Awwwww, everybody drinks too much, just like the National Post says! Fuggedaboudit. Look at these young guys, partying it up at 24 Sussex Drive! Below: Ben Harper in 2010.


The National Post wants Canadians to smarten up and pay attention: Everybody drinks too much, OK? Even our reporters! So shut up about that 24 Sussex Drive binge drinking thing, or whatever it was. Probably nothing. Got that?

According to an article of 600 or so words swiftly published yesterday by Post writer Matt Gurney, news that an under-age drinker, female in gender, had been hauled away in an ambulance from the prime ministerial residence in Ottawa suffering from alcohol poisoning is no big deal, and certainly not a scandal.

As is now well known, an 18th birthday party at the prominent Ottawa address was under way at the time for Ben Harper, not the popular songwriter of the same name, but the son of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper. The legal drinking age in the province of Ontario – where, for those of you who missed it, Ottawa is located – is 19. Serving alcohol to persons under that age is illegal. And the Mounties who provide security at that address figure none of this is any of their business.

Now, Mr. Gurney’s article, which was published with a photograph of a group of young men, obviously not the sort who would be invited to the Harper residence, drinking to excess, appeared to be a swift and witty rendering of the Conservative Party of Canada talking points on the incident. In the piece, the age of the person who drank too much is merely reportedly 18 and her condition only perhaps as bad as described. It goes on to outline quite humourously the reasons we should all conclude this event was certainly not a scandal, and really not much of anything at all.

These include, in the approximate order they appear:

  • When he was Ben Harper’s age, Mr. Gurney went to house parties and sometimes drank too much
  • The worst most had to deal with were throbbing heads, although a lamp was broken
  • The children of prime ministers should get the same leeway as other kids (in all regards expect police attention, presumably)
  • Canadian media has traditionally ignored personal problems among powerful people, and this is as it should be
  • The RCMP were right not to “rat out” young Mr. Harper because they need him to trust them
  • The house party in question was “fairly typical”
  • “It’s not clear any laws were broken here” – say what?
  • The ambulance call was “an aberration”
  • And, “if this is the worst scandal to ever befall the Harpers, I’d say they’re doing OK.”

Clearly the hope of the Harper Family, the CPC, and the people who call the shots in the national media (as represented by Mr. Gurney’s employers at the National Post) is that this little bump in the road should immediately be forgotten by the rest of us.

Here’s the thing, though, laugh it off as they might, it won’t be forgotten. It will fester.

But the reason has nothing to do with the typical behaviour of young people on a bender, or what National Post reporters or former Globe and Mail reporters who now write blogs on Alberta politics did in their misspent but obviously enjoyable youths.

It doesn’t even have anything to do with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s past smoking habits or Mr. Gurney’s opinion that “good bodyguards need to employ a degree of discretion.”

No, there are two key reasons that the public, especially parents of young adults whom they love and worry about, will remember this one:

  1. Canadians don’t like entitlement – and getting away with openly illegal behaviour without paying the price the rest of our children would have to pay in the same circumstances because someone’s dad is a powerful man is a textbook example of entitlement.
  2. It’s easy to understand what happened because, as Mr. Gurney argued to dismiss it, it happens to so many people.

It’s not the big, technical, complicated wrongs that stick in people’s minds – prorogation to defy the will of Parliament and stay in power or the details of the Elections Act, for example.

It’s the simple things we all instinctively understand – like taking your kid and her friend on a free airplane ride and letting the taxpayers pay for it.

And, as we have just seen in Alberta, when ordinary citizens get riled up about stuff like that, there is hell to pay.

So it’s said here this little incident – and, more important, the way it is being brushed off as no big deal by big shots, Conservative politicians and the media – has the potential do more harm to the Harper Government than scandals in the Senate, unfair elections acts and unpopular pipelines galore.

Privileged kids. Powerful dads. Tame cops. Contempt for the rules. It’s all pretty easy to understand.

That’s why the National Post is working so hard to laugh it off.

