CANADA

Passion and politics

Judi Tyabji delivers a breathless account of her high-profile romance

CHRIS WOOD May 2 1994
CANADA

Passion and politics

Judi Tyabji delivers a breathless account of her high-profile romance

CHRIS WOOD May 2 1994

Passion and politics

CANADA

Judi Tyabji delivers a breathless account of her high-profile romance

CHRIS WOOD

It hasn’t exactly been Judi and Cord’s Excellent Adventure. But British Columbia MLA Judi Tyabji has already written what could well be the synopsis for a movie of the week: “A romance, a political story, a biography of a fascinating Canadian and a tale of intrigue, all in one.” The words are contained in Tyabji’s introduction to her newly published memoir, Political Affairs, which hits the book stands this week. For the most part, the 248-page book is the 29-year-old politician’s breathlessly personal take on her intense, frequently sensational and highly public romance with Gordon Wilson, the bookish 45-year-old former leader of British Columbia’s Liberal official opposition. Their affair began in late 1992, reaching its dramatic climax with a showdown between Wilson and his caucus in February, 1993, that ended with Wilson being ousted from his job as opposition leader. Ten days later, he and Tyabji held a joint news conference to announce that they were in love and intended to wed.

The book, like the romance, is an odd match. Nine of its 10 chapters contain Tyabji’s kiss-and-tell (or rather, according to her, mostly not kiss-and-tell) account of her increasing infatuation with Wilson, and his tumbling political fortunes during late 1992 and the first few weeks of 1993. After denying for weeks that he was romantically involved with Tyabji, whom he had named as his house leader, Wilson was forced by a caucus revolt in February, 1993, first to fire her and then to relinquish his title as opposition leader. Only after the ouster did the couple finally acknowledge their relationship publicly. Seven months later, B.C. Liberals voted to replace Wilson as party leader, handing the job to former Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell. Wilson and Tyabji are now bench as well as bedmates, as the sole members of their self-christened Progressive Democratic Alliance Party.

But Tyabji insists that the book was not written solely to set the record straight on her and Wilson’s much-reported affair—or on the equally well-publicized concurrent breakdowns of their first marriages. “The reason the book was written is Chapter 2. That’s all Gordon,” says Tyabji. Indeed, Wilson’s contribution to the volume stands out like a political science dissertation accidentally misbound inside a Harlequin romance. It is an urgently worded synopsis of Wilson’s political philosophy, which calls for a Gandhi-esque populist revolution against capitalism in the face of environmental limits to growth. Considerately, Tyabji’s introduction includes a

warning to any readers who might be tempted to buy her work for the girl-meets-boy plot line. “For the romantics who have picked up this book in some hope of finding love in politics like a forlorn plant in a barren wasteland,” she writes, “I hope I don’t bore you with the details of our jobs!”

By the couple’s account, Wilson was done in by disloyalty, ingratitude and outright sabotage on the part of the other 15 rookie MLAs who, like Tyabji, rode his unexpect-

edly long coattails into opposition in the October, 1991, provincial election. By most other accounts, Wilson’s aloof personality and political insensitivity did as much to erode his caucus support as did his persistent denials of his evident and growing attachment to his attractive young house leader.

The soap-opera quality of Wilson’s and Tyabji’s lives has continued beyond the period covered in her book, which ends with Wilson’s leadership loss to Campbell. On March 3, B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Spencer reversed an interim order and awarded custody of Tyabji’s three young children, aged 6, 4 and 2, to her ex-husband, Kim Sandana, a judo instructor and grocery store employee in Kelowna, B.C. In doing so, the judge rejected the recommendations of a family court counsellor and a psychologist who conducted court-ordered assessments of Tyabji, Wilson and Sandana; both of the experts recommended that Tyabji be given custody. “At their present ages,” Spencer reasoned, “the children will benefit more from their father’s lower-key approach to life than from the mother’s wider-ranging ambition.”

As partial evidence of what he called Tyabji’s “intense interest in the advancement of her career,” Justice Spencer cited her decision to pose with the children and Wilson for photographs to illustrate a magazine article on the couple last December. The decision, he wrote, “took the liberty of presuming that the children were already established in their new family.”

Within days of that ruling, Wilson found himself caught, yet again, in a very public spat with his ex-wife. Elizabeth Wilson insisted to the tabloid Vancouver Province that she was faced with selling the former couple’s hand-hewn log home at Sechelt, a coastal town about 60 km northwest of Vancouver, because Wilson was not making support payments for her and

their two teenage children. Elizabeth Wilson’s complaint prompted Gordon to issue his own statement detailing the $28,000 that he says he has paid to his ex-wife in support since he first disclosed their separation, in a statement to Maclean ’s, in March, 1993.

In the midst of all the public recriminations over their love affair, Tyabji and Wilson soldier on in the B.C. legislature. “At least if we take the kicking,” says Tyabji, “we can continue to do what we do.” But the personal and political remain as confused as ever inside the couple’s new caucus of two. Wilson has spent much of the spring legislature sitting trying to incite public outrage at the role of former leadership rival Jack Poole in a proposal to build a Las Vegas-style casino in downtown Vancouver. Tyabji is working to draft a private member’s bill that would allow the public to have judges—including family court judges—removed from the bench. Both insist that they remain popular enough in their ridings to win re-election. “The voters will decide,” Tyabji acknowledges, but “if you ask me today, I think we’re both safe.” Insists Wilson: ‘There is an enormous amount of goodwill out there towards Judi and me. The public in general can support romance, because we hear so little of it.”

From politicians of other stripes, perhaps. Wilson and Tyabji seem determined to make up for the deficit: the response from people seeking invitations to their planned nuptials in Victoria on May 22 has been so great that the couple is considering moving the reception to larger quarters. The champagne, flowers and wedding cake may write a fairy-tale finale to Wilson and Tyabji’s year-and-a-half-long courtship. But it is unlikely to close the book on their turbulent relationships with both politics and the public.

CHRIS WOOD in Vancouver