Couillard’s 317-page account of her life and ill-fated affair with Maxime Bernier, landed today on newsroom desks across the country (M&S, $29.99). The advance billing—primed by its author in select media interviews—suggests the book could cause a stir on the campaign trail.
Maclean’s national affairs correspondent Charlie Gillis is reading it, and will share observations as he goes.
(For Day 2, please scroll down)
Noon — First impressions: it looks and feels as rushed as it is. After initially setting a release date of Oct. 14, the day of the election, Couillard and her publishers bumped up first to Oct. 6, then to tomorrow. The page stock feels cheap (think foolscap from grade school), but there are 16-pages of b&w photos in the middle. Predictably, Julie looks great in a lot of them.
She sets quite a tone in the dedication:
“… to women who, like me, have had their reputations and lives destroyed by the wagging tongues of men in power.”
Strap on your seatbelt, Max. I have a feeling this is going to get rough.
(Note to readers: patience appreciated; I can only type so fast. As ever, responses, rejoinders and criticism welcome).
12:20 p.m. — Intro. Don’t usually read ‘em, but this one’s off to a good start, with a rail at a “scandal-obsessed media” that “delighted in perpetrating the worst drivel and falsehoods imaginable…” Hey, wait a minute, that’s me you’re talking about.
It’s essentially a rant about how miserable the media made her and her family during l’affaire Couillard-Bernier. I don’t doubt that. But I don’t think she was made out to be the “monster” she claims.
12:30 p.m. — Chapter 1, “Mixed Roots.” Her first memory is the day her dog died. Yikes, I hope this gets cheerier…
Actually, the dog thing is part of a broader self-portrait a sort of Snow White figure. Loves animals, very gentle, full of love, small woodland creatures gather around her feet etc. Did her editor (ghostwriter?) explain the concept of hyperbole to her?
Early childhood in Ville-Émard, blue-collar hood on the southwest Island, French-Scot-Irish background; parents married at 18 because they were pregnant with her sister.
First brush with fame: won “cutest baby contest” held by a local TV station. Moved to the ‘burbs north of Montreal when she was four.
12:45 p.m. — Chapter 2, “Life in Lorraine.” Her mother’s warning not to marry “the first man you meet” comes home. Iydillic childhood is disrupted when her mother Diane finds a lipstick-stained cigarette butt in the car (neither parents smoked).
So her father, Marcel, was cheating. He was a “profoundly dysfunctional” man who made promises he didn’t keep. Her parents began squabbling, and she developed a defence mechanism, falling asleep as soon as they started. The marriage wasn’t violent, only loveless. You can see where this is heading:
” … since I had known nothing else, it was hard for me to put a name to the vague unease that I felt—a sort of nostalgic longing for something that had never existed in world, that is, a close-knit family that would gather together at mealtimes, playfully tease one another, talk about the little things …”
1:05 p.m. — Chapter 3 (of 47; don’t say we aren’t dedicated here at Maclean’s), “Money Problems”
I should note that the editors have added little pull-quotes to stand as subtitles for every chapter. This one is “Little girls need to love their fathers,” which typifies the banality of a lot of her observations. Still, the tone of the early-years stuff is pretty heartfelt, at least to my ear.
By now, the family numbers five: mum, dad, Julie, her sister Johanne and her little brother Patrick. Her father, who had been a lithographer with the Montreal Gazette newspaper, decides he’s going to be a building contractor, a decision that casts the family into financial instability. He’s too disorganized and undisciplined, says Julie.
Another brief period of idyll after they move into a house her father has built in Lorraine. But her dad is driven into bankruptcy penury after a bad transaction with an electrician. Diane is forced to work nights as waitress. At 10, she says, she “gained a vague understanding of the value of money—or at least the hardships that can result from lack of it.”
In short, she has dad issues and money issues, which I feel like I might have predicted.
1:18 p.m. — Chapter 4, “Waltz of the Bailiffs.”
The bleakness is getting Dickensian. And just to be clear, her father didn’t declare bankruptcy after the thing with the electrician. He did something worse, in Julie’s mind, which was try to crawl out of the debt hole. Upshot: the bailiffs threaten to take away their furniture. Mum has a job with the Catholic school board, by now, so they don’t.
“Soon after that, my sister and I started telling our mother we’d be better off without him, that we can manage on our own, that she should leave him.”
1:50 p.m. — Chapters 5,6, 7 “Floodwaters Rising.” We through the formative childhood stuff, and practitioners of basic arithmetic will tell me we need to pick things up a bit. So I’ll sum this up as a personal section, with the following disclosures
• she had, still has, epilepsy, which went undiagnosed until she was 12; she lived in fear of being institutionalized; she was reassured that luminaries like Nostradamus, Napolean and Einstien had it (?!). But it has made her tough
• kissed—or rather was kissed by—her first boy at 12; started going in cars with boys at 14 but didn’t have sex with her 16-year-old b.f. Michel (she’s protecting the names of the innocent here, though I’m not sure why; it all seems legal). Got asked to model fur at a trade show when she was working for the Leather Ranch on Ste. Catherine Street.
