How Helena Guergis went, so quickly, from promise to pariah

Shooting down a star

by Aaron Wherry with Chris Sorensen

Helena Guergis,

Sean Kilpatrick / CP

As Parliament resumed on Monday, seat No. 46 in the House of Commons—the spot immediately visible to television viewers over Stephen Harper’s right shoulder when the Prime Minister rises to speak—was no longer assigned to Helena Guergis, the photogenic Conservative for Simcoe-Grey. The former minister of state for the status of women had been officially banished to seat No. 153, a spot about as far as one can get from the Prime Minister without leaving the House. In her place sat Denis Lebel, the generally unremarkable minister of state for economic development in Quebec.

“She was one of the breakthrough MPs in 2004,” says Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist. “Remember the history of the Conservative party. The argument was: when the party was united we’d win more seats, we’d win more seats in areas like her riding. She won a seat, she was a loyal performer for the Prime Minister, she was hard-working, at least it appeared in the early days. Certainly, she fit a demographic and gender profile that accelerated her chances of getting into cabinet. So she had some opportunities and she took advantage of them, until she lost sight of who she was.”

Seven months after her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, was charged with drunk driving and drug possession, Guergis is now the subject of allegations serious enough to be referred to the RCMP. Whenever she next appears in the House, she will sit as an unwanted independent MP, unceremoniously ostracized from her party. And whatever else comes of the charges against her, she would seem now to personify the very antithesis of everything Conservatives hope to represent. “I think they truly became, in that old Reform term, ‘Ottawashed,’ ” Powers says of Jaffer and Guergis. “That they were given a lot of opportunities at a young age and they believed they were somewhat invincible.”

As an attractive, young, female Conservative from Ontario—a former pageant queen who had worked at Queen’s Park as a ministerial aide—she was an interesting prospect in a city often lacking in glamour. But when the Hill Times last surveyed Parliament Hill she was, in addition to being voted one of the best-dressed female MPs, among the top vote-getters as “biggest Scrooge,” a nod to her reputation as a difficult boss. And as secretary of state for foreign affairs in 2007 and 2008, she became the public face for what some saw as government inaction in the case of Brenda Martin, a Canadian citizen imprisoned in Mexico—famously attending a cocktail reception in that country and not seeing Martin during an official visit.

After the Conservatives won re-election in the fall of 2008, she was named minister of state for the status of women. And though she remained a favourite target of opposition critics and was perhaps not thought of as a future cabinet star, she was also not an obvious liability. “Hindsight’s 20/20, but I think it’s very safe to say that nobody saw this coming,” says Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister’s former director of communications.

Jaffer’s arrest in September was embarrassing—to him, his wife and a party that loudly touts its “tough on crime” agenda—but it might have become merely an unfortunate footnote, if not for everything that followed. In late February, Guergis was compelled to apologize after an anonymous account circulated of a profane tantrum at the Charlottetown airport. A month later, an assistant was found to have written supportive letters, under a different name, to local newspapers. Questioned about the matter, Guergis assured the House the assistant had apologized and would not do it again. But hours later, another assistant was found to have written an effusive letter to the editor, this one to Maclean’s. The next morning, the Liberals announced the discovery of still more letters from still more associates of Guergis. In the meantime, Jaffer had been allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of careless driving and pay a $500 fine, a controversial result that again conflicted with the party brand.

Prominent party figures had lamented her behaviour after Charlottetown, but now Conservative MPs, and even members of the Prime Minister’s Office were reportedly eager to see Guergis remove herself from cabinet. And then came the news of last Thursday morning. Complete with references to “busty hookers” and an expensive dinner at an upscale steakhouse, the Toronto Star reported on the questionable events and associations that preluded Jaffer’s arrest on a highway north of Toronto. Jaffer was apparently involved in some fashion with Nazim Gillani, a Toronto businessman charged with fraud in connection with a $1.5-million scheme. And the former MP was allegedly touting his access to the Prime Minister’s Office. Harper’s office refuted that suggestion as “absurd” and the Conservative party ordered Jaffer to remove the party’s logo from his website, but the revelations—related and tangential—began to multiply.

