What’s the matter with Gary?
Gary Mar’s a smart guy, brilliant even. Last year, he came that close to becoming the premier of Alberta.
Despite the disappointment the former Alberta envoy plenipotentiary to the Imperial Capital in Washington must have felt last Oct. 2 when he lost the Progressive Conservative leadership race to Alison Redford, everyone has to admit the $265,000-a-year-plus-expenses sinecure he soon landed as Hong Kong-based lobbyist-in-chief to Asia’s oil buyers made a very nice consolation prize.
Indeed, it was once speculated in this space that Mr. Mar was a likely candidate to replace the sour old neo-Con Stephen Harper as Conservative prime minister of Canada.
Alas, nothing like that is ever likely to happen because Mr. Mar – charming and determined though he may be – just can’t keep from repeatedly shooting himself in the foot, metaphorically speaking.
Who can forget the $400,000 or so in public funds that Mr. Mar saw paid to his friend and political confidante Kelley Charlebois for verbal advice delivered between 2001 and 2004, no record of which apparently was ever kept? Certainly not his political opponents in last year’s leadership race, who ensured that the issue resurfaced with regularity.
Then there was Mr. Mar’s promise four years ago not to take his $478,000 “transition allowance” when he quit being an MLA to go off and be Alberta’s tarsands pitchman in Washington, after that his revised promise to take it after all but not while he was in Washington, and then his re-revised decision to take it all anyway.
Tout le monde official Alberta agreed then that Mr. Mar broke no rules with that one – but the optics were far from ideal for a fellow then considered to be the front-runner in the race to replace the hapless Ed Stelmach as premier. It was, one suspects, yet another reason for a lot of wavering PC leadership voters to cast ballots for Ms. Redford, whose campaign successfully tarred Mr. Mar as an avatar of old-time Tory insider entitlement.
But thanks to Ms. Redford, Mr. Mar had soon tripped off to Hong Kong, and most Albertans assumed they’d heard the last of the fellow.
Now he’s back, sort of, and he’s in hot water again – this time for the way he, or someone trying to help him, went about raising funds to cover the last of the astonishing $2.7 million he spent on his doomed leadership campaign.
Seems Mr. Mar send out invitations to a fund-raiser that sort of suggested folks who helped him pay off his $262,000 campaign deficit by coming to the dinner at Edmonton’s Petroleum Club could purchase a little face time with Alberta’s top man in Asia.
By the time someone had picked up on the implications and the invitations had been revised, it was too late. Ms. Redford ordered Mr. Mar to take an unpaid leave of absence from his job while an ethics investigation is conducted – and not by Mr. Charlebois, either, who not that long ago was pressed into service investigating alleged voting irregularities that briefly derailed the campaign of Ms. Redford’s favoured candidate for the Calgary West nomination.
Nope, the investigation will be done by Alberta’s ethics commissioner, an officer of the Legislature who can take his sweet time if he wants to – which could be a problem for top-spender Mar since, presumably, the meter will continue to run on the suspended envoy’s no-doubt-pricey Hong Kong lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the premier’s spokesthingy told the Edmonton Journal yesterday, “the point is to have the ethics commissioner look at all aspects of the fundraiser. The premier felt it was important to get that in his hands right away. He can take a look at it, how it was conducted, any concerns with Mr. Mar’s role in it, and we’ll see what he comes back with.”
So, on the day when the PC Party released five of its six candidates’ leadership expenses – by comparison, Ms. Redford spent a paltry $1.3 million on her campaign – everyone was chattering about Mr. Mar’s troubles instead of digging through the reports and trying to figure out why anti-union agitators, slumlords, booze merchants and at least one senior health official gave so much money to so many of the candidates.
Together, the five candidates who bothered to report their donations raised and spent well over $6 million on their campaigns. The sixth candidate, the well-heeled Rick Orman, gave up $15,000 of his deposit to avoid reporting, explaining that he’s a private citizen now so the curious can just take a leap.
As for Mr. Mar – whose cautious auditor included a note that the firm was “unable to obtain sufficient audit evidence to satisfy ourselves” – he will no doubt be cleared by the ethics commissioner, but not before Ms. Redford’s campaign allegation that he epitomizes what’s wrong with the party’s old boys takes even deeper root in the public consciousness.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.