• she got a secretarial job at a law office; she and Michel bought property, two duplexes in when she was just 17, and moved in. But the properties flooded in 1987. Now I know why she used a pseudonym for Michel; she got in spat with him over who was paying what. They sold properties in a troubled transaction and broke even.
2 p.m. — Chapter 8 “Breakup.” Things end badly with Michel. He parties, he closes the bar, he does drugs. They’d gotten $40,000 from the city for flood repairs on the duplexes.
“That first relationship had given me a taste of all the disillusionment that I’d seen my mother experience with my father. There was precious little I could take from my time with Michel that could change my low opinion of men.”
2:30 p.m. — Chapters 9, 10, 11 & 12 “Hotel California.” This is Couillard’s “men-of-my-young-womanhood” montage. She takes a job waitressing at a strip bar in the late ’80s but leaves because she doesn’t like the atmosphere. Still, she meets Norman there, a bouncer-cum-bodybuilder who does steroids. They move in together, but one day Norman, in the throes of a ‘roid rage grabs her by throat. So she leaves. “I’m not one to play the battered woman.”
Then there’s Tony, a guy she meets at a bar when she’s in a party phase of her own—”soaking up the downtown Montreal bar scene,” as she puts it. Turns out Tony is Tony Volpato, “who many people claimed was a key figure in the Montreal mafia” (maybe because he palled around with Frank Cotroni??). “Contrary to what some newspapers have claimed, I was never romantically involved with Tony Volpato,” she assures us, “and he never made any advances”.
But Tony was a gentleman, and Tony did her a “huge favour.” At this point, Norman was apparently stalking her, which gave her the blues. “Let me take care of it,” Tony said quietly.
Apparently Tony’s intervention was non-violent, but highly effective.
Finally, there is Steve, another guy she meets in a bar downtown. Steve (not his real name) plays for the Montreal Machine of the short-lived World League of American Football. He invites her to come stay in California. I must say, Couillard’s babe-in-the-woods act is wearing thin. Consider this passage:
“[Steve] turned out to be nothing like the gentleman I had met just a few weeks earlier in Montreal. He immediately assumed that I was going to hop in the sack with him, based on the mere fact that we were going to spend a week under the same roof. I realized there was a world of difference between the mindsets of Americans and Canadians, especially in men’s attitudes toward women.”
As a Canadian male, I must say I’m flattered.
Meantime, I’m not entirely clear why she left that secretarial job way back in Chapter 7 … but whatever.
2:45 p.m. — Chapters 13, “Gilles.” I think we all know this will be important. Gilles Giguère is the biker associate to whom no man can ever compare. Not even (or perhaps least of all) a federal cabinet minister. But Gilles is also the man for whom she now wears the heinous and degrading label of “biker chick.”
Couillard met Gilles in Montreal just before her ill-fated trip to Cali to stay with Steve what she assumed would be platonic bliss. They saw each other across a crowded Lafleur restaurant, where she’d gone for a hot-dog.
“All I could focus on was those eyes, brimming with gentleness and goodness and wielding a strange power over me.”
They were friends for a year before they were lovers, and trust me, I’m sparing you some tracts of particularly treacly prose in condensing it thus. Oh, okay, you asked for it:
“Very soon I came to consider Gilles my best friend, the kind of friend I could go to a restaurant with and enjoy a long dinner, talk about any subject under the sun, turn the world upside down and change it, and then change it all over again.
“He was my confidant, a kind of big brother who was privy to everything that happened to me; I would tell him about the people I hung around, even the men I slept with. And he told me everything as well: secrets, minor worries and major anxieties, his plans, his love affairs.”
Nothing in here about Gilles being a biker, but they do go out dancing one night and, finally, end up in torrid kiss on her doorstep. “It was like falling into an airbag or a downy pillow … It felt like a scene in a movie, with two lovers sharing a languorous kiss and the woman voluptuously lifting one foot off the ground in a sign of pleasure and abandon.”
3:20 p.m — Chapters 14, 15, “The Gangster.” Before we get to this, I should say the book is an easy read. Sure, Couillard’s recollected dialogue sounds like English dubbing from Lance et compte (“Okay, that’s it, mister … you’ve got the gall to treat me like dirt?! Well I’m not going to take it any more!”). But the narrative flows nicely. She thanks someone in the epilogue named Serge Rivest for “listening, summarizing and writing.” So props to Serge and the M&S editors.
Ah Gilles! What can we say about this man that will do him justice? How about: “He was a friend, a brother, a lover and a husband to me.”? Yup, that covers it. Gilles, an apparently penniless construction worker, supported Couillard’s renewed desire to model and act. She got walk-on roles in a whole raft of film and TV productions, including Highlander III, and the TVA miniseries on the life of René Lévesque, in which she appeared topless as one of the great man’s mistresses. Not to sound misogynist, but I don’t recall that image in any of the post-Bernier post-mortems.
Roch Voisine hit on her, and she turned him down because of Gilles.
