Alberta Politics
Robert “Broadway Bob” McClelland, B.C. Social Credit cabinet member in the 1980s, whose imperfect memory did him no favours (Photo: Creator unknown, it’s a memory issue, but it was found in the author’s file cabinet).

Bad political memories – sometimes they’re an asset, sometimes not so much

Posted on August 17, 2021, 2:10 am
6 mins

A lousy memory might be a bad sign if you can’t remember what you went downstairs to fetch, or where you left your glasses, but sometimes in politics it can be a blessing. 

Consider the report of Marguerite Trussler, Q.C., the Alberta Legislature’s ethics commissioner, into complaints about how Education Minister Adriana LaGrange went about contracting a Red Deer company to manufacture schoolkids’ COVID masks for the for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

To briefly summarize, a letter received by the commissioner back in January alleged the minister broke the Conflicts of Interest Act by ensuring the substantial contact went to a generous donor to her campaign and that of the United Conservative Party. 

After an investigation in which 16 people were interviewed under oath, the ethics commissioner found she could not reach that conclusion, thereby clearing Ms. LaGrange of the conflict accusation.

Without dwelling on a case that has now concluded without a finding of wrongdoing – indeed, without finding anything, by the sound of it – it is worth noting that the concluding paragraphs of the report raised eyebrows yesterday in political circles throughout Alberta. 

“Unfortunately,” Ms. Trussler wrote on page 26 of her 27 page report, “given the memories of the Deputy Minister, the Minister and (the minister’s chief of staff), it is not possible to say (what happened). It does not mean that they are not credible witnesses, but only that their memories are not reliable.”

“For the Minister to have breached the Act, I would have to find on a balance of probabilities that she directed the purchase … She denied doing so. 

“I would have to draw an inference from the rest of the evidence that she did,” Ms. Trussler continued on the report’s final page. “There is insufficient evidence from which to draw such an inference.

“In conclusion, there are unanswered questions about the procurement of masks … There is no doubt that the Minister’s office had some involvement with that process. As a result of the lack of memory of several key people, even though there are grounds for suspicion, it is not possible to find, on a balance of probabilities, that Minister LaGrange interfered with the process …”

Case closed.

Remembering the lousy memory of B.C.’s Broadway Bob

Those of you who aspire to a political career, however, need to remember that not every case of unreliable political memory may have as happy an outcome. 

The late Bill Bennett, British Columbia’s premier from 1975 to 1986 (Photo: Creator unknown, found in the author’s file cabinet).

In the 1980s, one Robert McClelland, Calgary-born former journalist who held several senior cabinet posts in the British Columbia Social Credit government of premier Bill Bennett, experienced problems with his memory, too, which proved less helpful in the event. 

The MLA for the Lower Mainland community of Langley came to be known in 1982 as “Broadway Bob” after an official junket as minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources to New York City. During the visit, B.C. taxpayers had to pony up for his tickets to a risqué Broadway musical and the cost of keeping a limo on standby for 10 hours idling outside the famous Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South.

Mr. McClelland’s memory difficulties, however, began on the night of Feb. 26, 1985, when he may have been celebrating his transfer from the Labour portfolio, always a challenge on the West Coast in those days, to the more congenial environs of the ministry of industry and small business. 

At any rate, that evening he phoned a Victoria escort agency known as Top Hat Productions and used his credit card to pay a $130 bill for something. This became a problem when it turned out the Victoria Police had been keeping an eye on the business and charged its owner with 19 prostitution-related offences. 

With the tolerant premier Bennett on the way out, and the rather more traditional Bill Vander Zalm about to replace him, this had the potential to become a serious problem for Broadway Bob.

Mr. McClelland did not remain in cabinet after Mr. Vander Zalm became premier in August 1986. Nor did he seek re-election in the election that fall, retiring from politics instead to serve diligently for many years on corporate boards until his death in 2015.

However, the embarrassment of his role in the Top Hat Affair lingered after his hasty departure from politics. 

Called by the defence to testify in the trial of Top Hat’s proprietress in 1987, he had to explain to the court why he had no memory of what happened that night. Minister McClellan was forced to fall back on the traditional I’m sorry, m’Lud, I was too drunk to recall defence. 

