The challenge ahead for Seamus O’Regan

The Liberal MP is in treatment while he tries to quit drinking. He’ll need all the support he can get once he’s out, including from at least one colleague who’s been there.

Seamus O'Regan, flanked by supporters, makes his acceptance speech at the Delta Hotel in downton St. John's following his win in the district of St. John's South on October 19, 2015. Newly-elected Liberal MP and former broadcast journalist O'Regan says he has entered a wellness program to adopt "an alcohol free lifestyle. Paul Daly/CP

Seamus O’Regan, flanked by supporters, makes his acceptance speech at the Delta Hotel in downton St. John’s following his win in the district of St. John’s South on October 19, 2015. (Paul Daly/CP)

With four concise tweets, one of Canada’s best-known MPs made public on Sunday what could only have been a significant personal struggle. “I’ve decided after consultation with family that I can be most effective as a member of Parliament by adopting an alcohol-free lifestyle,” Seamus O’Regan wrote on Twitter. To that end, said the former CanadaAM host, he was in treatment.

It’s no surprise the declaration made an immediate impact, coming from a man whose smiling face once greeted Canadians from their televisions every morning. O’Regan was soon trending on Twitter, in no small part because of the tweets of support from strangers and colleagues alike for going public with his battle.

Related: Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan checks into wellness program

A handful of Twitter users raised questions about whether O’Regan should have been upfront with voters before taking on a public role from which he now has to step away for a few weeks to complete his treatment. The Liberal party’s “green light” package for potential candidates runs to more than 30 pages, but the questionnaire doesn’t ask specifically about alcohol and drug use. It’s mainly interested in whether a potential candidate has had legal or professional problems. The last question, however, asks whether there is any “material fact” that could hinder the performance of a candidate’s public duties. That leaves it up to the Liberal hopeful to disclose any substance abuse problems, a disclosure some do make.

Such a declaration isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. Addiction, after all, is a medical condition that needs accommodation, says Jack Siegel, an employment lawyer who chaired the Liberals’ green-light committee ahead of the 2015 campaign. Even an ongoing drinking problem shouldn’t preclude someone from public service. “I’ve worked with people with severe alcohol problems and they do great work, politically and professionally,” Siegel said. “Lots of people manage with it.”

Some of O’Regan’s Parliament Hill colleagues have experience with that. If the MP for St. John’s–Mount Pearl needs support and advice upon his return to Parliament at the end of January, he needn’t look further than the government benches. Immigration Minister John McCallum went into treatment following 2002 media reports that he was denied boarding on an Air Canada flight to Ottawa. McCallum told the Toronto Star at the time that he’d had a few glasses of wine over dinner and was surprised he was asked to wait an hour before getting on the next flight.

“Though it’s certainly not easy at times, [O’Regan] will be very happy if he can defeat alcohol,” McCallum said in an interview with Maclean’s. “It will be better for him, for his loved ones and, less important, for his colleagues in the House of Commons. But it’s a wonderful thing that he’s set out to do and I wish him all the best.”

McCallum was reluctant to talk about more than the broad strokes of his decision to quit drinking, although he was quick to return the call from Maclean’s to offer support to O’Regan. It’s perhaps a sign of the struggle many people face over how much to make public (McCallum says some social media users still like to remind him of that 2002 incident).

“It’s hard to describe, but I just think in every aspect of one’s life this is a millstone that weighs upon you and devalues a lot of what you do in both your personal life and your professional life. It becomes a weight and a negative that keeps growing,” he said. Despite that, McCallum gradually started drinking again, quitting for the second time—”hopefully permanently”—about three years ago.

There aren’t many MPs who have gone public about their sobriety. Those that have seem to have had it forced upon them. In a situation oddly similar to McCallum’s, New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash also sought treatment after it was revealed in 2012 that he had been kept off an Air Canada flight between Montreal and Val-d’Or. Saganash has spoken openly about his treatment for alcoholism since then and was re-elected last fall.

