Maxime Bernier frequently bad-mouthed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and sloppily handled confidential papers, once asking his girlfriend to put secret NATO briefing documents in her trashcan, according to a new book by Julie Couillard.
Ms. Couillard alleges that Mr. Bernier once offered to help her obtain a position as a commissioner at the Immigration Refugee Board of Canada, passing on her file to Immigration Minister Diane Finley.
Mr. Bernier, a former foreign affairs minister who is once again running for the Conservative Party in this election, comes off as vain and superficial in the book written by Ms. Couillard, who was his girlfriend in 2007.
Titled My Story, the book is scheduled to hit bookshelves on Monday. However, it was released to selected journalists yesterday under embargo by its French- and English-language publishers, setting tongues wagging in Conservative circles as Mr. Bernier and his closest advisers prepared a damage-control strategy.
The furor will now hit the Conservatives ahead of tonight's French-language election debate, as Montreal-based newspaper La Presse obtained a copy of the book and wrote a story on its content, which it shared with The Globe.
For the first time, Ms. Couillard explains her version of the circumstances in which Mr. Bernier left documents related to a NATO summit in Bucharest at her home last April.
According to Ms. Couillard, Mr. Bernier always accumulated loads of documents in his briefcase, and one morning, as he left her home, handed her the papers.
"Could you put all this in the garbage for me," he asked, before asking her to wait for the actual day of the pickup. "After all, they are confidential documents," Mr. Bernier said.
Ms. Couillard said that she put them on her kitchen counter, and then forgot all about them - until the day her name and picture were splashed all over the media.
Ms. Couillard lived with two men with ties to bikers gangs in the 1990s, one of whom was assassinated. Ms. Couillard then dated Mr. Bernier from mid-2007 to the end of the year, and they continued seeing one another in ensuing months.
Last May, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party said her relationship with Mr. Bernier created a risk to national security and should have been flagged by the RCMP.
When Ms. Couillard went on to reveal in a television interview that Mr. Bernier had left confidential papers at her home, Mr. Bernier promptly resigned. He later told investigators from Foreign Affairs that he had no idea how the documents came out of his briefcase.
In her book, Ms. Couillard offers a number of details about her time with Mr. Bernier. According to Ms. Couillard, he was constantly preoccupied with his appearance, all the while displaying "surprising intellectual laziness."
Still, she added that Mr. Bernier once entertained thoughts of replacing Mr. Harper as the leader of the Conservative Party. Mr. Bernier allegedly sought support in Conservative circles, feeling that he would benefit from the fact that Mr. Harper is anglophone and would need to be replaced by a francophone.
But she also said that Mr. Bernier frequently criticized Mr. Harper's eating habits and the fact that he often drank Pepsi in meetings. The comments were likely made before Mr. Harper went on a diet, but Mr. Bernier apparently made fun of the Prime Minister's belly.
Ms. Couillard added that Mr. Bernier was always picking fights with the Prime Minister's Office, and that he felt that Mr. Harper was a "dictator who wants to control everything."
According to La Presse, Ms. Couillard also says in her book that Mr. Bernier: - had no worries about the possibility that Quebec would secede from Canada; - opposed the war in Iraq and was unhappy with the Canadian mission in Afghanistan; - frequently had problems giving speeches in English and asked Foreign Affairs to replace complicated words in his address to the United Nations; and whispered negative comments about his constituents in her ears during a corn-roast in his riding of Beauce.
At Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bernier was criticized for his lack of knowledge of world affairs, and he came under fire when he openly sought the replacement of an Afghan official in public. In a statement, Mr. Bernier refused to comment on the book's specific allegations, except for Ms. Couillard's comment that he secretly laughed at his constituents in the Beauce region of Quebec.
"I'm not going to dignify this with a response. It's soap opera politics and completely ridiculous," he said.
"Everywhere I went, I've always expressed the pride that I feel for the people of Beauce. It is very disappointing that this person would insult me and the people of Beauce in the way that she has," he said.
As she has stated before, Ms. Couillard says that Mr. Bernier was perfectly aware of her tumultuous past when they dated. She was once the girlfriend of Gilles Giguère, who was killed in 1996 before facing trial for firearms and drugs possession. By 1997, Ms. Couillard was to marry Stéphane Sirois, a member of the Rockers, a puppet gang of the Hells Angels.