The lesson, journalist Daniel Bitoni suggested in the Globe and Mail in 2013, is “do cash-only transactions.”

12 Comments to: Bad political memories – sometimes they’re an asset, sometimes not so much

  1. Anonymous

    August 17th, 2021

    Doesn’t matter what it is that they do wrong, and how serious it is, the UCP will find a way to get away with it, just like their hero, Ralph Klein did. You just cannot trust these pretend conservatives and Reformers.

  2. ronmac

    August 17th, 2021

    North American politics continues to be inhibited by a stifling puritanical morality, much to the bewilderment of our old European colonial masters.
    If a politician in France, for example, is caught tangled up in a forbidden web he is celebrated. In fact, this is what the electorate expects. Besides exhibiting sound fiscal judgement, they want their politicians involved in scandal. The more the merrier. In the purest sense it’s entertainment, real life soap opera unfolding in real time of which they are part.
    I long for the day when a politician in Canada stands up and says, “Elect me and I promise I’ll make scandal my middle name and you will cancel you Netflix subscription.”

  3. Dave

    August 17th, 2021

    The ethics conclusion sounds a lot like the old Scottish verdict of not proven – I have my suspicions, but any evidence is obscured behind faulty memories. I have my suspicions Ms. Lagrange’s faulty memory may be too conveniently beneficial, but of course that can’t be proven either.

    For her benefit and peace of mind, perhaps her family should arrange a test with AHS if they have concerns. In any event, I doubt Premier Kenney is about to bring in an era of higher moral or ethical standards any time soon, so her job is probably safe for now, as long as she remembers who the boss is.

    I do like the name Broadway Bob and the related story. If only he could have remembered to use cash. I suppose his defense again would have been that he was too drunk to use such good judgement. I suspect there actually is some truth to that.

    Unfortunately, I struggle to come up with a snappy name for this recent incident. Forgetgate doesn’t quite cut it and Alzheimer Adriana seems a bit harsh. Perhaps her memory will improve if she reduces the stress in her life. She needs to go to an entertaining show or something to take her mind off things, although for some reason I wouldn’t suggest a Broadway one.

  4. Mike J Danysh

    August 17th, 2021

    Repeat after me: “I have no clear memory of that event.” Repeat as needed until the questioner gives up.

  5. Abs

    August 17th, 2021

    I wonder what else sleepy Adriana has gotten up to that she can’t remember? She never seems to be fully awake, so would anyone be surprised if there is much, much more?

  6. Firth of Fifth

    August 17th, 2021

    So Ol’ Sleepy Eyes Lagrange is off the hook because she “can’t” remember doing anything wrong? Got it. This is the sorry state we’ve reached, my friends. It’s also the reason why cops should never investigate cops and politicians should never be investigated by toothless/spineless ethics commissioners.

  7. Just Me

    August 17th, 2021

    It used to be that saying “the dog ate my homework” was a *perfectly* suitable explanation for a wide variety of transgressions that any politician was caught doing. Now, politicians have they have to say, “I forgot how my dog ate my homework” just to get away with anything. All that extra effort — oh, the injustice of it all.

    But does anyone really believe anything a politician says anymore? One has to weight the bizarro nature of the explanation against the likely lapse of integrity of the politician doing the lying and determine whether or not they should get a pass. A citizen’s work just got more amusing.

    While Adriana LaGrange comes across more like someone who should be taking a nap, rather than managing an education ministry, one gets the impression that if she told a lie it’s because she was made to and move along. That’s Alberta for you.

    Something even more unusual is the recently announced CPC election platform. After checking it out, I’m not sure what the CPC is getting at.

    First off, the cover features a rather fit photo of Erin O’Toole, posing as though he’s about to do some kind of cross-fit competition. Now, I know O’Toole, or any politician for that matter, doesn’t anything even that rigorous in terms of a physical fitness activity. I’ve been told that the one benefit that MPs in Ottawa never use is their private gym/fitness club, so we can rule out O’Toole’s interest in fitness doesn’t go beyond posing for his party’s election platform booklet.

