The Helena Guergis story has become so hard to disentangle that in trying to make sense of it, I'm in danger of having a meltdown myself.
Ms. Guergis is freshly in the news after a riveting but discomfiting interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge on Monday, during which she tremulously invoked marital loyalty, Christianity and a few of the darker political arts to make the case that she has done nothing wrong and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper treated her in a "very undemocratic" way when he kicked her out of cabinet and the caucus, and subsequently allowed the Conservative Party to bar her as a candidate. Maybe, she insinuated, this is all because he didn't like her husband.
Call me hard-hearted, but I'm having trouble summoning up pure sympathy for her. I can't decide if she's shockingly naive - or fudging the truth.
Throughout the interview, Ms. Guergis, at one time breaking into tears, asserted she had been "hurt" by the Prime Minister as she recounted details of her dismissal that did seem Kafkaesque. She told Mr. Mansbridge that Mr. Harper, in a brief, chilling phone conversation, turfed her but wouldn't tell her specifically what the "serious" allegations from a "credible source" were against her, only that he was turning her file over to the RCMP for investigation. She said she was "shocked" by this treatment. It does sound cavalier. If you're going to effectively end someone's political career, you need to give her specific reasons why. (According to The Globe's Jane Taber, the Tories are already circulating talking points accusing Ms. Guergis of lying and stating that the allegations - one of which involved illegal drug use - were made clear to her.) I do believe Ms. Guergis when she says that she has offered herself as "an open book" to the Mounties, but after five weeks has yet to hear a single thing from them.
But I have trouble with how she characterizes a series of spectacularly infelicitous incidents as a "never-ending pile on" of "things being blown up to what they're not."
Let's review: In 2009, her husband, Rahim Jaffer, a former MP, was arrested and charged with driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrams and possession of cocaine. (Ms. Guergis told Mr. Mansbridge her husband had "no idea" how the alleged drugs got into his jacket pocket.) He subsequently pleaded guilty last March to careless driving after the more serious charges were dropped.
In the meantime, Ms. Guergis was outed for bad behaviour after an emotional meltdown at the Charlottetown airport, in which she now admits she had an unpleasant chat with a check-in official. (Boy if I had a loonie for every politician caught using the f-bomb lately …) Court case and airport antics aside, the couple are now under investigation by a parliamentary committee after Mr. Jaffer was accused of using his cabinet minister wife's office for improper lobbying, and an investigative report in the Toronto Star described a dinner Mr. Jaffer attended the night of his arrest that included drugs, marginal business types and "busty hookers."
Even the women who have been accused of being "busty hookers" have cried foul.
And Mr. Mansbridge, after watching a tape of Ms. Guergis going through security during that airport incident, reassured the country he saw no "diva-like moments."
Help! I'm getting a headache trying to decide what's true here.
Ms. Guergis says she didn't know much about her husband's new business ventures because she was too busy working, but he wouldn't have lobbied improperly using her office - not even taking one meeting or making one phone call - because "he promised me he would never do that " and "I have no reason to believe my husband would lie to me or hurt me or harm me in any way."
She also said that insiders in her own riding have suggested she should "lose my husband." But, of course, she's not prepared to do that. If people in your family make mistakes, she said, "you don't turn your back on them."
You would never know from this interview that Ms. Guergis had made mistakes too - from behaving rudely to not sharply questioning why and how her husband was using her office; to not screening social engagements with people whose behaviour might reflect badly on her office.
The truth is that all these things that have happened to Mr. Jaffer and to Ms. Guergis have been the result, initially, of bad decisions on their part. Public and media reaction may have gone over the top, but they have also variously acted badly, carelessly, inappropriately and maybe unethically.
Yet I didn't hear Ms. Guergis taking full responsibility for anything last night.
Instead, she and her husband remind me of that oft-quoted line from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby about another privileged but feckless married couple, Tom and Daisy Buchanan: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness …."
Ms. Guergis says she isn't ready to abandon her political career. If she doesn't win her appeal against the Conservative Party ruling barring her as a candidate, she could run as an independent and prove she deserves the trust and confidence of the people of Simcoe-Grey who elected her.
However, she has a long way to go. She may have made a bold move this week granting what Mr. Mansbridge called a "very open and forthcoming" interview, but she hasn't proved anything yet.Report Typo/Error
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