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Helena Guergis, then minister of state for the status of women, arrives to testify before a Commons committee on March 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Helena Guergis, then minister of state for the status of women, arrives to testify before a Commons committee on March 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

NDP grows tired of Guergis affair, asks for Parliament to move on Add to ...

In what could be a case of waking up with a political hangover, the NDP tried Monday to grant former cabinet minister Helena Guergis and her husband, Rahim Jaffer, a reprieve from appearing at a parliamentary committee.

"Enough is enough," said New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin in an interview. "There are more compelling issues facing the nation." The RCMP, he said, should be allowed to investigate allegations surrounding the couple without interference from Parliament.

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The more we and the media and everybody focus on people's personal lives as opposed to legitimate issues of government operations, then the fewer people we will get entering politics. Martha Hall Findlay


What might also have been at play is growing concern that the scandal - involving allegations of influence-peddling and heavy partying - is wearying voters who wish politicians would get on with the business of governing.

Regardless, Mr. Martin's effort has not succeeded, thus far, and Mr. Jaffer is still scheduled to testify Wednesday .

Word that the NDP wanted to put the issue on the back burner came as Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she is declining a request to investigate whether Ms. Guergis breached Canada's conflict-of-interest laws for cabinet ministers.

Responding to a letter from NDP MP Libby Davies alleging that Ms. Guergis had improperly promoted a company to which her husband was linked, Ms. Dawson stated that "you have not provided any information indicating that Ms. Guergis was acting in her capacity as a Minister of State."

Ms. Dawson left open the possibility of reviewing whether Ms. Guergis broke the guidelines for MPs.

The commissioner had previously dismissed materials forwarded by the Prime Minister's Office when the scandal first broke.

This is bad news for the Liberals, who continue to hammer the Conservatives in the House over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's judgment in, first, defending Ms. Guergis up until the allegations surfaced, and then firing her without saying why. The government had supported Ms. Guergis during the fallout over her February temper tantrum at the Charlottetown airport.

But even some Liberal backbenchers are beginning to feel disquiet over the more sensational aspects of the affair.

Martha Hall Findlay, who is on the operations committee that is looking into the affair, believes it has the right and duty to probe allegations of influence-peddling by Mr. Jaffer and Ms. Guergis.

But she condemned both politicians and media for detailing the couple's personal recreational habits.

"The more we and the media and everybody focus on people's personal lives as opposed to legitimate issues of government operations, then the fewer people we will get entering politics," she said in an interview. "And in that case, we get the government we deserve."

It is believed that allegations that Ms. Guergis had been in an environment of drugs and prostitutes contributed to Mr. Harper's decision to remove her from cabinet and caucus and to refer the matter to the RCMP.

The Liberals are baffled by the NDP's climb-down on the committee. Parliamentary committees have often explored controversies while police investigated, not least during the sponsorship scandal.

"Why bother having a committee that oversees issues like ethics if, when you have major breaches of potential ethics by cabinet ministers, that committee isn't going to look into it?" asked Liberal MP Mark Holland.

For more than a week, media have fixated on Mr. Jaffer's alleged links to Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani, who is facing fraud charges; on a private investigator who says Mr. Gillani intimated he had a photo that showed Mr. Jaffer and Ms. Guergis at a party where drugs and prostitutes were present; on allegations that Mr. Jaffer improperly used Ms. Guergis's office and chauffeur; and on suggestions that Ms. Guergis might have promoted a company in her riding to which Mr. Jaffer was connected.

The political difficulty with this concoction is that, while it prompted Mr. Harper to dismiss Ms. Guergis from cabinet and caucus, she and Mr. Jaffer heatedly deny everything, there is little substance to support the allegations and there's no evidence at all as yet that anyone improperly profited from anything.

 

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