So imagine poor Julie’s surprise when he lets on that he did time for robbery when he was 19. She’s glossing, here, to put it mildly. He never sold drugs never “had firearm, but “after a while” she figured out “Gilles was a moneylender.”
A moneylender? Er no. Fannie and Freddie are moneylenders. Gilles was a loanshark.
3:45 p.m. — This is where we run up against the hard contradictions in Couillard’s self-image, touched upon in today’s Globe by my friend and former colleague, Christie Blatchford. She wants us to believe she’s a dreamy-eyed innocent one minute; a savvy, sultry woman of the world the next. I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive. But you have to own up to the friends you choose.
(P.S. thanks to all those commenters who feel sorry me; honestly, the book really isn’t that bad. And it appears that her mother has dumped her father, who has been left penniless in a crummy walk-up. Gilles, bless his soul, is providing him with occasional work on construction sites).
“Gilles was no angel,” but “Gilles was a man of principle.” Those statements are on facing pages, 86 and 87. Evidently, Gilles was such a man of principle that none of his debtors got too far behind in repaying their, ah, principals. Julie went to dinner at a restaurant with him one night; afterward the resto owner slipped Gilles an envelope. “Obviously, if I had been forced to watch him beat somebody up who had missed a payment, or heard of him doing such a thing, I would have been very upset,” she says. “But that wasn’t Gilles’ style.”
She’s lashing out, though, at press depictions of Gilles as a gang kingpin. “We never lacked for anything, but we never lived in luxury either … the entire time we were together, we never took any fancy trips etc, etc..”
Oh, but she did wind up meeting this guy Gilles had known for years. Gilles had helped the guy out when he got out of prison and needed a job. Gilles had become the go-to man for any construction work the guy needed.
The guy’s name was Mom Boucher.
4:07 p.m. — On meeting Mom:
“Gilles had given me the lowdown on who “Mom” Boucher was. When we were introduced, he grabbed my hand hard and began shaking it violently, which made my breasts start shaking as well. I thought it was uncalled-for behaviour, to say the least. But what struck me even more was the incredible void that I saw in his eyes—an utter lack of conscience. I was instantly afraid of him; his presence literally sent shivers down my spine. I remember that after we got home, I said to Gilles in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t prepared to spend many evenings out with these sorts of people—if at all.”
“Many evenings”? Way to draw that line, Julie.
But she says she found the bikers and their girlfriends “vulgar,” and claims she and Gilles spent little time with them.
4:30 p.m. —Chapter 16, “Carnival of the Animals.” The Animals are the cops. And the tone is, er, shifting. Couillard’s starting to sound less Mary Poppins and more like Adrianna from the Sopranos. Léo Lemieux, the guy who rats out dear Gilles is “a real motormouth.” He was “like some kind of Columbo, permanently in detective mode.”
”He’s got to be a police informant,” she tells Gilles and his buddy Robert Savard. “He’s going to be bad news for you someday.”
The cops’ raid on the couples’ condo in December 1995 is violent. They burst in at 6 a.m. beat the crap out of Gilles, leer at Julie, who had been in bed naked. Yeah, SWAT teams are no fun.
A lot of stuff follows suggesting she and Gilles were denied due process, but really sounds more like the techniques of hard interrogation. She asked for her lawyer, only to be told he had been arrested the same day in the same sweep (true). She never did manage to see a lawyer before they released her 18 hours later. “Sacred principles like citizens’ rights are all very well in theory. But when the police are holding someone captive in a tiny room at headquarters, on their turf, and nobody knows about it, rights don’t mean a thing,” she says.
I’m no cop wanker, but I met some of the guys on the police unit she’s talking about (the Wolverine task force). Their lives, never mind their rights, were at risk because of their work. So, you know: boo hoo.
4:51 p.m. — More insinuation of illegal behaviour by the cops. She files an ethics complaint about the officers’ behaviour, but abandons it after receiving a threatening phone call.
Meantime, the raid is weighing heavily on the sainted Gilles, who admits to her he’s signed some sworn statements under police duress. He says they used threats involving Couillard, but she doesn’t say what the threats were. Gilles grew sullen, withdrawn, angry, inconsolable.
4:58 p.m. — Chapter 17, “Death Close Up.” The cops have charged Gilles with conspiracy to commit murder, then abruptly drop the counts two months later. Again contradiction time: she and Gilles have decided to get married! They put the wedding off though, because Gilles still faces some drug and weapons possession charges (not his drugs or weapons, says Juile, but the informant’s).
April 26, 1996, she has a premonition of Gilles’ death. He heads out to a depanneur, and she “for some reason decided it was incredibly important to give him a kiss.” But she rushes downstairs to see his truck pulling away.
Two agonizing days of searching, and then the cops find his body, with six bullet wounds. She’s numb, in denial, doesn’t believe the cops. Then she turns on the TV to see his body in a ditch. There’s an account of agonizing moments she spends with her brother Patrick, then with other family members. I should mention here that Gilles has a young son, of whom he shares custody. It all would probably come across as melodramatic in an excerpt, but it reads as heartfelt.
