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Warren KInsellaGeorge Clooney, of all people, said it best: “I don’t like to share my personal life. It wouldn’t be personal if I shared it.”

Personally, I’d have to agree with that.

Up here in Trudeaustan, delineating what is personal and what is public has again become the stuff of newspaper opinion columns and Ottawa water cooler chit-chat. The case at hand: the abrupt resignation from cabinet, and the Liberal caucus, by MP Hunter Tootoo.

Before the Liberals’ Winnipeg policy convention, Tootoo was Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. He was a pretty powerful guy, and well-liked, too. After the convention, he was out of cabinet, out of caucus, and straight into rehab. PMO issued a terse statement that conspicuously lacked the usual felicitations and good wishes.

And that was that. Trudeau refused to take any questions on the matter. The Ottawa gossip engine immediately kicked into high gear. Twitter was ablaze with indignation. Resign from cabinet, sure, tweeted the tweeters. But why caucus? What’s that all about? We demand answers, in 140 characters or less!

Um, personally, I’m not so sure about that. Personally, my advice to the social media mob is this: If you have an allegation to make, make it. But it’s not particularly fair to condemn a guy for the fact that you have yet to unearth evidence he did something wrong.

Per Clooney – PERSONAL means PERSONAL.

There are exceptions, yes. Back when he was making one of his many quixotic runs at the presidency, the mouth-breathing knuckle-dragger named Pat Buchanan started promoting the Trumpist “America First” tagline everywhere. Hire only Americans, buy only American, pay attention only to Americans. It was manifest destiny on steroids.

So the advisers to George H. W. Bush (the smarter father, not the dumber son) discovered a key factoid about Buchanan’s “America First” private life: He personally drove a Mercedes, made in far-away Germany. They passed along that little revelation out to the media hordes, and that was the end of Pat.

Another example: Democrat Gary Hart. Back in 1987, when the family friendly senator was making his second run at the top job, rumours were rampant he was following his little soldier into battle a bit too frequently. Gary was indignant about this scurrilous assault on his personal life. Said he: “Follow me around. I don’t care. They’ll be bored.”

The media followed him around. They weren’t bored. Gary – thereafter photographed with model Donna Rice balanced on his senatorial knee – ended up caring, quite a bit. And that was the end of Gary.

Final example: Stock Day. For months, those of us in the Liberal war room had known all about Day’s religious views. He was a creationist, and believed that the world was just a few thousand years old, and that dinosaurs cavorted with humans. Good. Fine. Those views, however wacky they were, were constitutionally protected and personal. We said nothing.

But then Stock gave an interview. In May 2000, he said this: “It is not possible to demand that the convictions I express on Sunday should have nothing to do with the way I live my life the other six days of the week.” As Day, soon to be competing for the highest office in the land, also made clear, his personal religious views influence, and would influence, his public duties. “Ah-ha,” said the Liberal war room. “Gotcha.”

Barney the Dinosaur, Flintstones, unhelpful CBC documentaries. That was the end of Stock. Chretien crushed him.

The above-noted case studies are the three clear exemptions to the Clooney-esque “personal is personal” rule. 1. Don’t be a hypocrite (the Pat Buchanan Rule). 2. Don’t invite people to take a look at your personal life, and then be upset when they do (the Gary Hart Rule). 3. Don’t say your private, personal views influence your public duties, and expect people not to care (the Stock Day Rule).

Ottawa, of course, is undeterred. There’s always something “personal” that folks want to push and pull over the line into the “public.” Unseen affidavits are said to be floating around about one party leader filled with allegedly sordid details. There’s been allegations about a hotel room and a police officer and another party leader. There’s been – full disclosure – a former member of the Press Gallery circulating copies of my divorce pleadings, and a senior (and still there!) Liberal staffer doing his utmost to simultaneously cause pain. That’s not alleged – it all happened.

Anyway, that’s Ottawa and that’s D.C. Outside the Beltway, South of the Queensway, however, real folks think like George Clooney does. That is, in the absence of (a) rank hypocrisy, (b) reckless dares, or (c) on-the-record confirmations, the personal should always remain one way.


Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.

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