Related: Q&A with Romeo Saganash

O’Regan will likely need every bit of support he’s been offered if he’s to maintain his sobriety. The spotlight that follows those in public life makes it easier to pick out the normal setbacks most people experience when they’re trying to quit drinking, potentially making it even harder. “It is such a personal challenge and struggle that to have to do it in front of tens of thousands of people makes it a lot more difficult,” said Marion Wright, interim executive director at Ottawa’s Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services.

Returning to work will present another set of problems, with Parliament’s work and social lives built around drinking: cocktail receptions abound between 5 to 7 p.m. on most nights and commiserating over a beer is a cross-party bonding experience. Non-politicians and staffers “could more easily change our social network than when the social network is the business network, is the culture that you’re part of. It’s very difficult to be abstinent, to moderate use, to be in recovery, when you’re surrounded by individuals who are not,” Wright said.

Now that O’Regan has gone public and entered treatment, he’s taken the first step to recovering. Wright says the more public support O’Regan has, the smoother that will go. “It’s completely possible, but he has a lot to do. And it’s not easy.”


The challenge ahead for Seamus O’Regan

  1. The timing of O’Regan’s announcement is interesting and foreboding.
    December tends to be an “Achilles Heel” for problem drinkers and admitted alcoholics. The month traditionally is a series of parties, social events, and celebrations, during which alcohol flows freely and enhances good fellowship, friendships, and business and social relationships. This culminates with Christmas and New Year’s Eve in particular were imbibing to excess seems to be the sine qua non.
    Then comes the dreaded New Years Day. The headache and hangover produce great remorse and the subsequent inevitable “New Year’s Resolution”!
    ” I must stop this and regain control. I resolve to abstain for alcohol for ever, starting today! “”
    Unfortunately easier said than done.To paraphrase an admitted alcoholic, ” Quitting drinking is simple; I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
    I wish MP O’Regan success in his battle and good health in the future.

    • 19% of the general population is prone to addiction and about half of those become addicted to drugs or alcohol. O’Reagan unfortunately is one of the latter. I volunteer at a treatment centre and the first two weeks in January see a huge spike in incoming clients. So O’Reagan’s timing is not unusual. From what I’ve seen, the more people who know you are trying to quit, the greater your resolve and success. I applaud O’Reagan for being very open. The key to him staying well, however, will be what he does to support his sobriety after treatment. If one goes to treatment alone, the success rate is about 25%. Treatment followed by engaging fully in a 12 Step association (AA in this case) or one on one therapy raises the success rate to about 80%. Drinking wasn’t his problem it was his solution and he needs to sort out what he was trying to solve and find a better way than the liquor store.

    • I was wondering about the timing myself.

      Will it now be leaked out that he was stopped or pulled over for a DUI during the holiday period? Is he just trying to kill the story? (if there was one).

      Of course, he didn’t have any sympathy when Rob Ford was fighting his demons. (Granted, Ford was on a level all his own, as addicition was not only to drugs, but also lying through his teeth)

    • I pray he doesn’t read your posting, not very encouraging
      I truly believe he will do just fine
      my family loved the man he has been in the eye“
      s of the people he is still that nice man inside
      we will support him in his battle and his wonderful work .

  2. I wish O’Regan success but wonder at the language he used in his announcement. If he is an alcoholic, should he not say so without sugar-coating his condition? If he is going into rehab, why say that he is going into a wellness centre? Surely the first step is to be honest with oneself. Nevertheless, godspeed.

    • Peter,
      I agree with you. It came across to me as if he’d been coerced to go into treatment rather than volunteered to go and is still questioning whether he really is an alcoholic. Even his words about being a more effective MP came across to me as being a little off. Most who volunteer to go to treatment are extremely concerned about their health as in ” I will likely die if I don’t stop drinking.” If he has been coerced I hope he has some kind of epiphany while in treatment-those with addiction issues only get well if they truly want to get well-most who have been coerced don’t.

      • the truth is Justin will be there for him , if he takes the advice of his family and physicians
        he will come out of this a better man we must all be as positive as we expect the Canadian government with Justin Trudeau leading us into this confusing world

    • It is a very big step to admit one is an alcoholic and is powerless over a substance.