5:25 p.m. — Chapters 18 & 19, “Rebuilding.” Couillard’s description of Gilles’ funeral, where Mom Boucher turns up, a presence she finds “revolting and disconcerting.” Boucher offers condolences, and she assures him that, contrary to rumour, Gilles wasn’t a rat. “Don’t worry about it,” Boucher replies. “There’s people who think I’m a snitch.”
There’s some pretty clear insinuation here that Boucher ordered the killing.
“I thought to myself that if the Hells Angels orchestrated the murder, if they had made the mistake of believing that Gilles was an informant, they might very well have been suspicious about me.”
As to the question of whether Gilles was a rat, it strikes me as a red herring. Even though the previous charges had been dropped, his statements to police would have been enough for the club to make a move, no? And given all the foregoing, I’m at a loss to understand why she thinks she so hard done by the press. She was clearly moving in criminal circles, perilously close to the top.
Anyway, she was paranoid after Gilles’ death, and for good reason. Still, she gets herself licensed as a contractor and tries to set herself up as a project manager, working with subcontractors. It goes predictably badly—unforeseen mishaps etc.
All this, I guess, by way of explaining her weird business history of setting up companies that never seem to do any work.
6 p.m. — Chapters 20 & 21, “Stéphane.” Just in case you’re wondering, Bernier doesn’t show up until Chapter 34. I guess there’s a lot of prologue we need to know here. Or maybe Maxime really was an afterthought for this woman. He comprises less than a quarter of the book!
Also, Couillard is doing a pretty good job rubbishing some of the press description of her as a gold digger, if not those that call her a biker chick. Recall that that she turned down Roch Voisine, who was a pretty big wheel in the early ’90s, for Gilles, who didn’t have a pot to piss in (or so she says). Most of these guys she dates do seem like schnooks, frankly.
And now were on to Stéphane.
As you may recall, he’s biker No. 2 (okay, biker “associate” No. 2; DON’T call Gilles a biker). She meets him (where else?) at a bar in ’97, and quickly sees he’s an associate of the Rockers, a Hells Angels affiliate club during the height of the Quebec biker wars.
“In those days, I was going through survivor’s guilt. I was finding it very difficult to accept the fact that I hadn’t seen Gilles’s murder coming. At that point, I thought to myself, If I hadn’t been able to save Gilles, maybe I could at least save this guy Stéphane.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with that little apercu, or where to end. Suffice to say, after meeting Mom Boucher, the walking Dementor, at Gilles’s funeral, wouldn’t you run screaming from any of these guys?
Stéphane was a slickster, a smooth talker, though. He said he’d had enough of this biker life. The war between the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine was out of control. He was turning in his patches. Next thing you know, they’re dating, trying to buy land together. Three months later over, hot dogs (again!), he asks her to marry him.
6:35 p.m. — Long story short: the relationship is a living hell. Stéphane has no money and borrows heavily from Julie. When they marry, she has to pay $12,000 for the rings. It’s the beginning of a terrible comedy. She imagines she sees Gilles at the altar on the way down the aisle; the hotel stops their credit cards at the honeymoon resort in the Bahamas. She comes home to find out Stéphane up to his ears to everyone—his mortgage holders, the phone company, the utilities.
Stéphane sinks into a depression and begins manipulating Julie, telling her if she doesn’t pay off his debts, his biker friends are going to kill him.
When we left off, Couillard had decided she’d had enough with Stéphane Sirois, the biker she married against her better judgment. A couple of reflections:
1.) Couillard’s stated purpose in publishing this book was to counter media depictions of her as a trashy biker ho and a gold-digger. We haven’t seen much gold-digging, for sure. But the Stéphane section does nothing to mitigate—indeed fuels—the perception that she was part of the biker world, rubbing shoulders with Mom Boucher, et al. In previous chapters, she’s maintained she disliked and feared the bikers. So why on earth did she hook up with Sirois. Why?? Moreover, some biker-savvy wisdom has seeped onto the page in the Sirois chapter. You get the sense she understood these people quite well, and it is clear they were aware of what she was doing with her life. Why is this important? Because we know she later was applying for federal airport security contracts, and bikers have an abiding interest in airports. I don’t think she’s telling us everything, frankly.
2.) I think it’s safe to assume that hurting Bernier is the true motivation for publishing the book, especially during the election campaign. But if Bernier is a vain airhead, as Couillard has maintained in recent interviews, if their relationship was short and loveless, why is she so determined to do him damage? After all, he’s not the one who smeared her.
Not sure I can answer that yet. But I’m developing a theory based on the previous chapters. To me, Couillard’s life has been defined by two things: an all-consuming ambition to leave her hard-scrabble roots behind, and useless men who dragged that dream down. She is now 30 in this narrative. She is known to police and she has yet to find anything resembling a successful partner who lives in the straight world (by which I mean non-criminal). If she finally identifies this as the problem in her life, then you could see the attraction of someone like Bernier, given the government contacts he could provide for her nascent real estate business. You could also see being very upset, when her relationship with Bernier busts all that up.
