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Might be more than Trudeau losing PR points over elbowgate

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It was around 1979 or early 80’s perhaps. Early June I think. The New Brunswick legislature was in session with added evening sittings, trying to work through a number of bills before breaking for the summer. There’s no air conditioning in the legislature and it was hot, and nerves were frayed. Nobody wanted to be there but the Opposition Liberals were dragging out the debates.

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Rodman Logan was one of the frontbenchers in the Richard Hatfield government. I was in the Press Gallery and unlike these days, reporters actually sat on the floor of the legislature, so we had a ringside seat for what was about to unfold.

As the debate dragged on, Logan took strong exception to some comment from somebody on the Opposition side. As I remember it he felt somebody said something disparaging about his war record.

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The next thing he’s across the floor and up into the face of Liberal MLA Leroy Washburn. So Washburn is on his feet and the next thing Washburn’s glasses go flying to the floor. It was never definitively established whether Washburn dropped them himself as he was taking them off in the heat of the moment or whether Logan had knocked them off. Then fellow Tories grabbed Logan and escorted him back across to the government side.

It was reported as a heated incident or some such thing but otherwise nobody made a big deal about it.  Within a day or two it was forgotten. Mind you this was pre-video and pre-social media and it was a different time. People weren’t so damned sensitive.

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I mention this story because of the great contrast with the fallout from Prime Minister Trudeau’s stupid stunt last week.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that physical contact shouldn’t be condemned, and of course it is, and the procedure and House affairs committee will now review the whole thing and there will probably be some kind of sanction.

But perhaps some perspective would be nice. The PM lost his cool at the delay tactics by MPs on the other side and in a moment he would undoubtedly like to take back he physically led the Opposition whip through the crowd, accidently bumping NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the process. Then he apologized. Three times, and not those wimpy half-baked apologies politicians often offer, but totally unreserved apologies. It had to have been a humbling experience, and deservedly so. No question it was behaviour unbecoming any politician, let alone the Prime Minister.

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But what came next, and continues, was the over-the-top reaction by the NDP and the Conservatives. It started with Ms. Brosseau saying she was so shaken at being elbowed in the chest that she had to go into the corridor to collect herself. Imagine if every woman who has ever been on a crowded subway or was in a crowded bar or busy line up responded like that every time they were accidently bumped.

But it is politics and she’s milking it, as are the others. Comments range from Trudeau being compared to a drunken driver and even worse, a molester. Others dug deep to find comparisons to domestic violence.

It’s too early to determine what the public relations fallout will be. Trudeau showed a side of him that flies in the face of his carefully crafted “sunny ways” persona. So no question he has taken a hit.

But Canadians are by and large a forgiving and fair-minded lot, and I sense just as much backlash against the exaggerated response of the opposing politicians.  If there is a consensus it seems to be – OK, he messed up, but he apologized, so could we just move on.

If the Conservatives and NDP don’t take that to heart, it won’t be just Trudeau that takes a PR beating over this.

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Back on that hot evening all those years ago in the New Brunswick legislature, I recall a bit of what was said, but I don’t remember any apology being a part of it. And I sure didn’t see Leroy Washburn retiring to the back room to collect himself. Although he probably did pick up his glasses. Times have changed. 

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