Advertisement NEWSROOM

                      The Humiliation of Renata Ford:

         It's Time To Stop Using Wives and Children

                              As Political Props



By Susanna Kelley

It was a cringe-inducing sight.

There she was, just hours after Rob Ford, in the crudest language possible, spoke of their intimate marital relations, standing beside the disgraced mayor as he apologized, yet again, for shocking behaviour and shocking language.

Renata Ford looked like she wanted to melt through the floor. 

It was obvious she wanted to be anywhere else but that news conference.

Her head bowed, her mouth grim, she cast her eyes down at the floor most of the time. 

Renata Ford looked humiliated and beaten down, as you can see in this Global News video:

Ms. Ford's face wore the achingly painful look that has become way too familiar, as long-suffering political wives are trotted out to appear to "stand by their man" when their husbands are accused of having sexual affairs with other women.

"I don't believe that nonsense about the prostitute, so neither should you" is the message Ford's political handlers are trying to get you to believe by having Ms. Ford stand up there in the most embarrassing of circumstances (I think it's safe to assume such humiliation wasn't her idea.)

And even if making a clearly mortified Renata Ford stand there wasn't his advisors' idea, but rather that of the mayor himself, or the Ford family, it was still totally wrong.

And for many women watching, it was totally offensive.

On Twitter, Facebook and in person, many women told me their reaction was: who they think they are to treat a woman - any woman - like that?

It's a double slap in the face to have to do that just after learning about the prostitute allegations.

And let's call a spade a spade.

How selfish can a cheating spouse be (who's already proven his selfishness by cheating) to parade his wife around in public as a "supporter," when everyone - including him - knows she's dying inside.

The same degraded look was on the face of New York mayoralty candidate Anthony Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, as she told a press conference she would stay with Weiner after he was caught in a sexting scandal - for the second time - last July:

And then there was probably the most famous instance of all - Hillary Clinton.

Her husband a serial adulterer, a bombshell hit during his campaign to be the Democratic candidate for President in 1992.

Gennifer Flowers said she had had a long-time affair with him.

In damage control mode, Hilary and Bill Clinton appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes in 1992 to try to salvage the campaign. Hilary's famous answer is at 9:10 of the interview:

Bill Clinton consistently refused in the interview to deny he had committed adultery, leaving the host's question unanswered. It was Hilary who jumped in to save him.

"I'm not sitting here like some little woman saying stand by your man like some Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honour what he's been through and what we've been through together, and you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him."

Feisty as Hilary Clinton was, the interview is still painful to watch more than 20 years later.

I would argue this kind of shameful use of political wives costs candidates more votes than it saves, as female voters turn away in embarrassment and sympathy.

Political operatives still don't seem to get that seeing a candidate put his wife through that, on top of everything else, just hardens the decision of many women to vote for someone else.

And even during ordinary political times, politicians' wives are primped and packaged up for the media and the public.

It is common practice, for example, for political campaigns to assign a staffer each election to "handle" the wife.

It is true that there are some situations when it is acceptable to put some political wives on stage.

Ironically, Hilary Clinton is one of those cases.

Ms. Clinton loves politics as much as her husband, seeing it as a way to bring in policies that make life better for a large number of people.

Most of her regular appearances with her husband as candidate and President were done willingly and happily. And he does as much for her now in return.

Here in Ontario, Tim Hudak's spouse, Debbie Hutton, is a political force in her own right.

Ms. Hutton has a long history of political involvement, including serving as one of the most senior aides in the office of former PC Premier Mike Harris. 

She also continues to be involved in political decisions in the Opposition Leader's inner circle and is one of Mr. Hudak's closest confidantes.

As such, being up on stage with Mr. Hudak is no invasion of her privacy, nor is it using her as a prop against her wishes. Politics is in her blood, and Mr. Hudak's campaign to be Premier is a team effort for this couple. 

Still, the two have been criticized for the very public role they have given their daughter Miller, with some critics outright accusing them of using her as a prop.

Mr. Hudak has told me, however, that with the parents she has, Miller will always grow up around political crowds and events, and feels it is wise to expose her to this as early as possible.

Still, such a political partnership as Tim Hudak and Debbie Hutton have is a rarity in politics.

Many political spouses hate the limelight they and their families are thrust into.

The days of using political wives and children as political props should be long over.

As for Renata Ford, it's reasonable to assume that because of Rob Ford's behaviour - smoking crack, heavy drinking, hanging out with drug dealers over the last several years - Ms. Ford's life could be nothing but very difficult.

It is shameful that Mr. Ford made it much more so by putting her on display in public at one of her most vulnerable moments, to appear to "stand by him."

It was humiliating for her, offensive to the many women watching, and as a political tactic, it usually backfires.

















About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : November 18, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns NEWSROOM
The Inquiry is off to a slow and controversial start. What is holding it up? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on what it will take to succeed.
May 25, 2017
"There may be trouble in River City" when it comes to the Ontario PCs. Anger inside the party and rumblings of a new movement could affect the leader's election chances.
May 24, 2017
The auditor is suggesting the internal culture of the RCMP is so dysfunctional it requires civilian oversight. Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on whether that's a good idea.
May 17, 2017
A Liberal government led by a woman in BC, up for re-election after holding power for more than 15 years. Sound familiar? Randall White on whether there are lessons for Kathleen Wynne.
May 11, 2017
The Liberals are moving left as we near the 2018 election - a reprise of the last provincial and federal campaigns. Will it work a third time? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
May 10, 2017
This past Earth day, the planet surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Terri Chu laments that as long as polluting is cheap, it will continue unabated.
May 08, 2017
The Defence Minister is accused of lying when he described himself as "the architect" of a major offensive during Afghanistan war. Should he step down? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
May 03, 2017
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's approval ratings have plummeted a year ahead of next year's Ontario election. But not so fast, says Peter Shurman - don't count Wynne out yet.
April 28, 2017
Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay will be the pilot sites for the Basic Income Project for 4,000 lower-income people. Is it a good idea? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on that.
April 27, 2017
If Ontario really does put Canada first, it has to be a big supporter of the new Canadian Free Trade Agreement scheduled to take effect July 1st. Randall White delves into the details.
April 22, 2017
It's been thrown around for everything from fat paycheques (read Bombardier) to tax credits for creating jobs. Brad James thinks it's time to give the old phrase a rest once and for all.
April 21, 2017
Finance Minister Charles Sousa is promising to act in the province's budget being brought down next week. What exactly should it do? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on that.
April 19, 2017