Suffice to say, she has a legitimate beef with Sirois, who told the press she was “attracted to people with money and power.” “He somehow failed to realize that he was a glaring example of just the opposite.”
I like that line.
10:50 a.m. — Chapters 22 &23, “A Painful Decision.”
To expedite her divorce from Stéphane, she decided she needed to commit adultery. So we now have Bruno, a real estate contact, in the picture. Oh, and Stéphane has turned Crown’s evidence against the bikers. He’s in witness protection. She gets pregnant by Bruno, and gets an abortion.
You know, Couillard tells us a lot we don’t need to know, and leaves out a lot we do.
She has moved in with Bruno (!), of whom we never learn much (what does he do?), and back out. She’s waitressing, and working as an “assistant sommelier” at a restaurant (is that like a bartender?).
11:39 a.m. — Chapters 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 “Robert.”
Just so you know, before Robert comes “Sylvain,” who is also a chapter title. The men are signposts in her life. Sylvain, who owns a car dealership, looks fairly promising, except he’s married. Their connection appears to be real estate. I have to say, I’m getting a bit irritated by Couillard’s efforts to portray herself as some sort of Donald Trump. Her real estate gambits to date, starting with the duplexes she bought with Michel (remember him?), were all duds and squibs. Which is why she’d bartending.
Apparently Sylvain has game in the real estate biz, though. Yet as ever, sex unravels the whole thing. First they were a dynamic duo, scooping up repossessed properties, with Sylvain paying Julie modest commissions. Now they’re in bed together. Good grief.
Couillard loses her patience with Sylvain because he won’t leave his wife. He keeps spending weekends and holidays with the old ball and chain. My favourite quote: “In a love triangle, cuckolded woman isn’t always the married one.” Wow.
11:53 a.m. — More financial problems, blamed on her dad who was supposed to be paying property taxes on a house she and her brother owned, but didn’t. She and her brother have dad forcibly evicted. He’s out of her life to this day. Then an “administrative error” leaves her on the hook for unpaid taxes. She declares personal bankruptcy at the end of 2002.
Pattern: financial mishap after financial mishap, always the fault of some man.
She winds up crawling back to Sylvain (my words, not hers). She has previously described him as cheap, but suddenly he’s a wannabe James Bond who buys all manner of toys, including a Lamborghini Diablo ($380,000).
He puts her up at a swank South Beach hotel, where she claims the actor Gabriel Byrne makes a pass at her. No thanks, she says. I’m sticking with the married guy from Laval.
12:20 p.m. — We’re done with Sylvain, I think. He still won’t leave his wife and the affair sours after Stéphane has surfaced in a magazine saying nasty things about Couillard. He leaves her in Venice with $100. There are times when I do feel truly sorry for her.
More failed work in real estate development, this time as a sales co-oridinator for a group of construction companies. But she has met Robert Pépin, who offers her a managing partnership in a security firm (?!). Out of the blue. “It was certainly an attractive proposition … they seemed like a serious outfit…”
1:25 p.m. — Chapters 29 & 30, “Locked Out.”
Okay we’re into the airport stuff. The security company, DRP, begins offering a “fully integrated security and alarm system” no one can match. Robert has a connection with Jacques Duchesneau, president of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). They want to put their security system in airports across the country.
Elaborate description of the security hoops they jumped through to bid. They didn’t get the contract, but did the opportunity to view the specs amount to a security risk, given Couillard’s past with the bikers?
“…that is nothing less than absurd. I’m not at all familiar with the infiltration methods employed by members of criminal organizations, but I highly doubt that such people would have needed us to carry out such an exercise.”
Then again, Julie, maybe they were waiting for you to get the contract.
Meantime, and without warning, the “inevitable has happened” (her words): she’s sleeping with Robert Pépin, even though he drinks more heavily than anyone she’s ever seen. Does anyone else feel like screaming at this point? Something like: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP SCREWING EVERY MAN WHO WORMS HIS WAY INTO YOUR LIFE!!
Some soap-opera stuff about Robert mistakenly thinking Julie was having a lesbian affair with one of their co-workers (“I had never shown the slightest desire for a woman in my life”). And whaddya know, Robert has stiffed her on the partnership agreement, giving shares instead to someone to whom he owed money. They break up, he finds another girlfriend and appears to be doing okay, she says. But two years later—in 2008—she learns he has committed suicide.
2:10 p.m. — Chapters 31 & 32, “Kevlar.”
Couillard has launched her own security firm, Integrated Global Solutions (IGS), along with an auto-leasing business with two former colleagues from DRP. Then—surprise!—it turns out one of those trusted partners in the leasing biz is stealing from the company! Yet again, duped by a man she trusted!
Okay, we’re close to Bernier, so I want to quickly address this apparent pathology, expanding on my theories above. My colleague Anne Kingston, who is reading the book as I write this, noted a sense of fantasy that exists alongside Couillard’s gritty struggles to get ahead. Anne raised the 1997 wedding to Sirois, which I made the mistake of skating over. It was an enormous, lavish affair, held at the giant Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Montreal. They had the same Rolls limos Céline Dion used in her wedding. Seven course meal, including of all things an ice sculpture on top of an expanse of blue Jell-O. To Anne, this all has the unmistakable feel of Pretty Woman. I have to agree.
