ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — There was a deluge of social-media support — but also some pointed questions — as rookie Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan, a close friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced he’s back to work after getting help for a drinking problem.
“Over the last year or two, alcohol was becoming a part of my daily life,” O’Regan wrote in a Facebook post Monday as he turned 45.
“I regularly had several drinks at the end of most days. Sometimes more than several drinks.
“I was still working effectively and competently, but I realized, over time, that being competent was not good enough. I was far from my best self. And the simple truth is that I owe my best self to my marriage, to my family, to my friends, and to my constituents.”
O’Regan, who represents St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, said he checked into a Toronto treatment facility last month after finishing work on Parliament Hill.
The former journalist and host of CTV’s Canada AM said he made the decision after realizing that simply trying to drink less wasn’t working.
O’Regan told CBC-TV on Monday that he first accepted that he needed to act after his closest family and friends held what he described as “an intervention” just before he sought therapy.
“Yes,” he said when asked if he’s an alcoholic.
“I think that, had it kept going, something would have happened that would have been embarrassing.”
O’Regan also said that the aimlessness he felt after leaving CTV in 2012 led to depression, which ultimately led to drinking.
In his Facebook post, O’Regan said he remained in treatment until a few days ago and has been sober for 40 days.
He said he feels “stronger, healthier, and more engaged” than he has in a long time.
“I have had the benefit of many hours of counselling, meditation and acquiring the tools to remain alcohol-free,” he said.
The post had more than 3,700 likes on Facebook and scores of comments, the vast majority of them positive, by mid-afternoon.
Amid the wave of good wishes, however, were some questions.
A letter by Doug Smith published Monday in the St. John’s Telegram asked why O’Regan didn’t inform voters of his personal issues before the Oct. 19 vote. It also asks why Trudeau did not require his friend to tackle his addiction prior to becoming a candidate.
“We’re hiring a person to represent the people of Newfoundland,” the retired teacher said Monday from Grand Falls-Windsor. “It’s a very important job. It pays $167,000 a year. Don’t you think we have a right to know he has a problem with alcohol?”
Smith does not live in O’Regan’s riding and said he is a non-partisan who has voted for candidates of all political stripes.
Trudeau, who has been close friends with O’Regan for years, expressed his support when the MP announced that he was seeking help over the holiday break.
Olivier Duchesneau, a spokesperson for Trudeau, reaffirmed that backing Monday in an emailed response but did not touch on the timing of O’Regan’s treatment.
Paddy Daly, host of the popular local call-in show Open Line on VOCM radio, said he was pleasantly surprised by how most people reacted since O’Regan went public.
“But despite the immediate, overwhelming support, there was always going to be a percentage of the population who would be mean-spirited and look for an opportunity to criticize Seamus,” Daly said in an interview.
Detractors who’ve called O’Regan a hypocrite for once mocking former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s behaviour in office go too far, Daly said. They cite, for example, a post from O’Regan in November 2013: “Rob Ford is getting ‘support from a team of health-care professionals.’ And that is it. That’s all.”
Daly said any comparison to Ford is “ridiculous.”
“Seamus was not dealing with the underbelly of … coke dealers or drinking on the job or admitting to driving drunk and smoking crack.”
Former Conservative strategist Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies in Ottawa and a friend of O’Regan’s, has this advice for critics: “Walk in another man’s shoes or another woman’s shoes for a day.
“There are lots of people unfortunately across this country and around the world who struggle with different challenges, alcohol or other substance abuse,” he said in an interview. “They perform as best they can every day and sometimes they don’t know they’re sick, or they don’t know they have a problem. So to expect them to admit to something that they’re not admitting to themselves is a little unkind and unfair.”
Statement from MP Seamus O’Regan:
Over the last year or two, alcohol was becoming a part of my daily life. I regularly had several drinks at the end of most days. Sometimes more than several drinks.
I was still working effectively and competently, but I realized, over time, that being competent was not good enough. I was far from my best self. And the simple truth is that I owe my best self to my marriage, to my family, to my friends, and to my constituents. I realized that, for me, just trying to use alcohol less – or more responsibly – was not working.
Talking with family and close friends about all of this in December, I made the decision to acknowledge that I had a problem, and that the solution lies with me. I also acknowledged that I needed some help.
I did my homework, and chose a facility that I thought was right for me. I entered treatment on the last day that Parliament sat in December. I did my house duty that day. I completed my work as an MP and I left Parliament Hill. I stopped to buy an armful of books and – on my own – flew out of Ottawa to Toronto, where I presented myself at a nearby treatment facility.
I was there for both Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, I was there until just a few days ago.
I have spent the last 40 days alcohol-free. I have had the benefit of many hours of counseling, meditation and acquiring the tools to remain alcohol-free.
I feel stronger, healthier, and more engaged than I have in a long time.
I am ready to be the most effective and accessible Member of Parliament I can possibly be. I have spent a great deal of my life around the political process. I know how stressful it can be. I also know how fulfilling political life can be.
The people of St John’s South-Mount Pearl have given me their trust. That vote of trust was my wake-up call.
Newfoundland and Labrador faces huge fiscal and economic challenges. We need all hands on deck.
As of today, I am reporting back for duty. I will be a clear and effective voice in Parliament for the people who sent me there.
I have dealt with my personal challenges and I shall continue to do so. But, ultimately, my personal challenges are secondary to the needs of my constituents.
That is my message today.
And, to all those who took the time to write and call with their well wishes while I was in treatment, thank you.