      • and the conservatives fear dope or Pot legalisation .
        we have given our baby niece strained special oil under her Tung to help her with pain.
        from pot as all good medicine`s we use every day in Hospitals even alcohol is good so what is so bad about knowing what is good,
        for us will surely kill us if we let it
        don’t believe me,
        that the next time you eat potato’s chose the not so rip ones such as fresh green potato’s make an appointment with Families first your life is in danger anything in moderation even the worst poisons in the world are used in medicines

  3. Will he now retract the comments he made about Rob Ford who was also fighting his own demons plus cancer? Part of coming clean is also accepting responsibilities of previous stupidities.

    • Good point-he was just a touch hypocritical it appears!!

    • I don’t know what comments he made about Ford, but it’s hard to imagine saying something about him you’d have to retract – the truth of Ford’s behaviour is awful enough without the need for embellishment.

      • Tresus,
        Addiction is a recognized disease which both Ford and O’Reagan suffer from. Most alcoholics don’t criticize one another since it would be extremely hypocritical to do so. But you usually don’t understand most of what you comment on.

        • ” Most alcoholics don’t criticize one another since it would be extremely hypocritical to do so. ”

          Sure it would be hypocritical for one alcoholic to criticize another for being addicted.
          But as I said, that still leaves plenty of Rob Ford’s atrocious behaviour and criminal conduct to criticize.

          • I recall very little if any comments on Rob Ford that were critical of his being an alcoholic. I recalled a great deal of criticism about Rob Ford being a homophobic, racist, misogynistic bully who made plenty of very bad choices sober, drunk and stoned.

            Even with all that, the most common comment on Ford once his problems were known were to simply get help.

          • Indeed.
            I imagine that’s why Jerome and Dave haven’t provided any examples or evidence of this awful hypocrisy.

        • I will share my story about what is an alcoholic problem,
          all my life
          everyone in our town for many years loved my father for his apparent love for children and sports he was their hero, until that day
          but we In our family knew him as a mean bully who hit before he spoke
          we lived with his fake lies for years .
          he has since taken the cure Brentwood in Windsor, saved his and our lives
          he is now out and the best man in the world.
          all my Dad needed was a chance.
          Brentwood and the community gave him his chance
          and we are forever in their debt
          FYI they have a Lottery going on right now.
          if you support them you understand what is going on in real life.

  4. No, it didn’t.
    Did you fabricate that claim all by yourself, or did you just regurgitate it from somewhere else?

  5. The year of the study was 2012. I already quoted the source.

  6. Well all he need’s to do is hang about for a few years, grab his voter approved pension and join the club.
    Like this guy is any different than two thirds of North America…..anyone noticed that most people in Canada and the U.S. love their country but have to be stoned on something prescribed or not ?
    This is no news story it’s day to day life in our society based on an economy instead of love…..make mine a double thank you very much..

  7. Gotta love the timing, though… get elected, then admit you’re a drunk

  8. Ms. Lipson, you are misunderstanding the “Private Lives” studies carried out in Australia. While links may exist between the “male homosexual lifestyle” (a/k/a “being gay”) and mental health issues or alcoholism, there is no assertion that being gay CAUSES the issues. Correlation does not imply causation.

    It could be that the discrimination and stigma around being gay in Australia leads to mental health issues or substance abuse, or it could be a spurious correlation.

  9. There was no La Trobe study in 2012 that reached that conclusion.
    Eleanor Lipson or someone she’s parroting either invented that claim, or read something they misunderstood.

  10. Very convienient to win an election campagine and then confess to the country…Ohhhh..by the way…I’m a pis#tank.

    • Well done, lespaul.
      Recognizing you have a problem is the first step.

  11. He’s a Liberal – he will never admit that he has a problem or that his treatment of Ford was off (I doubt that O’Regan’s drinking problem cropped up overnight – he was likely dealing with it while he was slamming Ford).

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