And so, an addendum to my theory: Julie has a habit of projecting fanciful expectations onto the men in her life, whether it’s Sylvain the married guy, or the stranger who offers her business opportunities while she’s serving him wine in a bistro. She doesn’t say so in the book, but she seems to expect all of these people to take her on a magic carpet ride. She never takes obvious precautions, and gets crushed. Every time.
Her co-worker, the lesbian, is coming onto her. But she’s not interested, and I have to throw in this choice bit:
“Like many gays and lesbians I had met, Monique believed every person has latent homosexual tendencies. That may be true for some people, but it certainly isn’t in my case.”
So that settles that.
2:20 p.m. — Well, well. We’ve met a fellow in a hotel bar named Philippe Morin. He runs a Quebec City real estate company named Kevlar. He’s married with kids, but at least he’s separated from his wife. One thing leads to another, and then, in an uncharacteristic act of good sense, Couillard actually shuts down the relationship when it becomes clear Philippe hasn’t made a clean break from his wife.
Well, well. We’ve met a fellow in a resto-bar named Bernard Coté. He works for Michael Fortier, the federal Minister of Public Works. Bernard is kind, and interested in her desire to sell real estate in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Wouldn’t it be interesting if these two fellows crossed paths?
Wow, it’s like I’m clairvoyant! One day, when Julie is having a casual drink with Philippe and his biz partner, Coté happens to call her cell phone. Philippe is very, very interested in a call for tenders on some Q.C. lands the feds want to buy to locate a government building.
“Then [Philippe] asked me: ‘How would you like to represent Kevlar in this dossier?’ … ‘It would be great for us to have someone who’s on good terms with a guy like Coté.’”
Couillard is confused and distressed Philippe later disavowed any connection to her. She had signed two separate contracts with them. She had Kevlar business cards with the title “business development officer” on them.
2:50 p.m. — Chapter 33, “Politics.”
We’re in the boggy world of power and influence now. It’s mid-April ’07, and Couillard has run into an old acquaintance, André Turcot, who is active with the Conservative Party, a.k.a. Canada’s New Government. He invites her to a fundraiser Michael Fortier will be attending. She writes a cheque for $1,000 to get in the government’s good graces and (again, I want to weep for the poor woman) it bounces.
But hey, things happen. She presses a lot of Tory flesh that night. By which I mean hands. She likes what she sees. Evidently a bit short of candidates, they ask her to run, and she’s considering it.
Here’s an endorsement you won’t see on a Conservative ad any time soon:
“I was quite inclined to support Stephen Harper. I felt that since he had become prime minister the year before, he had been true to his word—which is not something you can say about a lot of politicians. I also thought that up to then, he had responded quite well to teh need for change that had brought him to power in the first place.”
Oh, and she just got invited to a cinq à sept, meaning happy hour (gawd I love Quebec). And guess who’s going to be there? (Hint: it’s not Luc Lavois)…
3:25 p.m. — Chapter 34, “Meeting Maxime.”
The scene: Cavalli Restaurant in Montreal, about 10 people at the table. Philippe from Kevlar is there, along with his partner René Bellerive. So is Eric Boyko, founder of eFundraising.com, which allows polititcos to bag cash over the web. And Maxime Bernier, of course. Maxime, who is Industry Minister at the time, has just appointed Boyko to the board of the Business Development Bank. Boyko is acting as go-between for Kevlar, which wants to get in good with Max.
Max perches next to Julie, and she begins talking about her newfound political ambitions (which, given the recent spate of candidate implosions, would not have been good for the Tories). She doesn’t want to be lumped in with four other “scantily clad” women at the table Philippe has brought along. It turns out Max has never met Philippe. This was all set up by Boyko, says Couillard, including setting her up with Max.
“In fact, I was quite attracted to Maxime, and Maxime seemed to be quite attracted to me. So much so that at one point—perhaps emboldened by the drinks he’d had, or else titillated by the presence of the young ladies Philippe had invited …—he surreptitiously kissed me on the cheek.”
“I don’t mean to sound prudish, but I must say I found him quite forward.”
What, so she’s Liza Bennett now?
Anyway, maybe Bernier saw good political instinct in Couillard. She got all the negatives out early—the biker past, the marriage, the divorce. That night, they go for a drink after dinner at another hotel, exchange co-ordinates and go their separate ways. But he emails the next morning asks her for dinner. That’s when she tells him all the bad stuff.
“It was obvious to me if I became his partner, I would surely be subjected to background checks… if I’m wrong then Canada’s national security is truly jeopardy.”
Max is not visibly taken aback though. On the contrary, she thinks he already knew. One thing leads to another. They wind up back at his hotel room and “what was bound to happen happened.”
Not exactly the earth moving, is it? But I guess when you’ve endured the travails of Michel, Norman, Gilles, Stéphane, Bruno, Sylvain, Robert and Philippe, you get a bit jaded.
