PM - 31 May 2016
* Initially, commentary focused on the news that Tootoo not only quit the cabinet, but also left the Liberal caucus. Nobody in the country believes he did so voluntarily -- despite what Trudeau claimed.
* Then there was the day-after CTV newslet about an incident in Winnipeg. What was that all about?
Winnipeg journalists, especially in the alternative press, immediately put their ears to the ground.
The Globe and Mail reported: "Mr. Tootoo, 53, had been drinking heavily at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg, but one friend said, “he was never stumbling, or anything like that”."
When someone is knocking back booze, who counts how much? Nobody. What says "heavily" is behaviour.
Drunks get loud and want to be noticed.
They can be loud and funny, what's known as happy drunks.
Or loud and obnoxious, the dreaded ugly drunk.
We don't know which Tootoo is, but little birdies said he was noticed---allegedly in a Winnipeg strip club.
* Local reporters soon heard the story and, eventually, began bombarding the Winnipeg police for comment.
Was there "an altercation"? Did a search of one of those involved turn up cocaine? Did the incident involve a woman?
The police finally had to issue a public denial that they were ever called to any incident involving Tootoo.
“The Winnipeg Police Service has no record of any official police contact with this individual,” said Const. Robert Carver, a public information officer with the force. “I cannot be more clear about that — no record.”
* That should have been the end of it, except that seasoned reporters have learned to parse carefully what public officials say. No "record" does not mean no "incident."
Winnipeg police might throw a blotto City Councillor into the drunk tank, but no Member of Parliament is going to be inconvenienced during a party convention in this friendly city. That would be what's known as a career-ending move.
That left just enough air to keep the rumours alive.
* But even before the city police made their public statement, the story on the street had taken a twist.
This version also spoke of cocaine, but added a young Liberal staffer. Female.
Cherchez la femme.
Had the young lady been offered a toot by Tootoo? Was she telling tales back home? Had somebody started asking questions on Parliament Hill?
Remember how nobody believed Tootoo quit the Liberal caucus of his own accord?
That's because they remember that one of Trudeau's first orders of business on being elected leader was to throw out of caucus two MP's who had been accused of sexual harassment by a female MP of another party.
He wouldn't hear their claims of innocence. Out they went.
Now, imagine a scenario where he has just been pilloried for elbowing a female MP in the breast and barely two weeks later another Liberal (male) is embroiled in a scandal involving, gulp, a female. Whose side do you take?
Can you spell Ghomeshi?
Step one: act fast to demonstrate you acted fast once you heard.
Step two: insist there's no story. Maybe they'll fall for it.
Step three: tell jokes,. Everyone loves to laugh,.
But as the immortal Yogi Berra said: "It ain't over until it's over."
PS -- this wouldn't be the first time that Tootoo has run into problems with women:
"On Monday, Leona Aglukkaq, minister responsible for the status of women and one of two women in the 19-member legislature, told the house she, too, had faced verbal abuse and threats from elected officials.
Outside the Chamber, she said the member for Iqakuit centre, Hunter Tootoo, chased her and swore at her after a committee of the whole meeting in March 2005.
Tootoo was not available to confirm those words on Monday. he did apologize two days later in the legislature, saying his remarks were "unacceptable in content and tone."
Labels: Downtown Winnipeg, Hunter Tootoo, Justin Trudeau, Parliamentary Press Gallery, police