MONDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — When does a politician’s personal life become the public’s business?
For example, does a politician’s spit-up with his spouse warrant headlines?
It does in Vancouver, where Mayor Gregor Robertson and his wife Amy have agreed to separate.
“Splitsville” blared a giant headline in one online newspaper. “Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson confirms split with wife as Vision demands NPA answer for spreading ‘false rumours’” was the headline on another website Sunday.
In view of the rumour mill, the couple felt compelled to issue a statement. “This is a personal and private matter for our family, and contrary to false rumours being spread online, it is a mutual decision that we made amicably and together.”
Then the words started ramping up between the Vision and NPA civic parties, with phrases like “Terrible gossip” and “philandering” and “ridiculous accusation” being thrown into the mix.
Those who would defend revelations of marital discord or other personal matters would defend it on grounds that the public is entitled to know whether a politician is fit and able to serve.
For example, Jack Layton’s health was a subject of deep concern for Canadians due not only to his leadership position but his rising popularity, and people needed and wanted to know if he would be able to carry on. Sadly, he couldn’t.
And then there’s Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, freshly out of addictions counseling. Of course the public has a right to know about his substance abuse because it goes directly to the question of whether he’s fit to be mayor.
Ford has also been accused of some inappropriate advances toward women not his wife, but those have involved very public accusations by those involved.
When a politician and spouse quietly decide to separate, how is that appropriate fodder for the media gossip mills?
There is no manual on this, no clear lines, but it’s not difficult to figure out. Politicians going through personal difficulties have a right to some privacy in certain situations.
We need to know about things like drug abuse, and life-threatening health issues, but we don’t need to know the details of a separation between man and wife. It has nothing to do with Gregor Robertson’s ability to do the job for which he was elected, and that’s the difference.