Helena Guergis has served in Stephen Harper’s cabinet as Minister of State for the Status of Women.
Joanna Smith Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA—Helena Guergis, the embattled Minister of State for the Status of Women, has resigned and faces a police investigation.
“Last night my office became aware of serious allegations related to (Guergis),” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday, before adding he has referred the allegations to the RCMP and the federal ethics commissioner.
Harper said that until the allegations were investigated, Guergis would sit outside the Conservative caucus. Harper named Rona Ambrose, the Minister of Public Works, to the status of women portfolio.
“I’m very disappointed,” Harper said. “It’s a very sad day.”
Guergis has been under fire for her recent behaviour and allegations about her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.
Harper said the allegations do not involve any other minister, senator, MP or government employee.
Harper said he would not comment on anyone else involved in the allegations, noting Jaffer is a private citizen.
The office of the federal ethics commissioner issued only a brief statement confirming she is reviewing the matter.
“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.”
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he did not believe Harper could say with confidence no one else in his cabinet or caucus was implicated.
Ignatieff called on Harper to “be more forthcoming” about the nature of the allegations. He noted that Harper had appeared to change his mind about Guergis quickly.
“Just 24 hours ago, the prime minister said he had confidence in his minister,” Ignatieff said. “Now, 24 hours later, boom, she’s gone.”
“The other thing that is getting tiresome is calling Rahim Jaffer a private citizen,” Ignatieff said, noting that he is a former MP who was still using his parliamentary business card and until Thursday had the Conservative Party of Canada logo on his website.
“This is becoming an insult to the intelligence of Canadians,” he said.
Guergis was already facing criticism for her abusive behaviour toward security and airline staff at a Prince Edward Island airport earlier this year, and for fawning letters to the editor written by her aides, who didn’t identify their ties to Guergis.
Then Thursday, the Toronto Star published an investigative report by Kevin Donovan detailing what happened a few hours before Jaffer – a former Conservative MP from Edmonton – was arrested last September.
Guergis announced her resignation in an email sent to media outlets Friday morning.
“This morning, I tendered my resignation as Minister of State for Status of Women to the Prime Minister which he accepted,” Guergis wrote.
“The past nine months have been a very difficult time for me. I have made mistakes for which I have apologized. I want the people of P.E.I. to know that when I spoke emotionally I was speaking about the airport as I would never insult my father’s birthplace. I apologize again. I have worked hard for Canadian women and I am proud of my record of my accomplishments on their behalf. I will continue in my position as MP for Simcoe-Grey and continue to serve my community.”
Jaffer was charged with drunk driving and cocaine possession, but the prosecution ended up withdrawing those more serious charges, saying there were problems with the evidence that would make a conviction unlikely, and Jaffer instead pleaded guilty to one count of careless driving and paid a $500 fine.
The report placed Jaffer at a booze-soaked dinner in a Toronto restaurant with a cast of characters that included financier Nazim Gillani and former CFL player Mike Mihelic – both since charged with fraud – and “three busty hookers.”
Unaware that Jaffer had been stopped by the Ontario Provincial Police and arrested sometime after he left the restaurant, Gillani sent an email to a dozen close associates the next morning boasting the ex-MP had given them access to the halls of power – straight up to the Prime Minister.
“We had a rather earth moving experience last night at dinner with Rahim Jaffer,” Gillani wrote to the associates in an email obtained by the Star. “Mr. Jaffer has opened up the Prime Minister’s office to us and as a result of that dinner – he today advised me that he is just as excited as we are and joining our team seems to be the next logical step.”
“Any suggestion that Mr. Jaffer has opened the door to the Prime Minister’s Office is false,” Harper said Friday.
The Star also reported Jaffer had been handing out the business cards he had as an MP.
Jaffer’s reputation had already been in tatters following his arrest and subsequent slap on the wrist, but it was the suggestion that he had been peddling his political ties that dominated conversations on Parliament Hill.
A spokesman for Harper rejected any suggestion that ex-MP Rahim Jaffer could give his shady business associates special access to the leader of the country Thursday.
“Any accusation that the PMO has opened doors for Mr. Jaffer or his business associates is false and it is also absurd,” PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas said in an interview Thursday. “I can tell you that the doors to the Prime Minister’s Office are padlocked to anybody who wishes to peddle influence.”