Not any more

Helena Guergis in conversation

In Canada on August 6, 2010 at 08:31

Photography by John Major

Ottawa remains hypnotized by the blood feud between Stephen Harper and Helena Guergis, who resigned as minister of state for the status of women on April 9 amidst allegations involving her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer. The Prime Minister then kicked her out of the Conservative caucus. In July, the RCMP cleared Guergis of criminal wrongdoing, but the Prime Minister’s Office continues to exclude her from caucus.

Q: About 50 ministers have resigned or been forced to resign since I started to write about Canadian politics in 1957. But seldom have any of those ministers also been expelled from caucus. So, why this firing squad?
A:
I would like to think I haven’t done anything that would warrant being treated worse than convicted criminals. But everybody is just piling on. I’ve always believed it had to do with my husband. In the phone call on April 9 when it all started, I said to the Prime Minister—and I believed he was a friend—that I thought he didn’t care for my husband. I said—and this is something I haven’t disclosed before—that I was going to be taking some time away from my husband, because I needed to figure out what the truth was. At the end of that conversation, the Prime Minister said, “Helena, you shared something with me about your marriage. From one friend to another, you need to know what your husband is doing.” So I firmly believe that he has done this to me because of my husband, and I don’t think that’s right. This is kind of high school, really.

Q: So he wanted you two to be apart?
A:
That’s right. I’ll be honest with you, I was really reluctant to do this interview. Just about every single time I have talked to the media, it’s portrayed as though I’m being combative with the Prime Minister, or firing shots at him. I didn’t pick a fight—I simply stood up for myself and answered questions when the pressure was mounting. And I had to. It’s time to put it behind us, for me to be back in caucus and just move on. I really want that, but somehow my request for a meeting with the PM has been turned into me demanding explanations.

Q: Your husband was chief of the Conservative caucus and an MP for a dozen years, going back to Reform days. How did he get along with Mr. Harper?
A:
He’s always spoken about the Prime Minister with respect.

Q: How long were you and your husband apart after April 9?
A:
I didn’t pull apart from him. I stuck with him—we had a raucous time. I needed to figure out if there was substance to the Toronto Star story [alleging that financier Nazim Gillani boasted that Jaffer “opened the Prime Minister’s Office to us”]. I went up one side of my husband and down the other for weeks, months on end, to make sure that he was not lying to me, that he had told me the truth. I needed to go through that process with him. I’d wanted time away to figure things out, but it was more appropriate for me to stay and to work through it. You don’t just walk away when things get tough.

Q: How long have you been married?
A:
In October, two years. So it’s still new, but I didn’t leave. There was a lot of yelling and screaming going on, a lot of questions, but we made it through that process. I wasn’t feeling the greatest because I was pregnant, and I needed his support. There were a lot of people who were telling me I should get rid of him. They kept saying, you know, “If you want to save your career . . . ” Some were even suggesting I should stage it. That’s not happening. I’m not playing those games.

Q: What are your political options now?
A:
I will continue to ask for a meeting with the PM—not demand, just ask—you know, as one member of Parliament to another, as former colleagues . . . as colleagues, sorry. We still are colleagues in the House. I just think it would be the right thing to do to sit down, to talk, and put this all behind us. I want to be able to go forward with my pregnancy without the stress, I want to continue to work as an MP because I enjoy my job and I work really hard. My community deserves some closure and some answers. Maybe it’s time to change some of the election laws because right now it’s like the Prime Minister is the ultimate, supreme ruler. When you look at Canada as a flourishing democracy, it shouldn’t come down to one person who can just decide that the rest of my life I’m going to be marked. Even the stuff that’s coming out of the Prime Minister’s Office now suggests that I don’t meet the standards [of the caucus]. What’s that about? They don’t have a right to treat anybody that way. It’s against the basic human rights in this country. I don’t know what they expect me to do. Am I going to live on fresh air and sunshine?

