Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Nature of Integrity in Fort McMurray

I recall the day very clearly. I was moving into my new house, on a hot and sweaty July day, when the news broke of a sordid story. It would have been of only mild interest had it not been about a local politician, an elected official I knew and counted as a friend. I recall sitting on the sidewalk in front of my new place, surrounded by movers, feeling a mixture of anger and disbelief and wondering how I would tell the Intrepid Junior Blogger.

It’s almost two years since Mike Allen was arrested in Minnesota, and anyone in this community – and likely this province – remembers the story well. In the days that followed the media interest was intense, and the pressure was powerful. There were calls for his resignation, particularly after he was dismissed from the PC caucus. In my own head these thoughts were foremost, too, focused on the embarrassment to him and to those who elected him, on his removal from caucus and his inability to therefore represent us properly, on the face of my kid when I told her someone she respected had been involved in such a mess – I suppose in my head I was calling for him to resign.
But he didn’t. I cannot even imagine how difficult it was for him to walk back into the Legislative Assembly and face his former colleagues and take a seat across from them instead of with them. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for him to face the questions from his constituents, the media, his friends and, quite likely, his family. It would be like returning to school after your most embarrassing teenage moment, except multiplied by one hundred. I will be honest – I don’t know if I would have the courage to do what he did, day and in day out, for months.

And during those months he didn’t sit quietly, either. He continued to represent his constituents, ask questions, probe the government for responses, attend events and be part of his community. He did not hide in his car or his house, he did not hide on the back benches of the Assembly, and he did not quietly disappear. I know, because I was watching.
It was months later when the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I spoke about it again. I had held on to some of that residual anger, I suppose, still had it in my heart and head, until she said: “He has been really brave, hasn’t he?”, and I realized she was completely right, and I was entirely wrong.

What is the nature of integrity? We toss the word around a lot, but what does it really mean? Integrity isn’t always doing the right thing, or never doing the wrong thing. Integrity isn’t some mask of perfection we attempt to wear, because we all know – all of us – that we are human and imperfect and prone to making mistakes. Integrity isn’t about being perfect and never doing anything wrong – integrity is about having the courage to own the mistakes you have made, to refuse the easy way out through resigning, hiding, running away and disappearing from view. Integrity is about recognizing your failures and admitting them, and learning from them. Integrity is shown in how we handle our errors, not in our ability to never make them.
Integrity, to me,  is someone like Mike Allen, who has never shied away from answering my difficult and often pointed questions, even when he knew the answer was something I would not like and would probably use as a stick to beat him with. Integrity is going to work every single day even when everyone around you is likely talking about you, dark whispers in corners and hallways judging you. Integrity is having the courage to just keep going, even when you have messed up royally and when the world – and even people like me – think you should just give up.

At the beginning of this story, in July almost two years ago, I was angry because I thought a bad example was being set for my daughter, a young woman passionate about politics and keenly interested in one day seeking office. I thought one of her role models had failed her, and I was seething with disappointment and rage. Over time, though, I have realized that what happened has actually taught my daughter the true nature of integrity, of second chances, of forgiveness, of atonement, of contrition, of courage and of the strength of the human character. We have this tendency to judge our political representatives so harshly, not only expecting them to be perfect but some sort of super-perfection, beyond mistakes. We set them up to knock them down, dominoes for us to topple at will, forgetting they are human and forgetting our own imperfections, too.
This Saturday Mike faces a nomination challenge for the PC candidacy in his riding of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. It is the latest in a series of challenges he has faced, and which he has handled with integrity and dignity. There are those who are likely still angry with Mike, who hold on to that anger – but I am no longer one of them. I wish Mike well this weekend, because I believe that it is in his darkest hour that he showed his greatest strength, earning my respect over a journey that has likely been far more difficult than I could ever imagine. I thank Mike not only for his service to our community, but for showing my daughter the nature of courage, displaying it in a far more real and human way than I could have ever done with words. For this I will always be grateful, because he taught my daughter that integrity is not about being perfect. He taught her – and me – that the nature of integrity is found in how we handle our imperfections instead.

There are those who will despise what I have written today, who will object to my thoughts and opinions and who will disagree with me - but integrity also means being honest in everything I say and write, just as I have done on this blog for the past four years. For me, that is the nature of integrity in Fort McMurray - and it always will be.


  1. 1. Caught doing illegal activity while on a trip representing Fort McMurray. (We already have enough bad press)
    2. Expropriated Land at 3 times the purchase price after 6 years of ownership.
    3. The only business that'suffered' expropriation that has a subsidized lease rate AND renovated facility all on tax payer money.
    You call it courage. I call it something else entirely. Should have never made it to strike 3 in my opinion

  2. I certainly don't envy those who have to decide be honest, if my choices lay between a sex pervert and a school board trustee, I'd be tempted to put forward my cat's name instead. Harsh words for Mr. Allen I know, but with respect, I cannot respect this man.