It is a tale of two teams, from two different eras. And a morality play about the ethical perils of politics.
One branch of Dalton McGuinty’s old political squad is riding high, with two former staff now running the Prime Minister’s Office from Ottawa’s stately Langevin Block — and another ex-aide representing our country at the sumptuous Canadian embassy in Washington.
By contrast, the relief squad that ran the former premier’s office in his final days has hit bottom — with two top staffers facing possible imprisonment if convicted on charges of criminal misconduct laid last month.
Their contrasting fates offer a cautionary tale about the opportunities and opportunity costs of politics — the risks and rewards that await former staff in their political afterlife.
The PMO announced Saturday that our new ambassador to the U.S. is David MacNaughton, a principal secretary to McGuinty from 2003 to 2005 who later built a successful consulting business at StrategyCorp.
His prestigious appointment was shepherded by Gerald Butts — a one-time protegé of MacNaughton who succeeded him as principal secretary to Ontario’s premier in 2005, and now holds the same title with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Also overseeing the ambassadorial posting: Trudeau’s new chief of staff, Katie Telford, who worked with Butts on education issues in McGuinty’s heyday a decade ago.
All three of them were key players in the Liberals’ 2015 federal campaign, chaired by Telford, with Butts playing policy guru, and MacNaughton acting as Ontario co-chair. Together, they vaulted the Liberals from third to first place in a disciplined and professional campaign.
The U.S. ambassadorship is a prize that many had once thought McGuinty himself might be in line for. But the former premier’s star long ago went up in smoke over those gas-fired power plants that erupted in scandal.
That enduring controversy has blighted the careers not just of McGuinty, but two loyalists who stuck with him during his final days in the premier’s office: His last chief of staff, David Livingston, and his deputy chief, Laura Miller.
After a lengthy OPP probe, Livingston, 63, and Miller, 36, were charged with breach of trust, mischief in relation to data, and misuse of a computer system in connection with deleted hard drives suspected of being tied to the controversial and costly cancellation of those gas-fired power plants.
They are scheduled to appear in court next Wednesday, and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
Regardless of the final verdict, their careers have been devastated. After being charged, Miller quit her job as executive director of the B.C. Liberal Party, and Livingston quietly gave up his work as a senior adviser at a prestigious law firm as the investigation proceeded.
And while McGuinty himself was not part of the OPP investigation, he has flitted in and out of low-profile jobs, his career beyond politics not rising to the level of other former premiers. It is an unexpected epilogue to a politician who was once celebrated as the most successful Liberal premier in living memory.
Despite the fact that his top advisers from way back now occupy the most important positions in the country, McGuinty no longer has their ear as he once did. And those two key advisers from his final years are now fighting to prove their innocence in court hearings.
Only a judge or jury can decide whether their alleged transgressions rise to the level of criminality, or merely questionable political judgment. But the damage to their reputations, and to McGuinty’s own legacy, cannot easily be undone.
Fairly or unfairly, politics is always about winners and losers. The contrasting fortunes of McGuinty and his former top staff — all smart people working in the same office — are a reminder to all politicos, from all parties, as they wield power.
Their influence can be fleeting, their status ephemeral. Whether their fate is to be rewarded or reviled depends not just on their actions — or whose team they’re on — but upon forces that sometimes spin out of control.