Jeff Melanson and the Great McCain Robbery

So farewell, then, to the Punch-and-Judy family court contretemps between Eleanor McCain and Jeff Melanson.

Back in April 2014, the ahts-world power-coupling looked like the stuff of fairy tales (which, come to think of it, often ended badly, too).

She was the torch singer and loaded legatee of the kingdom of frozen french fries, chemically smoked hog and other nutritious delicacies founded by her late father Wallace and his brother Harrison (before they, too, stopped speaking to each other and divided the empire).

As a McCain, she was Canadian royalty, rich, well connected, powerful. Fabulous home in Lawrence Park. Sumptuous family compound in Jamaica. Exquisite beachfront estate in Nova Scotia.

The poor little rich girl had, alas, been unlucky at love, with two previous marriages (Patrick Bruce-Lockheart – 1993; Greg David – 1999) and two aborted engagements (Mark Hilson – 2008; Michel Fortier – 2010).

But then came Jeff, the toast of Canada’s cultural cadres (these days just toast). The incoming CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a moribund money pit in urgent need of rescue, Melanson had engineered what appeared to be an unbroken string of turnaround successes — at the Royal Conservatory of Music, the National Ballet School and the Banff Centre for the Arts.

The Melanson mantra was all about change, shaking up institutions that had been coasting for decades on obsolete fundraising and marketing strategies. His modus operandi certainly discomfited the wrinkly WASP old guard, but his results were hard to quarrel with: expanded memberships, bigger audiences, erased debt, enriched endowments. Everything he touched seemed rejuvenated.

And so it was with lovelorn Eleanor, at least for the duration of an intense five-month courtship and nine months of increasingly miserable matrimony.

“My dearest, sweetest, heart of my heart, Eleanor,” Jeff allegedly declared in their final email exchange: “It’s over.”

But if Ms. McCain had taken previous thrusts lying down, she wasn’t going to take this one, especially since, on her express command — a McCain never asks — she had ordered her lawyers to draft an iron-clad prenup. The agreement, in the event of a divorce, would shield the family fortune, conferring a tidy $5 million on the otherwise largely impoverished golden boy of culture. Chump change for her; the stuff of retirement planning for him.

The lovebirds got independent legal advice and submitted sworn financial statements that left no question who wore the money belt in the relationship. Eleanor pegged her net worth at $365 million. Her 2013 income: $4.25 mil in tax-free dividends. Jeff’s 2013 take-home was $400,000, his net worth south of zero (-$456,702.77).

After Jeff dumped her, Eleanor applied for an annulment and the setting aside of that $5-million fuck-off fee on the grounds that he had “lied to her, deliberately misrepresented himself and tricked her into going through a ceremony of marriage with him.” (This despite wording in the agreement stating it applied even in the case of annulment.)

It got dirtier, in acid-laced accusations filed by McCain’s battery of lawyers, to wit: that Jeff sexually harassed women in his employ; that he drank on the job, that he was depressive, that he lied habitually, that he took credit for the work of others, that he was ruthless, that he trolled the Ashley Madison adultery website, that he was guilty of nepotism (hiring Caroline Drury, the woman who replaced Eleanor in his bed and with whom he still cohabits), and that their entire whirlwind courtship was a Machiavellian orchestration designed to relieve Eleanor of as many millions as soon as was unconscionably possible.

All of that was in an effort to undo what, alas, had already been done: declare the pre-nup null and void, and avoid the bile-inducing act of actually writing him a cheque for five mil.

Jeff issued the requisite denials, insisting that his conduct was never less than professional, his liaisons were always consensual; that willful, spoilt, temperamental Eleanor had mistreated one of his daughters, and otherwise made what had briefly been domestic bliss into conjugal hell.

He described the jazz chanteuse in court docs as a “self-funded amateur musician,” who used charitable donations for leverage in dodgy pay-for-play schemes:

“Eleanor eventually admitted to creating a scheme in which she would make a cash donation to orchestras on the condition that they use the funds to hire her for a professional engagement. As she explained, she would then secure a prominent engagement, receive a tax receipt and donor recognition for her gift, and then required the orchestra to use the same funds to pay herself and her band.

“Jeff was surprised to hear that this scheme could function legally and was concerned for the many legitimate artists who were deprived of opportunities that Eleanor would buy with her wealth.”

Eleanor swung those bags of McCain moolah at Jeff, papering him under with pre-trial motions. She tried to remove Jeff’s lawyer, Howard Niman, from the case. (A specialist in raids on the McCain coffers, Niman represented Eleanor’s second husband, Greg, in their divorce a decade ago, and Eleanor’s sister-in-law, Trish, in her split from Scott McCain. He also manned the meat-slicer for Christine McCain in her split from Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain.)

Last February, Superior Court Justice Carolyn Horkins awarded Jeff $125,000 in interim costs, agreeing with Jeff that Eleanor had “created ‘as many cost-consuming obstacles as possible'” in the case. Eleanor responded by applying to have Her Honour punted from the case for bias.

Denied. The learned justice, in a verdict rendered Dec. 14, but only disclosed this month, tossed out McCain’s bid to annul a pre-nup she had herself insisted upon. Her only victory is that Melanson was denied the full $5-mil he was on paper entitled to — a ruling that may suggest the Horkins was ambivalent about who was actually telling the truth.

Correction. McCain achieved another objective. She effectively deep-sixed Melanson’s reputation and sabotaged his career, at least in the cultural sphere. Her litany of allegations had made him toxic, forcing his resignation from the TSO. He has been unemployed ever since, two years and counting.

Frank is reliably informed that despite missing out on the full $5 million, Melanson did get enough to pay off his lawyers and still emerge with a little limping-around money left over. Whatever Jeff pocketed — and both parties signed NDAs — it was tax-free.

Meanwhile, Eleanor continues her storied career as a professional McCain. “True North,” her recently recorded collection of 31 Canuck classics, possibly the costliest vanity album in Canadian history, for which she hired 10 of the country’s top orchestras to back her up and 23 photographers to help create a glossy 220-page coffee table book to supplement the recording. Hallelujah.

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One comment on “Jeff Melanson and the Great McCain Robbery
  1. Colonel Grey Poupon says:

    Don’t forget the upcoming documentary! “This epic, multi-year passion project is a touching tribute to the people, songwriters, musicians, photographers and landscape of Canada… an accompanying documentary film will also be released. Reminds me of Peter Mansbingo abandoning his speaking tour last fall to work on his “documentaries”.

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