Q: On one occasion, Mr. Harper came over to you in the Commons and sounded encouraging. Can you remember his exact words?
A:
I said, “If you sit here I don’t know if I’m strong enough to not start crying,” and he just sat quietly for a minute. Then he said there had been a lot of bad stories written about him in the past and that I should just keep my head up high and I’d get through this sort of thing. He was trying to reach out to me, at least that was what I thought.

Q: One of the theories floating around is that you didn’t get along with Guy Giorno, the PM’s chief of staff.
A:
My former chief of staff had tried to meet with Mr. Giorno on several occasions [before April 9] and I still have the email exchanges between them. She was very frustrated that he would not meet with her. She was the only chief who had not met with Mr. Giorno since he joined the PMO [in July 2008]. It seems that he doesn’t care for me very much.

Q: When you were removed from caucus, the Prime Minister specifically stated you should “sit outside caucus pending a resolution.” Why, since the RCMP charged neither you nor your husband with any wrongdoing, are we spending more time on this charade?
A:
I was so relieved when I thought all this was behind me, but I do think I have a right to know why I was investigated, and have my name truly cleared.

Q: The only error in judgment that’s been proven is that your husband borrowed your BlackBerry. Is that a capital offence?
A:
I’d love to answer that one. Lots of caucus members have given their BlackBerries to their spouses. That’s a fact. When he was caucus chair, Rahim received a number of emails from spouses that clearly identified they were using a parliamentary account. He still has all those emails.

Q: What about this office we’re in? The accusation was that your husband was holding meetings and working here.
A:
Did you go through security downstairs? Yeah? Well, anyone who comes here has to go through. They have a log; it shows there was no business here at all. This is nonsense. Somehow I’ve become an enemy of the state, for some reason. I don’t understand at all.

Q: One story going around is that your money is running out because your legal costs have been so high. Is that true?
A:
Oh yeah, I have spent a significant amount trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong. When the Prime Minister calls in the federal police force, you have to take it seriously, you have to get a criminal lawyer.

Q: Another accusation was that your husband was using your emails for his business.
A:
I saw three emails on the CBC website which showed the documents. One was between him and Brian Jean [parliamentary secretary to John Barrett] where it’s actually kind of comedic, though there was a section in the middle that did deal with his business. I said to him, “Rahim, why did you do that?” And he says, “I was in the middle of a conversation with him on something else and so I just asked him and wasn’t paying attention.” Another one had to do with a constituent who doesn’t want her name in lights but is happy to tell the Prime Minister’s Office that she didn’t do business with Rahim, he did it on behalf of a constituent for me—he’s helped a lot of constituents, because spouses do that. Spouses attend luncheons, they do a lot of things for us as MPs, that’s the way it is. In the third email, he actually directed the political staff person to his business account, so he did take the initiative to say, “Don’t do this.”

Q: If the PMO won’t talk to you, what will you do?
A:
I will run as an Independent, Conservative Independent. My name will be on the ballot. It’s hard because the Elections Canada Act doesn’t allow Independents to collect money except during the campaign.

Q: Do you still believe in the Conservative party?
A:
I don’t believe in some of the people in the Conservative party. I believe that the Prime Minister has been given some really, really bad advice. I don’t know who or why—clearly Mr. Giorno is a part of that. I think there are a few people who need to be removed from the situation and the Prime Minister needs to have a sit-down, heart-to-heart, one-on-one with me. I think that would be very good, not only for both of us but for the party. I have written to him and asked him personally [for a meeting], and he had agreed to sit down and talk to me. Then I sent a message that I’m not prepared to talk about my husband. I’m fair game—anything you want to ask—but I’m not going to discuss my husband’s case or any details. He cancelled the meeting.

Q: Where will it all end?
A:
I really hope I’m not pushed further away from the caucus, or from the Prime Minister. I know that I’m not being 100 per cent complimentary, but I think you know I could say a heck of a lot more. If I were inclined to be that kind of person, I could be on the attack, I really could.

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