Braid: The public scourging of Tyler Shandro

The justice minister is paying the price for the UCP government’s original sin and his own flawed judgment

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Justice Minister Tyler Shandro is paying the price for the UCP government’s original sin and his own flawed judgment.

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He is pilloried and grilled at a law society hearing into three charges of professional misconduct, relating to his confrontation with social media critics.

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A normally sleepy hearing turned into a public circus. It’s now adjourned but there’s more to come.

This happened only days after the uproar over Premier Danielle Smith’s alleged (and denied) attempt to influence Crown prosecutors.

It’s yet another distraction from the UCP’s pre-election agenda. This seems to be in the government’s DNA.

Even Shandro’s friends in government feel he shouldn’t have angrily confronted one tormentor personally, or contacted others. There are questions about misuse of personal information.

A government minister is seen by most Albertans to have real power. That makes any unfriendly approach seem threatening.

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Shandro feels he was defending his family. Anyone can understand emotional reactions to such a threat. But Shandro had something most of us don’t — access to a highly professional legislative security service.

Despite all this, lawyers I’ve spoken to say there’s little chance he will be disbarred, a move that would disqualify him from his current post as justice minister.

Disbarment is a penalty far more likely for lawyers found to cheat their clients or commit other criminal offenses.

(Sometimes a person has done worse than homicide. A man in Quebec stabbed his mother 40 times, served his time, and later was admitted to the bar.)

If Shandro is found guilty there’s a range of sanctions short of disbarment; a fine, a reprimand, an apology, even remedial training.

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This whole mess goes back to Feb. 20, 2020, when the young UCP government of then-premier Jason Kenney hit peak arrogance.

Kenney and Shandro abruptly and unilaterally canceled the signed pay agreement with Alberta physicians.

In my experience, there’s never been a more vivid example of government blindness to consequences, and failure to grasp the limits of its own power.

That was the original sin. It brought two years of upheaval, bitterness and downright fury among many doctors; exceptionally brutal exchanges on social media; all compounded by COVID-19.

Tyler Shandro speaks at a COVID-19 update on March 25, 2020, with Premier Jason Kenney and chief medical officer of health Dr.  Deena Hinshaw.
Tyler Shandro speaks at a COVID-19 update on March 25, 2020, with Premier Jason Kenney and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Only now is the system settling down with a new pay deal and a legislated promise never to cancel another one. Some trust is restored between current Health Minister Jason Copping and the Alberta Medical Association.

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But Shandro is stuck with the legacy. He was the proud and aggressive defender of the government’s shocking betrayal of a whole profession.

Shandro says his family was abused and threatened. His former staffers recalled the day one doctor accused him on social media of fostering a doctor’s suicide. Shandro was shattered.

He has a fixed image as an arrogant, blustering, inflexible politician. Shandro had his uses, though. He absorbed a lot of anger that might have been directed at Kenney.

Shandro’s personal response when he was criticized seemed wildly overblown to people who face social media poison every day.

Any public figure is vulnerable. Journalists, especially women, face a torrent of insults. A columnist can get five threats before lunch.

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But here’s the odd thing about Shandro. The person we saw was not the one described by people who knew him well and worked with him.

“I always thought he wasn’t really built to be a politician,” says one former staffer, who found that the blustery of public figures bore little resemblance to the private individual. “He was always kind to the people he worked with.”

Another former colleague echoes that feeling. “I never, ever heard him treat his staff with anything but respect and consideration. He could get angry about something, but he never took it out on the people around him. He is a genuinely nice man.”

Shandro has no excuse for canceling the pay deal. He should not have blown his stack and intervened with critics. If he misused government information, that’s serious.

But there’s a lesson here for a society that increasingly demonizes rather than criticizes. It’s no answer to anything, even a flawed government minister.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

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