Jaffer was using a parliamentary email address and a BlackBerry provided by Guergis’s office. He had once squabbled with Conservative MPs over the caucus petty-cash account. Guergis was apparently trying to claim socks and other personal items as election expenses. Still, as late as that afternoon, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was telling reporters that Guergis maintained the confidence of the Prime Minister. Guergis’s office deemed Jaffer a “private citizen” and the Star story as a “personal matter.”

Whatever brought about Guergis’s resignation, it was discovered only that night, when a third party, by the government’s account, stepped forward with new information. The next day, after attending and addressing Vimy Ridge Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial, Harper summoned reporters to Parliament Hill and announced his office had become aware the night before of “serious allegations” concerning Guergis. The allegations had been referred to the RCMP and the ethics commissioner and Guergis had tendered her resignation. For the time being, she would be removed from the Conservative caucus.

The substance of the pivotal allegations remains a mystery. In her letter of resignation, Guergis referred only to “baseless allegations and unfounded assertions made about my family.”
Gillani has issued a statement casting doubt on the Star’s reporting, but otherwise refusing to comment until a court hearing on April 21. His spokesman, Brian Kilgore, says there were no business dealings between Gillani and Jaffer that involved government relations. Nor, Kilgore tells Maclean’s, were busty hookers present at the dinner in question. Kilgore says Gillani and Guergis met once, during a dinner in Toronto last September.

Patrick Glémaud, Jaffer’s friend and business partner at Green Power Generation, an Ottawa-based firm that advises companies on renewable energy projects, says neither he nor Jaffer had any inkling of Gillani’s trouble with the law when Jaffer went to meet him about a prospective business deal last year. “Rahim met Nazim for the first time either at the end of August or the first week of September,” he told Maclean’s, adding that Jaffer was introduced to Gillani and his associates by Gillani’s cousin, whom he declined to name, but described as “a respectable person.” Gillani was portrayed to GPG as a “market promoter” who was working with someone in the waste management business, according to Glémaud.

Glémaud, a former environmental lawyer for the federal government who worked on the Kyoto accord and once ran as a Conservative candidate, says GPG never entered into any business arrangements with Gillani or his associates: “Not a penny has been exchanged between our two companies.” He disputes many of the allegations in the newspaper article, including the suggestion that Jaffer was handing out his former MP business cards during the meetings and promised access to the Prime Minister’s Office. “Rahim would never do such a thing,” he says. Late Tuesday, the Liberals accused Jaffer and Glémaud of violating the Lobbying Act through their interaction with a Conservative MP. Glémaud denied lobbying anyone.

Guergis, meanwhile, languishes in purgatory, or perhaps outright exile. The mood among Conservatives last Friday night, after her resignation, was said to be a combination of relief, sadness, anger and uncertainty. Her future, especially with the allegations against her unknown, is at best unclear. She may have trouble regaining the Conservative nomination in her riding of Simcoe-Grey. The ethics commissioner has declined to investigate the allegations forwarded by the Prime Minister’s Office, but even if Guergis is exonerated by the RCMP, her political career may be forever limited. Her husband reportedly laments the lack of support he has received and few, if any, Conservatives seem to be rallying to her defence—even the grassroots are said to be unhappy. Indeed, the last week may have demonstrated how Conservatives react when one of their own threatens to undermine the cause.

“I think when the serious allegations came forward,” says Tim Powers, “the Prime Minister was thorough and decisive and recognized in acting the way he did that he had to be. Because he, unlike Helena, understood the damage the story of the dynamic duo could do to the party and all the things the party stood for and the rationale for why the party was successful with the electorate. Because it was the party that was grounded in the aspirations of everyday people, not distant, aloof, ‘Ottawashed’ politicians.”

