I LOOKED UP from the breakfast table: “I might have accidentally slept with your best friend.”
“I misspoke,” I said, plucking her fork from my eye. “What I meant to say was ‘pass the jam.’ Please accept my apologies for any confusion.”
It isn’t easy to walk back certain statements. Tell the world that you take the word of a former KGB spymaster over that of your own intelligence community, and next thing you know you’re wriggling like a snake, trying to claim you mixed up the words while you were nuzzling the ear of the man who declared cyberwar on democracy.
So, I wondered, what would local former politicians have to say about their experiences of getting into and out of the Trumpian glue?
No, no, no, don’t draw parallels between Donald Trump and the inevitable missteps of normal politicians, replied former Victoria MP and federal cabinet minister David Anderson. “The current experience with Mr. Trump is orders of magnitude more serious than anything ever experienced before. It is breathtaking. The latest example, his effort to turn the word ‘would’ into the word ‘wouldn’t’ is so bare-faced dishonest, so egregiously a blatant falsehood, that the only sensible response is hysterical laughter.
“Isn’t there some children’s tale about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree and owning up to the crime because he could not tell a lie? President Trump would clear cut half of the entire United States and then declare with a straight face that not only had he not done it, but that he had personally planted more trees than the entire U.S. Forest Service. President Trump has taken lying and dishonesty in elected office to stratospheric heights. Anything we have experienced before here in Canada pales into total insignificance.”
OK, but our politicians still stumble into trouble. Once, when Dean Fortin was Victoria mayor, he was about to say “We’ve got to cut the Gordian knot” — that is, find a creative solution to a particularly thorny problem — when at the last second he decided that reference would be too obscure. Instead, what came out of his mouth was: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Animal rights activists raked him from head to toe, then buried him in the sand. How, they wanted to know, could he be so insensitive? “There’s no real answer except ‘sorry, that was a terrible choice of words,” Fortin said Wednesday.
Sometimes there’s no point in even trying to explain. When residents of tiny Highlands prepared to vote on whether to incorporate in 1993, a Times Colonist reporter suggested to Capital Regional District chairman Frank Leonard that it would be a “rinky dink municipality.” Leonard agreed. The TC headline then read “Leonard thinks Highlands would be a rinky dink municipality” or something like that.
Highlands voters found these words inspirational: “It inspired many of them to vote ‘yes,’ ” Leonard recalls. “Some followed me around Saanich meetings with placards saying ‘I want to be a rinky dink.’ I just rode it out, never denied it, never explained it, just went mum.”
Likewise, during a period when Leonard was being driven to distraction by Salt Spring Island residents, he gave a speech in which he said that if the Lower Mainland could be described as ranging from Desolation to Hope, the capital region went from Sooke to Nuts. This did not endear him to all those who read about it in the Salt Spring paper. Again, Leonard opted for silence.
The best way to stay out of the ditch is to stick to the straight and narrow. Murray Coell — 12 years on Saanich council, 16 as a Liberal MLA and cabinet minister — had advice Trump could use. “You don’t want to say anything that isn’t backed up by fact and you want to stay on top of your files.”
And stick to your guns. Erstwhile Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Keith Martin says he can remember saying lots of things that got him in trouble while in office, but none that he regretted. That includes the time he went against his own party, the Canadian Alliance, which wanted Canada to join the war in Iraq in 2003. “I got in a lot of trouble, but I meant it,” Martin says.
Martin, who now works for a non-profit just a mile or so from the White House, figures Trump is compromised, the Russians have something on him, Vladimir Putin is using him as a tool to undermine NATO and the European Union and — here’s the kicker — none of this matter’s to Trump’s base anyway. “They don’t care about Russia.” Some people can get away with anything.
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.