Anyway, Max begins having his chauffeur drop him at Julie’s place in Laval whenever he’s back in town. But she is a proud woman, not some booty call. “At my age, I had no time to waste on trivial puppy love.”
3:50 p.m. — Chapters 35 & 36, “Commitment,” & “The Dress.”
A few days later, Max makes his infamous proposition. Be my girlfriend, but there’s a condition. “Even if things go sour between us, you have to officially be my girlfriend for at least a year.”
Hey, business is business. Best part, he wants to do this because the chatterboxes on the Hill are suggesting he’s—gasp!—gay. There is a brief period of bliss, including trips to the Beauce, Quebec City and Aruba. But after six months, she “gives up on love” with Max.
I think you’ve read most of what she’s said about the dress already. She bought it with a shawl to attend a dinner in Quebec City. Max was the one she suggested she wear it with a jacket to his swearing in as Foreign Affairs Minister. Some complaining follows about the press failing to notice other women at the ceremony dresses “far more likely to inspire lustful thoughts” (memo to editor: I’d like to be assigned to the next swearing-in ceremony, please).
Some intrigue about the PMO ordering Max to fire a staffer who allegedly “stood up” to them. And Couillard’s at loggerheads with one of his staffers, whom she is calling Deborah.
I’m not going to try to identify the individuals involved here, although I can make some educated guesses. I will link to this news story that captured a bit of the drama at the time.
4:35 p.m. — Chapter 37, “A Woman Thing.”
I feel right now as if I’ve picked up a different book. Suddenly, Couillard is moving in exalted circles yet there’s no acknowledgment of how this has happened, how her life has changed, how it’s affecting her mentally. It appears as if she’s reach the height she always wanted. Yet the narrative proceeds merrily, as if she always expected to be dating the foreign minister, and the gruelling events of the past three decades never occurred. Weird.
In fact, she’s still on the outside looking in (though there’s no explicit acknowledgment of that in the book). The dastardly Deborah has allegedly robbed her of a chance to accompany Max to an APEC conference in Australia. She said Couillard would have to pay the $125-a-plate if she wanted to attend a fundraiser Max was going to. And on and on. I can only imagine this has Bernier’s former staffers fuming. I also suspect flimsy pseudonyms don’t protect a person from libel actions. I hope Mac & Stew had their fact-checkers on the job.
Anyway, it finally all comes to a head, when Deborah tries to kick Couillard out of a hotel room so Max can have an off-record chat with a reporter:
“I looked at Maxime. He didn’t say a word. By that point I was livid. Either I was going to slap the little bitch, or I was going to leave. I chose option two, but before withdrawing I looked Maxime straight in the eye and told him, quite frankly ‘If you think I’m going to stand by while one of your employees insults me and throws me out of the room, well, you picked the wrong girl, Max.”
Great exit, to hear her tell it. But Max goes and retrieves her, they try to talk it out, and Couillard claims that “Deborah” has a crush on Bernier. Jesus, it’s Peyton Place on the Rideau! Anyway, Deborah allegedly has some sort of breakdown, and that is the end of her tenure.
5 p.m. —Chapter 38, “New York, New York.”
Trip to the Big Apple to a UN assembly opening. Meeting George W. Bush. We all know what the President told Bernier upon clapping eyes on Couillard: “Well, well, well, haven’t you been keeping good company now!” I guess power buys you some licence, because our girl Julie is not offended: “…despite the brevity of our meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by his friendly, easygoing, almost carefree attitude.”
Yes, a lot of us have been surprised by that, though not always pleasantly.
The pictures are here: Julie with the Prez; Julie with Laura Bush; Julie with the Ban Ki-moon’s wife. And man, was she giddy. The last time she lavished detail like this, she was staying in South Beach, getting hit on by Gabriel Byrne. The champagne receptions, the chauffeurs, the security. She loves it, you can tell. Don’t buy the line about being more impressed by “people I met who were involved with various NGOs, or the UN’s various humanitarian organizations.” They get all of a couple of sentences.
She takes some credit for getting Bernier ready for his speech before the UN General Assembly, saying she helped polish his English.
5:26 p.m. — Chapters 39 & 40, “The Gospel According Maxime” & “Maxime vs. Stephen.”
It’s hard to overstate her desire to hurt Bernier. I mean, it’s clear she doesn’t just want to repair her reputation, she wants to wreck his political career. Hell hath no fury and all that. But Couillard goes far beyond depicting the guy as callow. Some bullet points:
• the quote you’ve heard about Bernier’s “surprising intellectual laziness.” I can’t help thinking she herself was a pretty good yardstick for that; there’s not a lot of deep thinking in this book.
• disclosing that he personally opposed the posting of troops to Afghanistan.
• recounting a conversation in which he theorized that Quebec’s independence is “inevitable.”
• the contempt-for-Harper stuff, which have already been well-played in the media. I think Bernier’s thoughts on Harper’s autocratic tendencies are fair game. Same goes for Bernier’s leadership ambitions. But Bernier’s remarks about Harper’s belly? Think of the snide things you’ve said about your boss, or a past boss, to your spouse. Imagine your spouse disclosing those to your boss—and everyone else she could get to listen. As I read it here, it just seems cheap.
