Friday, April 09, 2010

Guergis resignation a reflection on Harper

It's a rare day, there's actually a moment of - belated - accountability for the Harper government. Conservative Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis has resigned and sits in the Conservative caucus no more. The fact that she's been expelled from the Conservative caucus, that's big and suggests that this matter may be more serious than we know thus far. The investigators have been called in but in the Harper democratic era, we are not entitled to know why. Imagine that happening in the U.S. It wouldn't.
"Last night my office became aware of serious allegations regarding the conduct of the Honourable Helena Guergis. These allegations relate to the conduct of Ms. Guergis and do not involve any other Ministers, MPs, Senators or federal government employees.

"I have referred the allegations to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and to the RCMP. Under the circumstances, I will not comment on them further.

"Ms. Guergis offered her resignation from the Ministry, and I accepted it. Pending a resolution, she will sit outside of the Conservative Party Caucus. I have asked the Honourable Rona Ambrose to assume additional responsibility for the Status of Women portfolio."
Whether these investigations relate somehow to husband Rahim Jaffer and all his talking up of access to "green funds," etc., maybe we'll find out down the road. Or maybe not.
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has confirmed receipt of a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office about the conduct of the former Minister of State for the Status of Women, Helena Guergis,” her spokeswoman Jocelyne Brisebois wrote in an emailed statement Friday. “The Commissioner is currently reviewing the letter.”
Let's not hold our breath, it's been going on 7 months now since the Raitt Toronto Port Authority allegations were brought before her and there's still no result from her office. The RCMP investigation is the more significant of the two.

What does this say about Harper? To borrow a phrase, this entire episode has not exactly been leadership in action. A "not a leader" moment. Harper essentially let his minister twist in the wind for an extended period during which a feeding frenzy built. In a wink and a nod to old school governance conventional wisdom, the minister that needed to be replaced would be left there until the next shuffle. Following the script he did with Lisa Raitt's demotion from Natural Resources, he didn't recognize the unique circumstances. Then he's reactive and late. So we saw one of his minister's lives become a national soap opera for weeks, reflecting on his government.

And to review some of Guergis' highlights from her tenure in the Harper cabinet, this resignation has been a long time coming. Beyond the personal issues over the past month, her record has raised lots of questions, a record that reflects on Harper. For example:

Guergis was one of the biggest offenders in abusing the publicly funded ten percenter cross country flyer programme, now defunct due to such abuse. She was the number 2 spender in parliament.

She was anything but an effective Minister of State for Women. Consider her recent speech at the UN, for example, there was no stirring appeal for women at an historic conference, just accounting like statistics offered up.

She was MIA in the recent debate over the maternal health foreign initiative of the Harper government. Why were Canadian women not entitled to hear from the Minister of State for Women on the issue?

She has cancelled television appearances on shows such as Power Play when the subject matter was women's issues, leaving one with the impression that she just wasn't up to her role as Minister. Yet she was left there.

She didn't hesitate to engage in last minute pork-barrel politics, just recently, when an opposition MP showed up in her riding.

She presided over a questionable stimulus boondoggle in her riding, the granting of public moneys to a private school.

Then there was her just up and quitting on consular matters while she was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a much earlier and telling indication that she wasn't ready for cabinet. Yet she wasn't demoted. She was shuffled off to the Women's portfolio, a statement in itself from Harper as to how much he values this ministry. Even today, his Public Works Minister is asked to do it as an add on to her present responsibilities. There's no one to appoint, to step up and take the role? This ministry is not important enough to warrant an immediate replacement?

There's plenty of other material too on Guergis, those are just a few quick highlights from the archives. The point being that Harper made a highly questionable choice when including Guergis in his cabinet from the beginning. It's been an ongoing saga that he's stubbornly ignored. And now, since we don't know anything about the "serious allegations" that have led now to investigations and her expulsion from caucus, it will fester on. A leadership failure come home to roost.