And so does the pleasant face on the party become a pariah.




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How Helena Guergis went, so quickly, from promise to pariah

  1. The Guergis affair represents the dilemma PM Harper still has in making sure the old PC qualities, that saw the demise of that Party, are not allowed to infiltrate the CPC Party. That quick demotion of Guergis was a warning shot to other MP`s that as long as he is leader of this Party, that old sense of arrogance and entitlement will not be tolerated.

    • You are kidding, right? " . . old sense of arrogance and entitlement. . ????"

      There is nobody in the House of Commons who is more arrogant than Harper. Nobody. Arrogant, dishonest, secretive – and can't be trusted, because he is so contemptuous of Canadians that he believes we don't need to know the truth.

      I think that Harper is fundamentally lazy, he doesn't think for himself, and he's a great lover of shortcuts.
      He is addicted to power in the personal sense. He gets a posh house in Ottawa to live in, his kids are in private school, he has a limousine and a chauffer, and a bodyguard, plus the RCMP tailing him all the time. He draws a handsome salary and huge expense account – he gets to rub elbows with the glitterati of the world . . . he is treated deferentially, gets to meet all the jocks that he wants to . . . Harper does not want to give this up. They'll have to pry his hands off the doorknob with a crowbar when it's time for him to go.

      So – arrogance? Entitlement? Harper? Oh – of course not. That humble little man who only wants to serve his fellow countrymen and bring Canada into the 21st Century, he'd never be arrogant.

      • I heard the house isn't that nice (see Auditor General's report) and his kid's go to a public school.

        • Ugggggh! Will someone finally have the balls and fix that place up as it should be?

      • I won`t bother responding to your blather about how you detest Harper…..you`ve shown in the past that your judgement is hampered by that overriding hate that you`re packing around.
        But you`ve got your head in the sand ( do you work in the LPC backroom ? ) if you don`t understand that one of the main reason why Harper consistently polls far ahead of other Party leaders is that most Canadians believe him to be a competent and ethical leader for our times.
        The arrogance and entitlement and lacking in ethics that you speak off was evident in the last years of the Mulroney gov`t and throughout the Chretien and Martin gov`ts. The electorate punished those gov`ts accordingly.
        So I`ll stand by my original point: a good leader like Harper will take decisive action to make sure tha will of the people is represented in the gov`t.
        I`m not sure what the leader of the LPC stands for…..do you ?

        • One word B…S…

        • Harper doesn't poll well because of who he is or because Canadians like him; he polls well because he has no effective opposition. Give the Libs a genuinely likeable front man and something resembling a coherent policy, and Harper's toast.

          • I really don't think it is as simple as that, and in fact believe it is dangerous that this myth keeps spreading. There is no such thing as magic beans.

        • 'Decisive action" is the current talking point coming out of the PMO. Baird must have used it a dozen times this morning in QP. I see it's been launched into the blogosphere.

        • There it is folks, just to be clear. If you disagree with a conbot, you, by definition, are arrogant, have entitlement issues and lack morality.

          • Actually Mark, you`re not very clear. I`m not sure what a conbot is and I may think Margaret`s comment is misguided, but I certainly don`t know enough about her or you to use the words you just used to describe either of you.

        • ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Oh, ha ha ha ha ha My stomach hurts. HA HA AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I'm going to vomit. ha ha ha ha ha

      • I'll argue you on a number of those points. I don't think Harper is lazy at all. I do think he thinks for himself, absolutely. And from what else I've seen of him, I don't think the trappings of power matter one whit to him.

        I will go even further and say that Harper is a man of principle. It's just that that principle happens to be holding power for the power's sake.

        Addicted to power? Sure. A lover of shortcuts? Absolutely. Harper's one of these guys who wants to get things done. Whether it's the right thing to do, or whether it's done right isn't nearly as important as simply being able to get what he wants done.

