We all make mistakes. A no-brainer statement to open for sure. But when we ask for forgiveness, usually there’s an apology involved. In the case of one of the candidates in this election, I haven’t heard it yet. Sorry I just haven’t.
Unless you’ve been dead or were fixated on rumours of a Luongo for Lecavalier trade deal, you’ll know that there’s a pretty interesting wanna be in the race for the Parksville mayor’s chair. No, Bruni’s not running again. It’s about Paul Reitsma.
See I was the editor of this newspaper in 1998. Our team of reporters helped take him down, though I respectfully salute the courage of Cam Purdy and his staff at the other paper in town who were able to initially break the story. We media types caught a break and did our job.
But way more than tipping my hat to my peers, I salute the over 300 volunteers who walked in rain and wind storms in the spring of 1998 asking the fine people of Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Coombs, Hilliers, Errington, French Creek and Nanoose if they were willing to punt an MLA from public office. Over 25,000 of them said hell yeah, get him out of there! But they were victimized again. Reitsma ignored them and he ignored countless editorials urging him to step down. For over a decade he refused to speak to the media until recently when he decided to try to jump back up on the pony of the public payroll.
Well 13 years is a long time, and though this is a bit of a Jurassic riding (according to the census), I believe many of those 300 volunteers are still alive and they do remember. Many of those 25,000 signees remember what it felt like to be ignored. What it felt like knowing they couldn’t fire him. What it felt like to be known as a voter who elected this guy. How it felt when he refused to do the right thing, grow a set and fall on his sword. How he made them rise to their feet and bloody well force him to leave. How he waited until the very last possible moment to resign — after the 25,000 signees were verified, after collecting tens of thousands of dollars as their MLA, even after he was booted out of Gordon Campbell’s Liberals and forced to sit collecting his salary, PQ residents’ tax dollars, as their impotent independent MLA.
In his campaign media coverage thus far, I have heard him refer to those years as dark. I believe they were for him. I ran into him several times before I left The News. He was trying to get his head unscrambled. His heart too. I saw him in church. I saw him at the flea markets. I always asked him for another interview, a chance to say sorry. He always refused. He would even walk away from me, like I was bad news and he was a victim.
I make mistakes, I say sorry to those I’ve harmed and try not to repeat those actions. I understand what I’ve done and am humbled by it. But when it comes to the man who embarrassed this riding, I just haven’t heard what I need to hear yet.
He doesn’t owe me an apology for his propensity to claim ferry food as an expense. He doesn’t owe me an apology for writing letters under fictitious names. He doesn’t owe me jack.
In my opinion, he owes you an apology.
You 25,000 who signed that recall petition. Because after being caught, he ignored you. Though it played out in media across the world. He snubbed you. Scraped you off his shoe. And until he skulked off the day the province verified those 25,000 signatures, he took his wages, which you had to pay him. To my knowledge he has never mentioned that recall campaign in the media, and he damned well should.
I don’t need to hear about his ego being the problem. I don’t need to know that his phoney letters were “in retaliation.” That’s of no concern to me. But I need to know he understands those 300 canvassers and those 25,000 citizens who respected the honour of democracy should have been listened to.
Me, I’m not writing much these days. I’ve fallen in love with another career which allows me to help others who are genuinely sorry for acting out in ways they couldn’t help themselves from doing. They change their lives by admitting their wrongs and making clear restitution.
I’ve asked my boss for a day off on Nov. 8. I want to hear what Reitsma says about those “dark” months in person. No, not his dark months. I’m talking about 300 volunteers who were forced to walk and knock on doors making sure democracy was honored 13 years ago.
So Mr. Reitsma. What are you sorry for?
Jeff Vircoe is a former editor of The News. He lives in Parksville.