You can be forgiven if you don’t understand all of the allegations concerning former Edmonton MP Rahim Jaffer and his wife, Helena Guergis, the former Harper government junior cabinet minister. The dizzying litany of contradictions and fabrications is like making the most of an all-day midway pass at the Ponoka Stampede: just when you start to regain your balance and the blood starts leaving your head, you go for another queasy spin.
It’s like bad episodes of Dallas, The Young and the Restless, and The West Wing all rolled into one messy, salacious package. We’ve got hookers, bikers, unseemly businessmen, greasy politicians, a bankrupt private eye, incompetent police officers and allegations of influence peddling.
And what is it with Conservative MPs and biker gangs? Are they looking for another party to merge with?
Jaffer was the future of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party; he of the mocha good looks, the first Muslim elected to Parliament, albeit in a safe, cosmopolitan Edmonton riding. Complacent after four easy election victories — the first when he was only 25 — Jaffer coasted through the 2008 election and was the only MP not to hold his seat in Alberta. Apparently this did not go down well with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was forced to swallow yet another minority government.
Just a couple of days after losing the election to the NDP, Jaffer and Guergis, a former beauty queen whose family is sort of a poor man’s Kennedy clan politically in southwestern Ontario, scrapped their wedding plans and eloped. Guergis was the perfect minister for the Conservative government: pretty, from Ontario, and whose message could easily be controlled by the prime minister. An Eastern version of Rona Ambrose.
So, a year after announcing their engagement and two days after batting .500 in the federal election, the couple married. Less than a year later, what was already unravelling was beginning to fall apart.
Jaffer was arrested in September 2009 for drunk driving, speeding and possession of cocaine. It couldn’t get much worse for the former chair of the Conservative caucus and voice of the government’s law and order political agenda. But it did.
Edmontonians and Albertans were willing to cut Jaffer some slack back in 2001when he had an aide impersonate him on a radio talk show. The hoax was chalked up to an error in judgment, and he was suspended from caucus for several months. Thus foreshadowing that it’s difficult for a leopard to change his spots.
Before Jaffer was to go to trial, the Crown and defense attorneys agreed to a guilty plea on the reduced charge of carless driving and a $500 fine. There is disagreement among the lawyers and the OPP about whether the search was botched or there was a preferential deal. Plea bargain arrangements are made every day in courts across the land but Jaffer has not been given the benefit of the doubt regarding his innocence on the original charges. Even the presiding judge told the accused he was getting a break
A month or so before Jaffer’s court appearance, Guergis had a melt down in the Charlottetown, P.E.I. airport after arriving late to board her flight. Apparently she freaked out on the airport security crew after being directed to remove her shoes at the screening queue. This has since been attributed to the stress of a miscarriage.
But again to show the character of the people we’re dealing with, members of her staff, posing as regular folks, wrote pro-Guergis letters to the editor of their hometown newspaper. Sound familiar?
The charges against Guergis’s husband might have been enough for the prime minister but if he needed more accusations before demoting Guergis, he got it with the revelation that Jaffer and businessman Nazim Gillani were at a “boozy dinner” the night Jaffer allegedly drove home drunk. Gillani boasted Jaffer, who is not a registered lobbyist, had access to the PMO and would be able to secure government financing for Wright Tech Systems, a green technology company the two were looking to take public in a $1-billion deal. If that wasn’t enough, Guergis is accused of trying to influence the warden of Simcoe County to look at this biofuel company. Tony Guergis happens to be the now-defrocked cabinet minister’s cousin.
Those are some of the facts and allegations as we know them. What we don’t know are the prime minister’s motives. A spiteful prime minister might have promoted Guergis to cabinet to pull the plug on her husband’s plans to be a lobbyist. If Jaffer was a registered lobbyist, Guergis couldn’t be a minister. That’ll teach you to be lazy and lose a seat in Alberta.
By firing Guergis and asking the RCMP to investigate the prime minister appears to be taking decisive action and distancing himself and his party from the radioactive couple. It also gives the PM the opportunity to stay silent as long as the case drags on in the hands of the Mounties. If an election were called before the dust settles, Harper would have no choice but to replace Guergis as the Conservative party’s candidate.
In the last two weeks Jaffer has made appearances before the Commons government operations committee to answer questions about his business dealings. He has been unrepentant and believes he has been “hung out to dry” without and evidence he did anything wrong.
He might be right. But as he was told by committee members and former colleagues, his poor judgment has added to the cynicism Canadians have for politicians and our democratic institutions.
And he just doesn’t get it.