        And what does he want? He's said it in multiple speeches, read his early stuff. Basically he wants the dismantling of the Federal Gov't. In a way, I admire him because he's not like the people you see moaning on the boards how the government taxes them too much or has too much power — I usually tell those people to either get into the system and change it, or get out of the system altogether and move to some country where they don't have to feel so oppressed all the time by civilized society. Well.. Harper's done the former. He's gotten into the system. He needs to get his majority to truly change it, but never doubt that's the end goal, and whatever he needs to do to accomplish that will fall by the wayside.

        Unfortunately for him, he's saddled with a bunch of incompetents who don't possess his singular vision, and supported by a fringe group that he knows cannot give him his majority. That's why he's so quick to promise one thing and do the opposite, and so quick to shut down the debate on things where he'd have to pit his fringe support against the fairly well understood leanings of the bulk of Canadians.

        I don't argue against Harper because he's ineffective, which is what you seem to be suggesting. I argue against him because he's so very effective.. and I'm afraid he may have the ability to succeed with his end goal, which is something that I personally do not want to see achieved.

        • "I argue against him because he's so very effective.."

          I think you (and all those who claim that Harper is a genius at strategy) give Harper way too much credit. The little that Harper has been able to accomplish can be credited to the fact that he faces a very weak opposition and an unscrutinizing press most of the time. There are now way too many examples of Harper's shortcomings on the strategy front and even more so on the policy-making front. Harper is a textbook example of a "smoke and mirrors" type of leader.

          Don't be fooled. If Harper was as great as everyone believes him to be, he would have maximized the 101th times the Libs rolled out the carpet for him to the majority government door. Instead, he stumbled over his own clumsy feet every single time.

          The only thing that I will give Harper credit for is the campaign he ran in 2004. Even then, I don't know if he should be credited for its success. Perhaps the campaign managers are the real brains on that one.

          • The fact that you just mentioned "that he faces a very weak opposition" is pure proof of how effective Harper is. Everytime something goes wrong, this is the card that is played, and everyone nods their heads in agreement.

          • Think about it though. Why is the opposition so weak? Jack is still Jack. Are the Liberals just that incompetent? It's hard to think they'd have been in power so long if that was the case.

            After all, why was Dion so weak? Because from the moment he got in, he faced confidence vote after confidence vote that the Liberal party could not face down without bankrkupting itself. You can't say that that didn't hurt the Liberals.

            Why is Ignatieff weak? Because the position itself is weak. Harper figured out while he was in opposition that all the opposition can do in Canada is make noise. And if nobody wants to listen.. if everybody's turned off or tuned out because of the constant stream of bafflegab that the Harperites emit. It's not just that they don't answer questions, it's that they've convinced Canadians that this is just the way things are.. that the House is an exercise in partisanship, and as such we shouldn't expect anything from it.

            I'm not saying he's a rocket surgeon or anywhere near infallible, but that he'll do exactly what is necessary to maintain power. If that includes going completely against his own word (as in softwood lumber) so be it. If it means walking over his own principles (as in the budget), he'll do that. If it means going to the absurd (saying he called for an ethics investigation that he never called), he's got no problem with doing that.

            You don't have to be a genius to be effect.. merely completely unscrupulous.

          • You don't have to be a genius to be effective.. merely completely unscrupulous.

            Your extensive analysis of Harper above and further above neglects one important point: Harper is indeed no dummy, and he learned how to achieve power-for-power's-sake from the Shawinigan Master.

        • ha ha ha ha ha ha. Read his early stuff? Oh ha ha ha ha. The White Supremacist. The Western Front. Give us a BREAK. The first week of his reign? Oh ha ha ha ha ha. Doesn't anyone remember that first week? Of course the unwashed masses don't, as predicted by His Majesy, but I do, and I will forever. Singular vision. Tee-hee. Marvellous. You REALLY believe he is surrounded with incompetents? One DOES hope he picked them carefully and personally. But of course he did. I'm just embarrassed to be a Canadian. Maybe I'll just get my Euro-passport and have done with it.

