VICTORIA – Some 27 years ago, I covered the city hall beat for the Victoria Daily Colonist, that great little paper founded by Amor De Cosmos, long since swallowed by the Thomson chain, its former spunk all but killed.
It was the time campus unrest, NIP and LIP grants, designed by Pierre Elliot Trudeau to keep a generation of rebellious youth occupied with numerous projects.
One such project in Victoria involved the sale of several old houses by the provincial government to a group of young people for a dollar a piece. The houses were moved to a new location, also owned by the province, where the kids were to turn them into duplexes for sale on the open market.
The project kept the young people out of trouble, I’ll say that much, although the finished product left a lot to be desired and turned out to be more expensive that comparable duplexes built commercially.
One of the young people involved with the group, the Fernwood Neighborhood Association, or something like that, was a chap named Robin Blencoe, a neighborhood activist in every sense of the word.
I remember Robin cornering me at a city council meeting, after I had written a less than complimentary column on the group’s duplex project.
"You Hubert Beyer?" he said glaring at me. "Yep," I replied. "Your name is not very popular in Fernwood," Robin said." I told him that if I ever entered a popularity contest, he’d be the first to know.
And from that first rather acrimonious meeting, a friendship sprang that has lasted to this day. Sadly, Robin doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends these days, whereas enemies abound.
You see, Robin went on to become a Victoria alderman, where he acquitted himself very well, concentrating his efforts on the delivery of affordable housing. Eventually, he ran for and won a Victoria seat in the legislature for the NDP.
During the Mike Harcourt administration, he became minister of municipal affairs. Robin’s political future seemed bright. A lovely wife and three children occupied his personal life.
And then the roof caved in. There were rumors of sexual improprieties. No official charges, not day in court, just rumors. And whereas once, the media would have taken a hands-off position until someone actually laid charges in a court of law, they went full-steam ahead, and damn the torpedoes.
The Times-Colonist, for which I’m happy to say, I no longer work, ran a story on Easter Sunday two years ago in which an unidentified woman gave a graphic description of alleged sexual advances Robin had made. It was one of the most disgusting pieced of so-called journalism I have ever had the misfortune to read.
Robin was confronted by then premier Harcourt and denied the allegations. Harcourt first said he believed him, but when further allegations surfaced – again the accuser didn’t lay charges – he fired Robin.
His political career in ruins, his personal life a living hell, Robin faded from the public scene – until last week.
Robin and his family had moved to a small town near Windsor, Ont., where he had landed a part-time job for the chamber of commerce. Somehow, the media found out who he was and a new round of hounding him and his family began – this time in Ontario and back here in British Columbia.
I don’t know whether Robin can hang on to his job. I guess that depends on just how much the chamber is willing to take in the interest of fairness.
Do I believe all the accusations against Robin? As a strong believer in our judicial system, in which someone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, I do not. As a friend, it doesn’t matter. I would stand by him anyway.