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At long last, a real Canadian sex scandal

Floyd Roland in 2006

Fred Lum

Unlike our American neighbours to the south, Canada has never been known for its steamy political sex scandals.

There have been a few salacious doozies, most notably the relationships that suspected Soviet spy Gerda Munsinger had with several Tory federal ministers from John Diefenbaker's cabinet in the 1950s. But rarely have they tarnished the highest political offices across the country.

However, for the first time since the Great Depression, a sitting Canadian premier is fighting for his political life after details of a sex scandal surfaced recently.

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Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland is facing an inquiry that will investigate an extramartial affair he had with a legislature clerk. The former auto mechanic could lose his job depending on the outcome.

Earlier this week, the territory's conflict-of-interest commissioner Gerald Gerrand ruled that there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that Mr. Roland "failed to perform his duties of office" by privately engaging in a relationship with Patricia Russell while the pair worked together at the legislature in Yellowknife. While the pair admit to the affair, there are unproven allegations that Ms. Russell may have passed confidential information from committee meetings to the Premier before their relationship became public late last year.

"Committees and their members are entitled to be served by a [clerk]who has no emotional ties through a secret liaison with a member of the executive council," Mr. Gerrand wrote in his report.

Mr. Roland, an Inuvialuit who became premier in October, 2007, began his affair with Ms. Russell last year. Both were married with children.

There are growing calls inside the territory, including from current and former NWT MLAs, that Mr. Roland step aside while the inquiry takes place, likely within the coming months.

"We need to let someone else come in until this is dealt with," Bill Braden, a former territorial politician, said in an interview Friday. Mr. Roland, who now lives with Ms. Russell in Yellowknife, has no plans to vacate his position.

The last time a sitting Canadian premier was forced from office because of a sex scandal was in 1934. Alberta Premier John Brownlee was facing allegations he had an affair with Vivian MacMillan, a young government stenographer and long-time family friend.

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Dubbed the "Brownlee Scandal" by the press, the story became a front-page sensation in Canada and beyond. Ms. MacMillan alleged the married premier had seduced her when she was 18, and that the pair carried on a sexual relationship for three years.

In 1933, the young woman and her father sued Mr. Brownlee under the province's Seduction Act. A year later, an Edmonton jury found Mr. Brownlee guilty of seduction and awarded them $15,000 in damages. However, the presiding judge overturned the decision.

Nevertheless, the political damage had already been done: A few days after the trial, Mr. Brownlee resigned.

In 1937, the high-profile case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with Ms. MacMillan eventually prevailing.

More recently, one of the most serious sex scandals to surface in Canada involved former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier. In 2008, the Tory federal MP resigned from cabinet after his former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, revealed she possessed classified government documents that she said had been left at her home by Mr. Bernier.

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