A cloud of criminal allegations is left hanging over the Conservative government after Stephen Harper called in the Mounties to investigate unspecified activities involving Helena Guergis, the former junior minister for women and the wife of controversial ex-MP Rahim Jaffer.
The Prime Minister made his surprise move after receiving information that is linked "peripherally" to Mr. Jaffer's business dealings, a source said.
Ms. Guergis acknowledge a tie to Mr. Jaffer in her resignation letter, but she played down the validity of the information that led to her departure.
"It has become apparent through baseless allegations and unfounded assertions made about my family that I need to step aside to allow for the good work of our government to continue serving Canadians," she said.
Though some media reports suggested the affair concerned Mr. Jaffer's misuse of Ms. Guergis's office for his business affairs, there were other, stronger, indications that a much more serious breach was involved.
The departure capped a series of wild events for the Conservatives, including an angry outburst by Ms. Guergis at a Charlottetown airport and Mr. Jaffer's arrest on impaired driving and cocaine charges. Mr. Harper said "serious allegations regarding the conduct" of Ms. Guergis that were brought to his attention Thursday night prompted his action.
Ms. Guergis lost her position as minister of state for the status of women and was kicked out of the Conservative caucus while the RCMP and the Ethics Commissioner look into her case. Her ouster is the biggest cabinet demotion since Conservative MP Maxime Bernier was forced out as minister of foreign affairs in 2008 after leaving confidential documents at the house of a woman with ties to biker gangs. And it is a rare occasion in which a Prime Minister refuses to reveal why a cabinet member is leaving.
However, Mr. Harper took extra care to deny this week's damaging allegations that Mr. Jaffer tried to provide political access to a Toronto businessman.
"Any suggestion that Mr. Jaffer has had an open door to my office is false," Mr. Harper said at a news conference that followed a ceremony commemorating the battle at Vimy Ridge.
The opposition pounced on the Prime Minister's refusal to lay out details of the allegations involving Ms. Guergis, hoping to fuel doubts about the overall ethics of the Conservative government.
"The Prime Minister has said there are criminal accusations against this minister. We need to know what they are. They are apparently serious enough that she's been expelled from caucus," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
"Just 24 hours ago, the Prime Minister was saying he had confidence in this minister. And now, 24 hours later, boom. She's gone. It raises questions about the Prime Minister's judgment."
Ms. Guergis and Mr. Jaffer formed an attractive couple of young MPs until Mr. Jaffer suffered the indignity in the last election of being the only Conservative in Alberta to lose his seat.
Mr. Jaffer was arrested after he was caught speeding last year, and then faced a public outcry when Ontario prosecutors withdrew criminal charges against him and allowed him to plead guilty to careless driving.
Ms. Guergis has also attracted her share of trouble. After the outburst in Charlottetown, some of her staff wrote glowing letters to newspapers praising Ms. Guergis, without mentioning their positions in her office.
But government officials said the Prime Minister acted on new allegations that "do not involve any other minister, MP, senator or federal government employee."
"It's a very sad day. But, you know, in this business, you get the brickbats as well as the bouquets, so when you confront these things, you deal with them, and that's what we've done," Mr. Harper said.
An RCMP spokeswoman confirmed the police force is looking at a matter that was referred by the Prime Minister's Office.
"We are in receipt of it," said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Raf Souccar, who is in charge of federal policing for the Mounties. "We'll be looking at it."
One likely investigative squad could be the RCMP's National Interest Investigations team in Ottawa's A Division, which has the mandate of undertaking probes touching on any alleged "corruption of domestic public officials, the integrity of national programs or matters requiring special investigative expertise."
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose will take over Ms. Guergis's status of women portfolio.
With a report from Gloria Galloway