    As for the platform itself, it’s loaded with a ton of amazing promises that will make Canada into the “Shining City on a Hill” promised by the last progressive Republican president.

    While there some details of interest in the platform, it reads more like a rolling back of everything Stephen Harpo and his government did during their tenure in office. In this light, the platform reads like a satire piece from the Beaverton.

    There are two items that are getting a fair bit of chatter… the one month GST holiday and a one month 50% discount on restaurant services and other similar items. It was then that the platform begins to ring like something the UCP would have dreamed up.

    Kenney is big on support the restaurant and food services industry, that’s why he accepts contributions from them and altered the minimum wage law to make it UCP-friendly, and a host of other legislation governing over-time for service industry workers.

    Thinking back to the platform’s exciting cover, I’m wondering if the weird platform ideas and the whole dumb-assed approach to the platform was the AEC War Room’s idea? I mean when you want first-class in stupidity, you go to the best provider.

    • jerrymacgp

      August 19th, 2021

      Just Me: “ …any politician for that matter, doesn’t anything even that rigorous in terms of a physical fitness activity” Actually, I think this is an unkind over-generalization. Certain the Liberal leader & incumbent Prime Minister seems as fit as ever, as does martial arts practitioner & NDP leader Jagmeet Singh — did you see that photo of him getting his COVID-19 shot? I’d be chuffed to have guns like that. Of course, I can’t say this applies to politicians as a group.

      Then there’s the “shining city” line … from the “last progressive Republican president”, you say? No, actually, if memory serves, it was from the Hollywood dinosaur himself, Ronald Reagan. Hardly progressive.

  8. Scotty on Denman

    August 17th, 2021

    Heh, great trip down memory lane!

  9. pogo

    August 17th, 2021

    Find me an illustrator who can craft a cartoon. I will spill my vicious diatribes and insane maunderings. That person will populate them with drawings! I think it would be a fine enhancement to your blog!

  10. Alan K Spiller

    August 17th, 2021

    When you talk about bad memories you have to include a lot of Albertans. It didn’t take long for them to forget what Ralph Klein did to them. It was all forgotten by the next election and he was given another majority government.

    When six of us senior conservatives formed Seniors United Now to travel the province to talk to senior groups to make them aware of what Klein was doing to us we got called all sorts of sarcastic names. Klein was their hero and could do no wrong. It wasn’t long before these same seniors were whining about the long wait times in emergency wards and the fact that they couldn’t get medical help when they needed it , finding themselves being put on long waiting lists. Watching some of our senior friends suffer in horrible pain needing hip and knee replacements was something we won’t forget. None of them were dumb enough to think it wasn’t Klein’s fault.

    Of course to some of these other fools it wasn’t Klein’s fault it was the fault of those damn doctors and nurses who wanted an increase in wages and he wouldn’t give it to them so they left, forgetting how he closed hospitals, three in Calgary, closed 1,500 hospital beds and cut 5,000 nursing positions creating this mess. Klein’s own father Phil certainly knew it was Ralph to blame and the lawsuits launched against him for death attributed to his health care cuts proved it.

    I’m betting the ignorance shown by Jason Kenney will all be forgotten and ignorant Albertans will vote for Kenney’s buddy Erin O’Toole, the fool, as some are calling him, ignoring the fact that his mandate is the same as Stephen Harper’s force the ignorant Canadians into a privatized health care system while we help our rich friends steal their oil , gas and tax wealth, what do you think?

    Kenney certainly has a lot of Albertans, especially seniors , believing the lie that Ottawa is stealing all our money, even though there are lots of studies proving otherwise.

  11. Northern Loon

    August 18th, 2021

    Broadway Bob had some good company with his Cabinet mates in his use of alcohol. A statement/question in the legislature of the day questioned the then Premier on his use of ‘scotch on his cornflakes’ that morning.

    A later BC Premier spent the night in a Hawaiian jail after being picked up for drunk driving while on vacation.

    Here in Alberta we have our own political drinking stories, the most recent being our premier and some (mostly) political friends having an al fresco meal with several bottles of wine and a particularly large bottle of what the Premier described as ‘Jameson’s is a budget whisky’.

    Alcohol and political leadership never seems to have a ‘happy ending’.


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