Loose Cannon: Was Guergis punished for the mistakes of men?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

  • Though ex-Cosnervative MP Helena Guergis is hardly a model of
good behaviour, it can be argued she's being punished not for

    Though ex-Cosnervative MP Helena Guergis is hardly a model of good behaviour, it can be argued she's being punished not for he

Written by Greg Beneteau

For the past few months, details surrounding the conduct of former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer and his spouse, Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis, have transfixed a Canadian public unused to such a titillating scandal in the own backyards.

Last September, Jaffer was arrested and charged with drunk driving and possession of an undisclosed quantity of cocaine after being stopped by the Ontario Provincial Police near Caledon. Both charges were later dropped, and Jaffer plead guilty to careless driving.

More recently, a Toronto Star article probed the evening leading up to Jaffer’s arrest, alleging that the ex-MP consorted with Nazim Gillani, a businessman of dubious reputation, and a trio of “busty hookers” while discussing how to gain access to government grants for green energy projects.

The allegations blew the top off of a bourgeoning scandal in which Jaffer stands accused of using his influence as a former Member of Parliament (he lost his seat in 2008) to promote his business dealings with former Conservative colleagues.

The Jaffer affair has caused a great deal of collateral damage within the Conservative cabinet as MPs Jim Prentice, Tony Clement, John Baird and Gary Goodyear scramble to explain why their staffers communicated with Jaffer, who was not a registered lobbyist.

But the biggest loser in this sordid affair is arguably Guergis, who was forced to resign as Minister of State for the Status of Women and was booted from the Tory caucus after Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred what he called "serious and credible allegations" to the RCMP.

Though Guergis is hardly a model of good behaviour – her blow-up at an airport in Prince Edward Island in February did nothing to help her public image – it can be argued she's being punished not for her own mistakes, but for those of her male colleagues. It is a striking example of double standards and the absence of due process for someone accused of wrongdoing.

The steamiest details of this scandal – drunk driving, skulking about the corridors of power for juicy deals – implicate only Jaffer and the staffers he met with. There is no evidence Guergis knew about her spouse’s activities, nor was it her responsibility to keep an eye on him.

Meanwhile, Prentice and other ministers whose staff met with Jaffer should be held to account for what happens in their respective offices, but it’s more likely their transgressions will blow over while they argue with the opposition over the official definition of “lobbying.”

For her part, Guergis has been accused of letting Jaffer access parliamentary perks including her office, BlackBerry and chauffeur.

She has denied the allegations. If they were true, they would demonstrate a serious lapse in judgment, but hardly the kind of behaviour that would irrevocably taint someone’s political career. Even ex-foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, who resigned his portfolio after leaving secret documents at his girlfriend's apartment, got to stay with the party.

There is also the matter of a letter Guergis sent to a municipal politician in Simcoe County, touting a green tech company that Jaffer and Gillani wanted to take public.

Guergis has claimed she was simply helping Wright Tech Systems owner Jim Wright, one of her constituents, get an audience with Simcoe officials after assuring herself that Jaffer had no links to the company.

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating whether Guergis abused her position of power, but it’s already too little, too late for the ex-minister’s reputation.

Meanwhile, the unspecified allegations being investigated by the RCMP have given rise to claims of tax evasion and drug use, apparently third-hand information passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office by a private gumshoe.

On this matter, I think Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the biggest gaffe of all. He should have taken the time to sort through all the rumour and innuendo. He should have allowed the RCMP and the ethics commissioner to complete their investigations before rendering judgment.

Instead, he jumped the gun and fired Guergis, implicitly conceding that the female cabinet minister who was once strategically seated near him in the House of Commons had become more trouble than she was worth.

It remains unclear if Guergis was troublesome because of her own behaviour, or because she was the better half of a tainted power couple. 

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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