          • That would be Euro/s loss and our gain.

    • It wasn't a quick demotion, it was an effort to make it look as if he was in control. Harper did nothing until he was forced, hoping it would go away, & he could avoid another nasty misstep and scandal by a member of his cabinet. He should have been checking her connections through her her husbands association with Gillani, She certainly couldn't claim she didn't know about their billion dollar scheme to promote Walker's company, & get a piece of the action. As proven by her letters in an attempt to indicate government approval. , And once again he charged his 'pit-bull' Baird to make his excuses. He never seems to be able st stand up like a man & admit his errors.

    • I know Helena's ex-boyfiend (before Jaffer). You will receive lots of information about her partying and drugs if you ask him. I don't know why the PI hasn't yet?

    • Why does this story sound like its leading up to MOB?
      Dollars to Donuts It is.
      We keep re Guergis-tating this thing – when it is as plan as the nose on our face.

  2. Harper is first and foremost concerned with protecting himself, and making sure that words like 'cocaine, hookers, offshore accounts, the mob' etc., do not stick to him; number one they cannot stick to him. He's practically in a panic with this stuff – and shows he's got very poor judgement under stress, and without a more experienced Communications Director.

    Next to that – he's concerned about the fact that the Cons could completely lose Helena Guergis' riding.

    I wonder how long Soudas is going to last?

    • I wouldn't bet the farm on this. By ousting her, he'll now be able to run a new candidate in the riding. Depending on who the candidate will be, as well as the competition, anything can happen. After PEI, it would have likely been far worse for Harper to have her run as a Conservative. It will be interesting to see how this plays out…

    • Soudas should stick around because he makes them all look bad.

  3. "the Prime Minister was thorough and decisive and recognized in acting the way he did that he had to be. Because he, unlike Helena, understood the damage the story of the dynamic duo could do to the party and all the things the party stood for and the rationale for why the party was successful with the electorate."

    Uh Powers? The PM was far from thorough on this one. In fact, the manner in which he dealt with this situation may very well backfire as Guergis is quickly turning into a victim. If I'm Harper, I'm praying that someone digs up something really bad on Guergis and quick. If nothing is found, her presence in the Commons will be a constant reminder of his lack of judgement .

    • I agree with you: if Helena turns out to be quite innocent, excepting for tantrums and being married to a hood, Harper will look like a guy who threw her under the bus as soon as it was convenient to do so. No benefit of the doubt about those "credible allegations." I detest the government, but even I see the PI's allegations as pretty weak against her. And I'm doubly glad Donolo never met with the guy.

      Nobody called Bernier a biker or gangster or criminal for hanging out with Julie — and she was his "spouse" remember. Travelling with his doxy on the taxpayer dime — but nobody cared about anything but that he had poor judgement. And he doesn't sit outside caucus.

      • I strongly disagree, she is not going to become a victim anytime soon.

        • I don't see any serious criminal matters coming forward.

          • Maybe not criminal charges but her reputation is gone, her terrible, unkind attitude doesn't help her, she will never look like a victim to anyone. She is done with her political career!

  4. Given that the prime minister or the ethics commissioner are lying about what harper asked dawson to do, it occurs to me that we really don't know if he actually did refer the case to the RCMP.

    Perhaps he simply got rid of her, then spun his request to sound like he took control and did the best thing possible. The prime minister is becoming unnecessarily untrustworthy.

    • Since you`re on conspiracy patrol today……do you think he might have shut down the RCMP and replaced it with a Secret Police ?

      • Ha, well I guess it does sound conspiracy-minded, but how will we know? When someone lies, do you continue to trust? I have a lot of problems with that myself so add unforgiving to conspiracy-minded.

        Oh what a tangled web we weave
        When first we practice to deceive.

