When political staffers make the news, it's because they are one of three things: influential (see: Darrel Dexter communications director Shawn Fuller convincing his boss to sell the province down the river for the benefit of the NSGEU); undeservingly powerful (see: the Stephen Harper PMO's legendary "boys in short pants"); or, as I would argue in this particular situation, absolutely, positively friggin' clueless.
Multiple sources tell Frank Magazine that Premier Stephen McNeil's press secretary, Laurel Munroe, went into panic mode the moment she learned that Frank's v. own answer to Annie Leibovitz, Cliff Boutilier, had arrived on the scene to shoot the Liberal Annual General Meeting in Membertou on Saturday night.
We're advised that cabinet ministerial phones started blowing up, with exhortations like, "Frank Magazine's here. Don't let them take your picture!" As one would expect, certain cabinet ministerial faces were quite perplexed upon receiving this intelligence. They're politicians, after all. Quite used to getting their pictures taken. Most of them quite like it. What exactly is the cause for concern, here?
Yet, within moments of firing off those warning texts to hapless Liberals who might find themselves in the line of fire, our sources say Laurel alerted Black Belt Security and Cape Breton Regional Police that an undesirable type had infiltrated the event, and said undesirable type must be removed.
One politico in attendance that night tells Frank Magazine Laurel was positively "gleeful" once the rogue reporter was dispensed with. Sort of leaves a bad taste in one's mouth, doesn't it? It certainly does in mine. Not to mention, Frank owner Parker Rudderham's.
The Coxheath resident wonders whether this unpleasantness in Membertou might be in some way related to the fact that he gave Laurel the cold shoulder when she crashed a soiree at his house a few years back.
"She got the same reception as anyone who comes uninvited to my house," Parker recalls. Laurel and her "friend" apparently got the hint pretty quick, fleeing the scene after maybe 20 minutes.
"Therein might lie the problem," sez Parker.
Irony of ironies number one: with over 100 people at his house, Parker says he had Black Belt Security working the door, to ensure things went smoothly. I wonder if Laurel was thinking about how small she felt when she was forced to fast-talk her way past security into that party a few years back, when she gave Frank Mag the 'ol heave-ho on Saturday? (Who's undesirable now, etc...)
Irony of ironies number two: An Angus L. Macdonald Club reception was underway when Cliff was forced to make his unceremonious exit from the AGM. The Club is for Liberal Party donors who give more than $600 annually. Although Parker wasn't on hand for the festivities that night, he's a member.
I'm still waiting for an explanation from Laurel herself. Newly-minted Liberal caucus office communications staffer Dylan Blain promised to get to the bottom of things and report back to me on Saturday night. Alas, that returned phonecall never came. And, despite being active on Twitter this morning, the late-40ish former Cape Breton Post reporter wasn't answering her phone just before blog posting time.
Read on for a full accounting of the sorry affair.
-Andrew Douglas, Frank Magazine
May 4/2015, 12:10PM
by Cliff Boutilier
Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition, but I find it's always good to keep one eye over my shoulder just in case. You never know who might be gaining on you.
So, I'm sitting in a small foyer outside the main ballroom at the Membertou Convention Centre looking on, camera in hand, as the governing Libs mill about as their annual AGM is about to reach its big Saturday night crescendo.
Frankly, there's plenty of other things I'd rather be doing on this Saturday night. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao springs to mind. But duty calls. Moreover, in over two decades Frank Magazine has rarely missed a political AGM, and unless something totally bizarre and knee‑jerk is in the cards, we're not about to spoil a near perfect attendance record.
It was an uneventful drive from Halifax. Found Willie's Roadhouse, Channel 59 on Sirius, so the classic country, Willie, Merle, Hank and Possum was great company. The tunes and the cruise control would put me in Sydney shortly after 5 p.m., late to register for the big event, but, bloody hell, I was a known commodity among this crowd. Just as the happy participants, and their various peccadilloes are known to me.
Behind me is the bar. There's three people working it. A heavy bouquet of red wine hangs in the air. There's easy banter among staff. They're expecting some heavy traffic tonight. Already Guysborough MLA Lloyd Hines has made an early trip for refreshment. The Lloydster is bellied up to the bar when I make my entrance.
There's flip‑flopper finance minister Diana Whalen hangin' at the end of the bar. Dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Education minister Karen Casey lays off the traditional Liberal red. She's poured herself into a navy blue pantsuit. Perhaps she's returning to her Karen Casey Tory Days. But even the most darling of pantsuits can't hide Karen Casey liver spots.
