By: Dan Laxer
Nothing about the current provincial election campaign could be described as sublime. But this past week it has officially descended into the ridiculous. Former mayoral candidate, Melanie Joly has actually had to publicly deny rumours that she and fledgling PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau are romantically linked. She laughed off the rumour, called it ridiculous, and said that she’s in a perfectly happy relationship with the man she’s been seeing since the municipal election campaign. I don’t know who that is. Let’s just refer to him as her “Steadman.”
I like that she laughed it off. I like that she called it ridiculous. Because it is. In fact, it’s ridiculous on two fronts: she seems to be saying “Me? With him? Don’t make me laugh.” At the same time, she ran in a political campaign with a mind toward running the city. She still leads the Vraie changement pour Montreal party. She obviously feels that she has something of substance to contribute to society. And, as a woman, I’m sure she feels she stands as a strong example for young women who might follow in her footsteps. Is her relationship status, Joly might wonder, really our biggest concern right now? Does it really matter to Quebec society who our potential political leaders are dating?
The last time Canadians were this concerned about a politician’s love life, beyond congratulating Justin and Sophie on the birth of their babies, was with the aforementioned Trudeau’s parents; the exploits of Margaret Trudeau were never very far below the surface while she and Pierre Elliott lived at 24 Sussex. They married and divorced at a time when the media were growing more and more interested in the private lives of political leaders. Since that time, though, nobody has really cared about that. And with good reason; it’s irrelevant. This type of things, this kind of gossipy nonsense, usually plays out well in the U.S. We are Canadian. We are more, as poet Shayne Koyczan says. We are better. Stained blue dresses and philandering congressmen have no place in our political landscape.
As far as PKP is concerned, he was in a relationship with local television star Julie Snyder. But that fell apart. After 10 years and two kids, they went their separate ways. Their highly publicized breakup was announced via press release back in January. It was obviously a much bigger deal in the French media than it was in English circles. Before his equally as highly-publicized foray into provincial politics, Julie was the political one, a known independentiste who supported Pauline Marois as the first female premier of the province.
This kind of gossip is fine for celebrities, for the talk-show and game-show hosts, and the media moguls, but is unbecoming of a star political candidate. I don’t know where the rumours came from. Had they been seen together? Did anyone catch them in the act together? No. But the social network was all over this rumour, and the media picked up on it. Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the problem of news-gathering units quoting Facebook and Twitter as their sources. In the post-Internet age rumours like these can persist, and annoy. Mondedestars.com made sure to point out that the rumours were just that, unconfirmed gossip until a few days later when Joly quashed them in a brief interview with 24H.
But does it bother no one that journalists and reporters have taken to scouring social media for story ideas, quotes, and confirmations? Facebook and Twitter have their validity when it comes to gauging public opinion and reaction to the news. And, sure, once in a while a news nugget might pop up in the Twitterverse that bears looking into. But it’s the looking into that makes a news story. And, indeed, you might argue that that’s exactly what happened here. Rumours surfaced where rumours tend to surface these days. And journalists went to the source to either confirm or deny the veracity of those rumours. But until such time as those rumours were quashed, lips were a-flappin’.
One also might wonder if PKP felt the sting of Joly’s laughter (“What’s wrong with me? I’m a good catch. Any woman would be lucky to have me.”). Or perhaps he found the notion just as humourous. But it seems clear, at least to me, that he still holds his ex, Julie Snyder, close to his heart. Upon announcing his association with the Parti Quebecois he paid homage to the mother of his two youngest children. He thanked her “deeply and sincerely” for her support. They’d only just announced their separation a little less than 3 months ago, and he would appear to still be suffering the emotional consequences of that breakup. “I’ve been through a very difficult time in the past 2 months,” he said. “Anyone who has been through a separation knows what a trying time it is.” He talked about the tolls of political life on a family, and said that he and Snyder have talked about, and are willing, to seek counseling “to find solutions.” Solutions to what? To the problems that lead to their separation in the first place? Could they be considering a reconciliation? Nobody knows. But he had apparently discussed it with her at length, presumably before they separated, before he jumped into the political forum.
At the risk of being overly cynical, perhaps they split up so that PKP can prove how well he does after separation. Afterall, isn’t the type of negotiation divorced parents go through the same kind of negotiation the government of a separated, er, uh, sovereign Quebec would want with Canada? That would indeed be our business. But in truth, it’s really PKP’s and Melanie Joly’s public lives we ought to be concerned about, and not what we perceive their personal lives to be.