I doubt there is a person in Alberta over the age of twelve who hasn't heard about it, seen it on the television news, perhaps, or in the newspaper. It was front page, of course, the scandal involving a government MLA charged in a prostitution sting while in Minnesota for a conference. For some it was simply salacious gossip, a politician caught in a very, very tangled web - but for others it was something else. For others it was much closer to home, because the politician was one of us. You see Mike Allen, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, is my representative in government. I am one of his constituents. And for the record I would also consider myself to be one of his friends.
It is hard to describe what happened after I heard our local MLA had been charged. I cried when I was first told, cried for what it meant on every level, and cried because I - and my 13-year old daughter - have spent time with Allen. I was there when he announced his nomination for the PC party. I was there when he won the constituency in which I reside - my daughter and I were there for his victory party. I was there when he participated in announcements on the twinning of Highway 63. I'd been there for many of his high points in this journey, but now he was at a very low point. A crisis, no doubt, and not just for him but for so many in our community because Fort McMurray is, as I often say, the biggest small town in Canada. We may be a city in terms of population but we are the kind of place where we know each other pretty well, and where you see the same faces again and again. Mike Allen was not some "politician" - he was a friend, and it was hard to come to terms with the dichotomy of that relationship and seeing his face on the front page of newspapers after he was charged.
The hardest part for me as a mother was to tell my daughter about the incident. At almost fourteen she is old enough to understand prostitution, and the human cost. She knows about organized crime and human trafficking, and she is perhaps almost too astute when it comes to these issues. She is the kid with the CBC updates programmed on her iPhone, the kid who explained the robocall scandal to me - perhaps the true political junkie in the family. I was terrified to tell her, scared of how she would respond. But I screwed up my courage, and I told her about Mike, and the charges, and his resignation from the PC caucus, and what it all meant.
She was thoughtful when I told her, and she was upset, but what she came to very quickly is something that I only arrived at in stages. She very quickly arrived at forgiveness - not for our MLA as a politician, but for him as a person. She was disappointed, of course, and she expressed it, but she quickly followed it with "but you know, Mom, nobody is perfect - and it doesn't mean that he isn't mostly a good person. He just has some flaws."
Perhaps it is the way we have raised her, to not judge others, whether they are the homeless man on the street or a fallen politician. Perhaps it is her youthful optimism and idealism. Or perhaps it is simply that she is able to see that a man is more than the sum of his parts, and more than an indiscretion or even a criminal charge. I must admit that she helped talk me through all of this as I worked through various stages - disbelief, grief, anger, acceptance. She did not feel as though she "had" to feel any way, to condemn or condone, to rage or to empathize. She simply felt what she did, and then she moved on, and while she did she showed me the way to move on, too.
When I asked her if she thought Mike should immediately resign as MLA she told me that she was not sure. She asked if I thought he could continue to be effective outside government caucus as an independent, and I told her I was not sure. In fact what we discussed most was the uncertainties, because there are so many. It was one of the most open and frank conversations my child and I have ever had, and in some ways one of the most painful - but I think in the end it was one of the best, too.
There are many people who have asked if I, as a public figure (you can read that as "local loudmouth" if you like), would "demand" that Mike resign. There have been those who have judged me for not being quick enough to condemn, and those disappointed I was too slow in lending support. There have been those who clearly see this is a chance for political opportunism, a way to shift the dynamics of political representation in my community. But for the most part I think there have been those who have gone through the stages, too, from shock and disbelief, through grief and anger. For myself, though, what began as a devastating incident with sharp repercussions in my community has ended up being a learning experience for my child and myself. I think my daughter lost any illusion about the nature of politics, but I think she gained a great deal of understanding about how life throws you curveballs. And for me? It has been, as I often say, a helluva ride, and not over yet as I wait to see how this will all play out, a dance between a chastened MLA and some constituents struggling with their own feelings and thoughts.
There are many more issues that go along with all this - the impact of prostitution, and the impact of this incident on the reputation of Fort McMurray. There are the long-term repercussions, whether a by-election or an MLA who may represent us as an independent. There are so very many variables and factors, so many things of which I am uncertain. What I do know is this: we will work through it together, my child and myself, and my community. We will have those conversations in time and over time, and we will likely arrive at some new destinations - places we never imagined we would be because we never imagined this incident would occur. This has been a difficult few days in Fort McMurray, but it has also been a time of learning. It hasn't been easy, without a doubt - but sometimes the most is learned when one travels the most difficult path. I think perhaps this writer, her daughter, my community, and one MLA are living proof of that.