Halifax Chebucto MLA, and blackface enthusiast Joachim Stroink is all smiles and decked out in a teeny‑weeny, tiny bowtie. I strongly suspect the purpose of this new accessory is to ensure that Mr. Stroink looks like an intellectual. I think it makes him look silly. Like a 1960s ice cream vendor. Business minister Mark Furey is looking rather business‑like. My own MLA Labi Kousoulis is dressed a lot like me. Casual. Open collar. Blue jeans. As usual neophyte Natural Resources minister, the impressionable Zach Churchill, is dressed up like a stick of gum. He's always in such a hurry, young Zachariah, always strutting about with such urgency. With such a concerned look on his face. Seems every time three or more people cluster together, young Zachariah has to strut back and forth until he finally gets noticed. Look, there's Lloyd Hines back at the bar.
A familiar face hangs outside a small meeting room where the high‑rolling party donors are getting some quality face‑time with Premier Stephen McNeil. It's a very private club. Manning (Porker) MacDonald, the long‑time, now retired Cape Breton South MLA calls me over. We've had some battles over the years, me and Porker. We just walk on two very different sides of the street. But the rules of engagement were always understood. It never got deeply personal.
Porker is with embattled Health minister Leo Glavine and Hammonds Plains backbencher Ben Jessome. Jessome's a pretty clean‑cut kid, and despite all that the Health portfolio has put poor Leo Glavine through, he's looking remarkably relaxed and composed. The four of us chat very briefly. It's good to see Porker again. A likeable rogue, he can still play ya pretty good. Both Jessome and Glavine could learn a thing or two about the art of politics from Porker. The do's and the don'ts.
I shoot their photo and they disappear into the high‑rollers wet dream room. There'll be time for more photos when Premier McNeil and the high‑rollers exit their love‑in. There's only one exit back into the foyer, unless you escape in the pedway. But that's only going to take you back to the hotel.
There's a gal on the glass door outside the high‑rollers room. This is her day in the sun. "Tighty" plays it up good. Real good. Better snag her photo too, I thought to myself. And I did.
Caper David Sheppard also plays it up good. He's working on the other side of the glass door.
When the high‑rollers appear to be running low on wine, David will poke his head out the door, out among the commoners, and beckon for more wine. David and his common Cape Breton mom, Lorraine Sheppard, from River Ryan, are v. important Liberals. I used to get shit‑faced with David at Merril's Lounge in Halifax. But it's unlikely David would remember those days now. Of course the Libs were in the political wilderness in those days. They weren't that self‑important back in the day. Didn't particularly care what low‑brow company they kept. Yep, David could put it away pretty good. And a very funny guy, back then. Great company.
"Tighty" on the door is staring me down. The word is out that Frank Magazine is in the building. Big deal, I say. Shouldn't make any appreciable difference in the lives of these outstanding citizens, whether Frank Magazine is in the building or not. And, heck, I'm a citizen too. But I'm not feeling the love. Two plain clothes guys stand in the foyer. One guy, the big black guy, briefly flashes open his suit jacket so I can catch a fleeting glimpse of the shiny police badge clipped on his belt. I pretend not to notice. Just as I pretend not to notice the three Black Belt Security (Daniel F. MacDougall, prop.) rent‑a‑cops who have just shown up. Three? Maybe four. I can't remember, everything happened so fast. And why are they also staring at me?
I think I'll take a walk just to break the tension. Just to see if the rent‑a‑cops continue to track me. I walk into the main ballroom to see how preparations are going for the big dinner. Ah, the preparations are going splendidly. The finest in Membertou cutlery is being laid out. This pleases me, to no end. I'm impressed. I look over my shoulder. Yes, ma'am, still got a lot of eyeballs on me.
So I leave the main ballroom. Move along, nothing to see here. I again walk by the rent‑a‑cops. They also look splendid in their Dollar Store nylon jackets and clip‑on neckties. There's a frightfully serious countenance shared on their faces.
I return to the end of the bar in the foyer. Thought about ordering a cold drink. But since I had already helped myself to a tall glass of ice water from one of the tables in the main ballroom, I was okay on that front. I was fine. Lots of gas left in the tank. Let's get the party started. Bring on the 6 p.m. reception, so I can do what I was sent here to do. So I can do what I do. What Frank Magazine has been doing for years.
I notice, too, that the traffic back and forth from the high‑rollers room to the coat check at the other end of the foyer has picked up tremendously. There's a lot of important people suddenly scurrying back and forth between the high‑rollers room at one end of the foyer and the coat check at the other end. Important people like party prez Dr. John Gillis, Bill's boy, are back and forth with some degree of urgency. Heads are down and electronic gadgets are lighting up with news of great import. Has the Membertou coat check suddenly become some variety of informal command post?
Something was definitely going on. I could sense the Laurel Munroe Homeland Security Advisory spiralling from Yellow, to Orange, to Red. Clearly there was an imminent threat. Clearly there was a clear and present danger. It was as if somebody had spotted some Osama bin Laden type parading through the joint with the Timbits and his trusty Kalashnikov!
