Guergis, currently federal MP for the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey and Minister of Status for the status of women, engaged in a certain incident on the 19th of February in Charlottetown Airport.
According to witnesses, Guergis and an aide arrived at the airport very late for their flight to Montreal and became verbally abusive to staff. During pre-boarding screening, witnesses claim that Guergis refused to remove her footwear, which set off the alarm as she walked through the metal detector.
When Guergis was asked again to take off her footwear, she allegedly "slammed her boots into the bin provided," and said, 'Happy fucking birthday to me. I guess I'm stuck in this hellhole.'".
A letter sent to MP Wayne Easter further described the incident, saying, "as the footwear cleared the X-ray conveyor [Guergis] then allegedly shouted at her aide to 'Get those for me. I'm not walking around here in sock feet.'"
When an Air Canada employee reminded her that passengers are expected to be at the airport two hours before departure, Guergis allegedly shouted, "I don't need to be lectured about flight time by you. I've been down here working my ass off for you people."
On February 25, she issued an apology. Guergis said she was concerned "I'm going to be stuck in this shithole because of you!", after being asked to remove her boots and when after being told that passengers are advised to show up at least two hours before departure, she said, "I've been down here working my ass off for you people.". After realizing the boarding gate had closed, by the time she arrived, she allegedly tried to enter a locked door but a security guard stopped her.
Guergis later apologized under pressure. She didn't have much choice, since her' husband Jaffer, a Reform/Conservative MP from a riding in the Albertan capital of Edmonton from 1997 through 2008, was arrested and charged in September 2009 on charges of drunk driving and cocaine possession. On Tuesday, Jaffer got off quite lightly, having plead "guilty in a provincial court in Ontario to careless driving and received a $500 fine and no criminal record."
The Conservative government has staked its reputation on being a law-and-order party, on pushing criminals firmly. How, then, it's being asked, can leading members of the Conservative Party--elected officials, even--get away with offenses that ought (so it is believed) to have resulted in an airport tasering or a criminal record for cocaine possession? The other parties are having great fun with this
Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer were compared to the notorious criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde today as Liberals questioned why the couple has not had to account for their behaviour.
This was the third consecutive day in Question Period the Liberals have made an issue of the actions of Mr. Jaffer, a former Alberta Tory MP, and his wife, Ms. Guergis, a junior cabinet minister .
“The calls for public accountability from the status of women minister and Rahim Jaffer are growing everyday,” Quebec Liberal MP Marlene Jennings charged. “They are being called the Bonnie and Clyde of the Conservative Party. They are young, Conservative and above the law.”
While the nickname is certainly provocative, it is not an entirely accurate comparison as Bonnie and Clyde eventually did pay for their actions, dying in a hail of gunfire.
During intense questioning today, Ms. Guergis sat quietly in her seat, often looking down and frowning. From across the floor, one MP described her as looking “agitated.”
This week, Mr. Jaffer was fined $500 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving. More serious charges, including impaired driving and cocaine possession, were dropped. The opposition wants to know why the former MP received such a light sentence.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson handled the Jaffer queries, saying the matter was investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police and was handled in a provincial court.
Then it was up to PEI Liberal MP Wayne Easter to follow up. For the second straight day he was firing off questions about Ms. Guergis’s outburst last month at the Charlottetown airport.
The minister has released a written apology for her behaviour, in which it was reported she tried to get through a security door and referred to the island as a “hell hole.” But that is not good enough for Mr. Easter. He is demanding the Prime Minister fire her from cabinet.
“We are still waiting for the Prime Minister to act on the irresponsible actions of his minister responsible for the status of women,” Mr. Easter said. “Does the Conservative sense of entitlement know no end? Insult a province, just say the minister’s emotions went astray. … What’s next Prime Minister, get-out-of-jail free cards for the entitled?”
Most of the legal commentators on Jaffer's case say that it doesn't look like he received special treatment, that errors on the part of the police officer--likely the speeding that was used wasn't sufficient cause for a stop and search--are responsible for the light punishment of Jaffer. This hasn't made things easier for the government, which may yet--I suspect, perhaps I hope?--have to do something like remove Guergis from Cabinet to look somewhat credible again, as James Travers noted earlier.
Of course there's no more evidence that Jaffer got a sweetheart deal than there is that budget-balancing Liberals care more about criminals than victims, that Jack Layton's patriotism is suspect or that Colvin is anything other than a conscientious, unusually courageous civil servant. After all, every year thousands of charges are dropped in courtrooms across the province and country for sound legal reasons.
Still, it's more than awkward for "do-the-crime, do the time" Conservatives that Jaffer, once the front-man for the Conservative caucus and still the husband of testy junior cabinet minister Helena Guergis, is so widely seen as escaping the full weight of the law. Self-evident in their equivocal support for a former colleague and member of the Conservative family is the certain knowledge that they, too, are now victims of public suspicion, clinging perceptions and snap judgments.
In this case, those judgments carry the extra lash of irony. Way back in 2006, Conservatives used Liberal "entitlement" as a stick to beat power out of the then natural governing party. Since then, Stephen Harper has spared no effort or expense (two GST cuts set Canada's course toward deficits long before the financial collapse) in connecting his party with what is paternally known in the national capital as "ordinary Canadians."
About the last thing Conservatives now need is to be seen as the newest members of a privileged Ottawa elite preaching high standards for the rest of us while imposing on themselves more, well, flexible rules. That's known as hypocrisy, rarely a political asset and fast becoming a liability.
My guess? Getting shown up in hypocrisies like that will make sure that Canada won't be getting a Conservative majority government for a while. Yay minority governments!