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  1. The thing is that I know if it had happened at the Trudeau residence of the Mulcair residence the conservatives would have been braying about it non stop ever since. They would have ridden around in cars with megaphones blaring, and mentioned it in every single TV appearance they made, and tweeted about it and written columns about it.

  2. “…Privileged kids. Powerful dads. Tame cops. Contempt for the rules. It’s all pretty easy to understand…” And let’s not forget: hypocrisy. Harper and his followers are the holier-than-thou, “law and order”, “lock-’em-up and throw away the key” gang; why then is this OK?

    If Harper and his minions were not so busy lecturing the rest of us about being “law-abiding”, we might be willing to cut him a little slack on this one.

    1. re: “Harper and his followers are the holier-than-thou, “law and order”, “lock-’em-up and throw away the key” gang;”

      And of course these so-called “law and order” conservatives are consistent in other hand’s off hypocritical policies including:
      – private sector corporations routinely receiving ‘education’ penalties paid for with nominal fines as for violating environment regulations or health and safety regulations
      – lax treatment of corporate and wealthy tax evasion schemes, e.g. off-shore accounts
      – no enforcement of public land protection, e.g. rural Alberta being steadily torn up by rampant Off-highway vehicle use while AB PC’s look on.

      Most of today’s conservatives, especially their political leaders, are no longer practicing much that is conservative… they are actually radicals in their abuse and neglect of the public good.

      Sam Gunsch

  3. Sarah Boesveld wrote this in the National Post in September, 2011, in an article concerning underage driniking:

    “The laws governing alcohol and minors varies from province to province. In Ontario and Alberta, for example, it’s legal for parents to give their children a beer in the backyard —with the caveat that the parent is responsible for that child.”

    What was missing at the 24 Sussex pool party was parental responsibility. This is a case of bad parenting. My kids had their 18th birthday parties at my home. Alcohol was served, so my wife and I made damn sure that we were around to supervise the proceedings (somewhat to the chagrin of the party-goers, but so what? – that goes with the job of being a parent .).

    And if the police had ever discovered an underage teen passed out from alcohol poisoning in my driveway due to alcohol served at a party in my home, you can be sure that they wouldn’t have looked the other way. I would have received a hefty fine and, possibly, jail time.

  4. It pains me that a young woman imbibed enough that she required hospital attention, regardless of her perceived age. At 24 Sussex, I would expect stringent attention to the welfare of all guests, regardless of the nature of the occasion. I find that incompetent and saddening. The why of that incompetence is most questioning.

  5. Actual Ontario laws about alcohol consumption say that the under-19 no-drinking rule applies to commercial drinking establishments, which, presumably the PM’s residence is not. Anonymous (above) makes the same point, though rather inexactly. Parents, or those acting in their stead, may serve alcohol to children of any age, though precautions and discretion akin to those of the Anonymous family probably should be exercised to the fullest extent where the PM’s residence is concerned, lest a testy media outlet gets hold of the story. UK is the only country in the world that has a minimum age for children to be served alcohol by their parents.

  6. As far as the party in Sussex goes I’d say cut Ben the slack but add another pane in the glass house of Harper.

    On another note I have to comment on our temporary foreign worker program (or as they used to call it slavery). This abortion of a policy was enacted to relieve our beleaguered merchant class of the burden of market forces that might make a burger consisting of tortured beef and cheese factory floor sweepings a nickel more expensive. Our clown posse overlords should have had at least the decency to open a pathway to immigration for the poor victims whose “recruiters” and “landlords” pocket thousands while they are left to the vagaries of corporate ethics in the franchise formerly known as Canada. By the way did I tell Jason Kenney to blow me with his false teeth out yet? No? My mistake, apologies I’ll suspend my program ’til he does.

  7. You know, a sizeable number of Canadians thought Stevie were purty good, oh way back when. Seems like he spouted off some good one though his government were as crooked as a hocky stick. But now! Durn it, if he’d done got my goat! Wot with all the underaged drinkin’, the pedophile drummer friend, and the rumor mill about his wife-it make a minister with two right wings darn near pray!

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