It was getting difficult to process it all. I take a seat back at the end of the bar. No sooner do I sit down when in march two Cape Breton Regional Police constables. They take to their station near a stairwell, which will lead you to the 6 p.m. reception. One constable is a v. large woman, looking a tad aboriginal, who might have a certain degree of difficulty in a foot race. The other officer is a Const. Fitzgerald. He's a youthful looking lad with a slight build. He doesn't look at all imposing, or intimidating, but he does fiddle a bit with his billy club. I smile. He smiles back. This young man would do just fine in a foot race.
The pair of CBRM police officers are now joined by what appears to be the lead rent‑a‑cop, Mr. Rent‑A‑Cop‑In‑Chief. He has an unkempt moustache and red, ruddy face. Whatever they are huddling about, it appears to be a matter of weighty significance. Not sure where this is going. Better snag a couple of pictures of this mysterious huddling, I thought to myself. And I did.
Moments later Mr. Rent‑A‑Cop‑In‑Chief engages me. He asks me to follow him downstairs. I agree to this request. There doesn't seem to be too much going on here on the upper deck, right at the moment. The high‑rollers gala seems to be going on forever. Whatever is keeping them? Are they waiting for someone to leave the foyer, or what? I've got a few minutes to spare, so off we go.
Mr. Rent‑A‑Cop‑In‑Chief leads the way. There's no conversation, yet, but I look over my shoulder and the two CBRM police constables have closed ranks in behind me. We're having our own little parade. And I have my very own little security detail. Just like the streets of Baltimore, I muse quietly to myself.
At the bottom of the stairs there's another room. In we march. The four of us. We go behind closed doors. There are no witnesses. Just me and the boys. And the boys aren't getting my camera. That is NOT going to happen.
At this point rent‑a‑cop asks my name. I don't know why. He already knows my name. I get the impression he already knows the name of my employer, too. But I play along. Before we get too far into our pleasantries I ask him his name. He says it's Joe MacKenzie or something horribly Scottish like that.
He tells me I have to leave. He tells me this Nova Scotia Liberal Party function (Mr. Stephen McNeil & Mr. John Gills, props.) is a "private function." Incredibly observant, Mr. Rent‑A‑Cop tells me I have been taking photographs at this private function, and this is a very threatening thing apparently ‑ to the Nova Scotia Liberal Party. It has caused enormous consternation and terror.
Yep, it wasn't some bad Osama bin Laden type brandishing a Kalashnikov after all. Nor was it some deranged NSGEU member with a pipe bomb, or some disgruntled N.S. filmmaker with an artzie‑fartzie knapsack full of hand grenades. No sir, it was some beat‑up old fart with a cheap sure‑shot digital camera causing all the fuss and bother. Well, well, well, if that wouldn't make Stephen McNeil shit his foookin' pants, what the foook would? Oh, the terror! Oh, the torment! Oh, the depravation! Oh, the humanity!
I tried to explain to rent‑a‑cop, that as much as I am certain that members of the N.S. Liberal Party are fine, fine folk, they're just not my cup of tea. No offence, but I wouldn't hang with them for the sake of hanging with them. Especially on a Saturday night. I am only here because I am working. As such I am guilty as charged.
As for this matter of a so‑called "private function" what the hell was the use trying to explain to this Cape Breton MENSA member that taxpayers pay through the nose for not only the salaries, perks, platinum‑plated pensions of our MLAs, we pay through the nose to keep these political parties afloat. We pay for their hangers‑on, their handlers, and their idiot mouthpuppets like that utterly useless twit Laurel Munroe, press flak to McNeil, who did her best work years ago when she was covering baby showers for the Cape Breton Post.
I suspected it might have been Munroe who called the cops into the Membertou Convention Centre on my behalf. But rent‑a‑cop refused to confirm just who it was who shit their pants and called the cops.
You know, and I felt sorry for the two CBRM police constables who were called in to tend to my terror spree. With all the murder, robbery, drug abuse, and domestic violence in the CBRM this is what their finest in blue get called out to tend to? "Get here quick before Frank Mag snags a photo of Minister Whalen with mayonnaise on her upper lip!" Guess, I never realized just how dangerous I was.
My newly formed security detail follow me back up stairs.
Yeah, I felt sorry for the two police officers. Just as I felt sorry for Nova Scotians, too, stuck with a government who just don't know how to govern. With this Liberal crowd, which has been out of power so bloody long, they've completely forgotten how to govern. A group of chickenshit men and women, and incompetent press hacks, who go out of their way to bully, to intimidate, to pick fights. A majority government run by an angry refrigerator repairman, who has had to backtrack on every ill‑advised, ill‑conceived scrap he has started in the last 18‑months. Check the record. Why, if it wasn't such a serious matter for this province, I might want to laugh.
I sat in the car, phoned Frank managing editor Andrew Douglas, and asked him if he was sitting down. Understandably, there was stunned silence on the other end of the phone.
I turned the radio on. Merle Haggard was singing, "You're walkin' on the fightin' side of me....."