5:53 p.m. — Chapter 41, “Paris.”
To hear her tell it Couillard is now regularly providing counsel to Max on how best to further his career, to stop talking trash about the PM and PMO, yadda, yadda. Having a little trouble swallowing that too.
But hey, she finally puts that gay rumour to rest, calling him “the most rabid skirt chaser” she’s ever known. He’s now cheating on her like crazy, including with an unnamed Ottawa journalist (man tongues must be wagging on the Hill right now!).
In Paris, they run into an old flame of Maxime’s, who is now married. He makes an ass of himself at the Canadian ambassador’s residence. Then she catches him pawing the old flame in a corridor. She decides he’s pathologically horny:
“I realized that, basically, what I had thought was a need to charm others—fairly common in a certain type of man but usually harmless—was in fact some sort of uncontrollable illness with Maxime. And now I saw how, even in the course of his official ministerial functions … he wasn’t able to restrain himself.”
So there’s your diagnosis, and in mid-December of 07 she ends it, though she agrees to carry out her end of their one-year pact.
6 p.m. — Chapter 42, “Call for Tenders.”
Uh, not to suggest anything shady, but Couillard has just gone from being an addendum to a firm that wants to sell the government some land in Quebec to jetting off to Dubai and and UAE on a “trade mission,” with Export Development Canada support. Boy, government relations are a lot easier when you’re dating the Foreign Minister.
Here’s where we get a denial she engaged in influence peddling on the Q.C.-Kevlar land deal: “I never asked Maxime for help with regard to Kevlar’s plans for the Quebec City federal building tender. I didn’t expect anything from him.” Indeed she claims he effectively blocked the government from taking Kevlar’s offer, using his position on Treasury Board to stall the process. He did this, she claims, to protect himself from conflict allegations. “If word ever got out that you have a client who’s bidding on a federal government contract, it could be bad for my career,” she quotes him saying.
6:15 p.m. — Chapter 43, “Forgotten Documents.”
Bernier’s supposed offer to Couillard of an IRB position is in here. Not much insight here. She doesn’t say she turned it down, though. And the document thing. Apparently this was just part of Maxime’s callow and cavalier approach to his job.
“I can’t help but smile when I think that, in the eyes of some observers, I supposedly constituted a threat to national security and state secrets! I could have wallpapered my house in confidential documents.”
6:30 p.m. — Chapter 44 & 45, “Panic” & “Alarm.”
A blur of the events after the story of her biker links went public. And a sketchy one at that.
She lay up in her house under a press siege. She called and called. Bernier’s disavowal of knowledge of her past links to the bikers, and the government’s denial of all knowledge of her past, appears to have stung her bad. When the press began sniffing around, you may recall, Maxime’s answer was that he knew nothing about it. Couillard also thinks Bernier knew for two months the Globe was working on the story and didn’t tell her.
Then, when the story broke, he left her to fend for herself. He denied she’d ever seen classified material. Oh, and here are some details to back her well-publicized allegation that some “cleaners” had broken into her house when she wasn’t there, disconnecting her house alarm and removing listening devices. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.
7 p.m. — Chapters 46, 47: Couillard’s summation
In her own words:
“If, when this whole affair erupted Maxime Bernier had bothered to come and see me—if only to lend me some shred of comfort while my life was fallling apart—I would have covered for him. I would gladly have given him back his damn documents. If he had done something other than wait for three days after I had left him an urgent message, until there were who knows how many other people listening in on our conversation … If he had not simply denied, in the first place, that I had ever had government documents in my possession …”
“In light of what has transpired in the ensuing months, I have come to the conclusion that I have let Maxime Bernier off far too easily.”
And in a brief epilogue:
“I had no choice but to write this book.”
That’s her verdict on Bernier. Perhaps this book’s most powerful passages are the ones that make him out to be a narcissistic fool. I would recommend the front half to those intrigued by the woman; I was engaged by it, and often felt sorry for her while reading it. I’d recommend the back half to anyone interested in murky undercurrents of Canadian politics. Just be prepared for a lot of unanswered questions, and remember you’re getting one skewed side of the story.
But what does My Story say about Couillard? I’ve shared some of those thoughts above, and trying to analyze her is probably foolhardy.
Still, some things come through in the text. One is an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Couillard talks a good game about being fiercely independent. But her history of attaching herself to men on whims, thinking they’ll confer some level of social acceptance she lacks, is repetitive, disturbing and undeniable. Her experience with Bernier must have been devastating. He gave all those things to her, when he should have known they couldn’t be hers to keep. Worse, she woke one morning to find herself portrayed before the country—the world, in fact—as “a debauched woman” (her words). Imagine.
It would be too high-blown to call her a modern-day Tess, but the plot trajectory is similar. I didn’t always sympathize with Julie Couillard while reading this book. But insofar as she thirsts for re-appraisal, approval and most of all revenge, I think I can understand her.