One of the positive claims the Harper government has been able to make is that it has avoided scandal of the on-the-take variety. This government may be ethically corrupt — there are dozens of examples of underhanded dictatorial conduct — but there have been no instances of monetary corruption, of anyone lining their pockets.
Corruption of the latter kind stung both the Mulroney and Chrétien governments and hurt the reputations of each prime minister. Jean Chrétien was never tied directly to the sponsorpship scandal, wherein lower level Liberals were on the take. But the Prime Minister’s Office had oversight of the sponsorship program. In the Mulroney government, there were ministerial resignations over shady dealings and Mulroney himself is still trying to clear his name for having accepted cash payments from German dealmaker Karlheinz Schreiber.
The troubles currently surrounding bad girl Helena Guergis do not appear to be in a league with some of Ottawa’s bigger scandals, but the risk is that she torpedoes the government’s record of rectitude.
It’s rare when a prime minister will call in the Mounties to investigate one of his ministers. Much of the limited information available points to a possible influence peddling scandal featuring Guergis, her husband Rahim Jaffer, and assorted unsavoury types with whom Jaffer, the former MP, kept company. The more that is learned about the hot-headed Guergis, the latest being that she could hardly keep staff for more than a week at a time, the more one wonders why the tightly-run government didn’t rein her in.
Critics called on Harper to fire Guergis weeks ago. It’s something he probably wishes he had done before she started adding to her blunder streak, which began with her childish temper tantrum at the Charlottetown airport.
The PM has often been slow to unload troublesome ministers. He allows them to dangle while the media and the opposition feast. This was the case with former defence minister Gordon O’Connor and former environment minister Rona Ambrose. In the case of then foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier and Bikergate, he moved more quickly.
The Oliphant Commission, which is looking into the Mulroney matter, is due to report within the next month or two. The public will be reminded of that low-level operation at the same time as the Guergis one is being investigated. It’s the kind of link the Harper government was hoping to avoid.
The PM has often been pilloried for being a control freak. With people like Helena Guergis in his cabinet, it’s easy to understand why he felt he had to be that way.