Years ago, I remember delivering The Peterborough Examiner to his doorstep. He didn’t have a mailbox, so I’d slip the papers under the big mat on his porch.
I also recall ripping his ticket for a movie when I worked at the theatre that one summer. (I believe it was Prince Caspian, but I had to look at a list of movies released that year to refresh my memory.)
My brother earned community service hours in high school by volunteering in his constituency office. My dad once bought a used Nissan Sentra from his family’s Suzuki dealership.
There’s no question about it: Dean Del Mastro is a local guy, through and through, and Peterborough, Ont., is his home.
He was first elected in my hometown’s federal riding as a Conservative in 2006. After 13 years with Liberal MP Peter Adams, our bellwether riding took to Del Mastro warmly; in 2011, he received nearly 50 per cent of the vote.
But he has been under increased scrutiny in recent years, beginning with his role as the Conservatives’ public defender in regards to the robocall scandal.
Everything came to a head last week as Elections Canada announced it was laying charges against Del Mastro for improper spending in the 2008 election, alleging that he and a campaign worker failed to report $21,000 in illegal personal expenses.
Del Mastro has since resigned from the Conservative caucus — although sources say he didn’t have much choice in the matter — and has also lost his position as a parliamentary secretary. He faces a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
Last week, I surfed over to the Examiner website to gauge local reactions to the story, which ran the gamut from those who said he’s only human and ought to be forgiven, to those who appeared to be steps away from forming a lynch mob.
Some said $21,000 wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things; others thought he had it coming to him, arguing that he deserves to lose his office, his pension and his freedom.
Most interestingly, some depicted it as a case of a small-town boy who pursued politics with lofty ideals and ended up in way over his head, like a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-type of scenario.
That makes sense, if you consider a community of 75,000 people a “small town.” That population makes Peterborough far larger than most of Saskatchewan’s cities.
But we’re just two hours down the road from Toronto, and in comparison with the Big Smoke, I guess everything else seems small.
Del Mastro will have his opportunity to defend himself in court, and his name may yet be cleared.
But the damage his reputation has already suffered — being removed from caucus, losing his secretarial position — is not the kind of stuff from which a politician can easily bounce back.
And his own party seems to already have its mind made up.
It’s bizarre to think that back in 2006, the Conservatives ran on a platform of accountability and openness. Seven years later, you can hardly see the party for all the scandals that surround it.
Del Mastro wouldn’t talk to the press beyond a written statement, and ignored the questions of an Examiner reporter who approached him at his constituency office. In that sense, he’s still following the party’s standard procedure.
It’s not pleasant to picture my hometown MP as just a cog, innocently doing his duty as part of a political machine that appears to be corrupt beyond repair.
But I fear that the alternative explanation, whatever it is, could be even worse.
Follow Joel van der Veen on Twitter @ JVDV88.