The biggest lesson from the Bernier affair is that Stephen Harper has no competence test for keeping a minister in cabinet. He has only a secrecy test.
Maxime Bernier had nothing to worry about as long as he was only mixing up his Haitian leaders, volunteering transoport planes that weren’t available, propping up the careers of Afghan thugocrats by calling for their removal, and showing up in war zones with crates of Jos. Louis cakes for the troops. That was all no problemo. It was when he left a briefing book at his friend’s house — no, when he was revealed to have left a briefing book — that Bernier was toast.
So the surviving Harper ministers should be greatly heartened by this news, including ministers such as Josée Verner, who is taking over Bernier’s Quebec responsibilities because in Harper’s Quebec caucus, the concept of “lesser of two evils” is lately only measurable with a micrometer. (Lawrence “Loose” Cannon? Senator Fortier? Steve Blainey? Calgon, take me away!) It matters not a whit whether a minister is a five-alarm gong show so long as he hangs on to his briefing books.
Everyone in Tory Ottawa today will look at how much talking they did last month, divide it in four, and use that as the measure for how much talking they will let themselves do next month. The silence that is about to descend over this town is a measure of the nervousness in Conservative Ottawa, and that chill in the air is the unaccustomed feeling of mortality.