      • No need to shut it down to make it operate in that capacity if he wished. Do you have any rebuttal to Patchouli's point, or are you just fishing for more red herring?

        • Settle down Gilbert……Patchouli may have been unnecessarily paranoid about the role of the RCMP, but that happens sometime……but you would know that Gilbert.

          • So you really don't have anything but sarcasm to offer, eh? You said paranoid; I said liar.

      • Perhaps the RCMP that Harper referred to is an acronym for something else? Wouldn't put it past him, considering the differences between "release" and "request"….

  5. Thanks for the play by play recap Wherry!

  6. Appointing the former Miss Hurontario to her ex 'status' was really more of a slap on the face of Canadian women voters by a Republican-evangelical wannabe party that used her more as a 'prop' on the front benches than a serious advocate of issues of which she was clearly blissfully ignorant. But the Taliban-on-the-Hill boys needed their token 'real' woman….Enjoy!

  7. Good piece. I wish Wherry would do more of this.

    I'll take issue with one thing though:
    "…even the grassroots are said to be unhappy. Indeed, the last week may have demonstrated how Conservatives react when one of their own threatens to undermine the cause…"
    I don't know about the Conservatives, but for grassroots conservatives it's not "the cause", it's the strong possibility of unethical conduct in an MP that fosters a reaction. Ethics before partisanship, you see.

  8. I think Helena should sue Harper for libel, if she is found innocent by the RCMP.

    • Why? "Some pretty awful information was given to us last night, and I have referred it to the RCMP to investigate." Where's the libel?

  9. You have given it without publicly announcing it and without openly implying that someone is a criminal. Harper should have asked the RCMP to investigate and report to him privately before removing Guergis from the caucus. Or better yet, as Sinclair Stevens said on the radio interview, he should have asked the Privy Council to deal with the matter, which is actually PC's job in such cases. In my view Helena Guergis has every right to sue Harper for destroying her reputation if she is cleared by the RCMP.

  10. Let Helena sue but do not give her a dime out of the public purse!

  11. They came to Ottawa to do good and did their best to do well.
    When power is all that matters parties will scrape the barrel for candidates. More excellent judgment from Steve.

  12. This whole sordid business confirms what an amateur Harper is. His only obsession is his control and power. You don't think he actually cares about Canada and Canadians do you?

  13. I might have missed it but I believe the issue of whether Helena Guergis really has an MBA was never settled.

    It has been reported that her MBA is really an Executive MBA and it is from the University of Alberta's class of 2009. As well, it has been reported by Sun Media that a call was made to the U of A and they confirmed that she received an MBA.

    If Guergis did convocate in 2009, she would have completed her studies in May 2009, with the International trip. She would have started her studies in the fall of 2007. I am sure that it can be researched whether she was in Edmonton during the class time….or if she was elsewhere on Government busienss. The last I heard, you actually have to show up for class to earn credits.

    Having said that, if she did convocate in 2009, I imagine that her photo might appear in the convocation photos posted by the U of A. Here is the web-page with the graduating class photos:http://apps.business.ualberta.ca/photogallery/cur… /

    You will note that this indicates that this is the "first" Edmonton cohort. I believe this means there are no previous graduating classes. I might be blind but I cannot see Guergis in the photos. In addition, the University kindly put the names of the graduates in the photos. If an intrepid reporter wants to check….perhaps a phone call to these classmates can confirm/deny whether Guergis was in their class.

    Given her lack of ethics and judgement regarding her husband's use of Government resources, I think a bit of investigation into this degree would shed light on her character.

    Calling all reporters….make these calls to the EMBA 2009 students.

  14. Just noticed in the photos that Jaffer was in the class….but no sign of Guergis.

    Just in case the above link to the photos doesn't work, try this one:
    http://apps.business.ualberta.ca/photogallery/cur

    OR

    google – university alberta executive mba graduating class 2009

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