CANADA

A troubling past

Bhaduria’s resignation embarrasses the Liberals

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 7 1994
CANADA

A troubling past

Bhaduria’s resignation embarrasses the Liberals

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 7 1994

A troubling past

Bhaduria’s resignation embarrasses the Liberals

At times, the descriptions of Ontario MP Jagdish Bhaduria sound as though they apply to different people. There is the dedicated teacher who, in the early 1980s, was lauded by colleagues as “approachable,” “charming” and “firm but fair” with students. There is the skilled political organizer who won hotly contested Liberal nominations in his upscale riding of Markham/Whitchurch/Stouffville in 1988

tien’s most enthusiastic Ontario organizers during his 1990 leadership campaign. And there is the driven, boastful, easily offended figure who, over the past 17 years, has issued threats of violence and many unfounded accusations of racism. As a 1990 inquiry under the Ontario Human Rights Code concluded, Bhaduria “has a significant lack of perspective about many things.”

and 1993, and who was one of Jean Chré-

Last week, that controversial history finally caught up with the Liberal party itself. Bhaduria’s resignation from caucus—hours before the CBC challenged his academic credentials—served as the climax to a bizarre episode in which he and his now-former colleagues in the Liberal party showed signs of inconsistency. Last fall, the party made much of Chrétiens promise to restore “openness and integrity” to Canadian politics.

Even so, the party tried its hardest after revelations of Bhaduria’s past became public to sweep the issue under a rug. Similarly, the Liberals promise of “frugality” seems at odds with the recent behavior of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Marcel Massé, who was markedly unrepentant after spending taxpayers’ money— $173,000 according to the Reform party, $40,000 by the Liberals’ own measure—to fly in a government jet to Boston and New Orleans to make speeches. Commercial flights would have cost less than $5,000.

But the Massé trip was a relatively minor embarrassment: the Bhaduria affair raises far more troubling issues. Key Liberals—including Ontario campaign organizer David Smith and Chrétien’s campaign chairman, John Rae—learned during the campaign that Bhaduria wrote two threatening letters in 1989 to school board officials who had failed to promote him. In one, Bhaduria named several board employees and said that “the most satisfying day of my life” would come if Montreal mass murderer Marc Lépine I lined them up “against the wall ^ and shot all of you.”

g But the party did nothing g about the issue until the content ^ of the letters became public. The best explanation that a senior adviser to Chrétien could offer for their inaction was that “we were fairly certain he would lose and the problem would go away.” Yet, even after Bhaduria won, the Liberals did nothing. After Bhaduria apologized to the Commons last week, Chrétien declared the case closed. Bhaduria then disappeared from sight, while other Liberals suggested that the incident had been overblown by the media. They changed their tune only after Bhaduria was accused of falsely claiming

to have a law degree—a charge he denied.

But other actions and statements by Bhaduria paint an image of a troubled figure with a continuing penchant for strong language. In a 1977 interview with Maclean’s, the New Delhi-born Bhaduria, then a law student, claimed to have bought “quite a few” semiautomatic weapons to protect his family from unidentified racists who, he said, had attacked and threatened him. Between 1981 and 1984, Bhaduria, then a teacher with the Toronto Board of Education, applied unsuccessfully 39 times for promotions, and then fded complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission alleging that he was the victim of “systemic” racism. School board officials denied that, saying he had shown questionable judgment. In one interview for the position of vice-principal, Bhaduria was asked how he thought students should be disciplined. A subsequent report by an independent board of inquiry quoted one school superintendent who said she was “appalled” by the aggressive tone of his answer, although the report does not cite what Bhaduria said. The three superintendents at the interview also “expressed surprise over an instance of misinformation which he conveyed about facilities for wheelchair students.” Rather than victimizing him, superintendent George Hayes told the inquiry, the school board overlooked Bhaduria’s “poor interview performances” and gave him more opportunities because of its “desire to promote visible-minority candidates.” The inquiry’s ruling said that Bhaduria’s “negative attitude cannot be attributed solely to any discrimination that occurred, because none did.” Bhaduria appealed the finding to the Ontario Division Court and lost In late 1989, Bhaduria wrote the first of the two threatening letters that resulted in his dismissal from his job. He later apologized for his remarks. But a Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew Malcolm, told the divisional court that Bhaduria told him during an examination that despite the threatening tone of his correspondence, he “believed in the correctness of his analysis and he did not regret the fact that he had made the statement.” Still, Malcolm testified that Bhaduria “is not going to hurt anyone physically.”

None of those actions by Bhaduria legally bar him from holding office. But when they went to the polls on Oct. 25, few of the riding’s 102,000 eligible voters could have known about the Liberal candidate’s controversial past. The party’s own 1993 campaign media guide described Bhaduria as “a management consultant and president of his own firm”—without even mentioning his background as a teacher. Liberals now say that they have done all they can—and that it is Bhaduria’s right to stay on as an independent MP. His decision, however, does not absolve the Liberals of the fact that, knowing so much about the problems of their designated candidate, they told voters so little.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

LUKE FISHER