Saturday, May 10, 2008

"I have a family and a wife, and a dog and a cat"

Stephen Maher writes an excellent column in today's Halifax Chronicle-Herald about Maxime Bernier, whose previous experience with public affairs before PMS was elected was a book defending a flat tax proposal (which influenced quite a bit of Mario Dumont's thinking on the issue).

It got me to think that, the whole bit about Maxime Bernier trying to brush off his previous relationship with his ex-girlfriend Julie Couillard as nobody's business even though she was once connected (by marriage) to a biker gang member is beyond perplexing. It is everyone's business because as a Cabinet minister -- and in particular foreign affairs -- he has access to some of Canada's most important secrets.

Why does it matter?

Well, some backtracking, and once again I refer to the Watergate scandal.

A few months before the infamous break-in at the DNC, a letter came out which among other factors helped to torpedo the campaign of Edmund Muskie. It was of course the "Canuck letter," which insulted French-Canadians living in America. Months later a reporter at the Washington Post admitted to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that Nixon's communications director, Kent Clawson, told her that he wrote the letter as part of a dirty tricks campaign to make sure George McGovern would run against Nixon -- since Muskie was a sure-fire winner and McGovern was sure to lose.

When Woodstein confronted Clawson about this, he hung up and called the female reporter. The reporter offered to let Woodstein listen in. Clawson told the reporter, "I have a family and a wife, and a dog and a cat." Meaning, if it was found out he had a contact with the reporter, however innocent, it could be made to look worse than the letter. Later when Woodstein's boss Ben Bradlee asked Clawson if he wrote the letter (which he did), Clawson repeated the same cryptic statement. Bradlee replied he didn't care what Clawson or the reporter did, all he cared about was what Clawson said to the reporter.

The lesson is clear. Everyone you get involved with, even thirty years ago, is public business when you are an executive or legislative official. When you let slip something you shouldn't about a past transgression, it will come back to haunt you. Given the past and present Canada -- and in particular Québec -- has had with biker gangs, it is totally understandable why this isn't just mere gossip.

Biker gangs and Al Qaeda have one important thing in common: The illicit trade in drugs. So let's just suppose for a minute, entirely hypothetically, that during pillow talk Bernier let slip some key information about operations about Canada's military and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan (for example, scheduled troop movements); and said girlfriend then passed on that information to her biker gang handler who then through their underground network passed it on to Al Qaeda and their partisan allies the Taliban. The Taliban then used this information to ambush a platoon of Canadian service personnel during a "surprise" attack.

Imagine if it went back to Bernier. There would be no question about it -- Bernier would be charged with violating the Official Secrets Act; and the girlfriend with much worse, up to and including high treason.

When it comes to our national security, everything is on the table. It's as simple as that. And it is every one's business. Harper should have run a background check when picking his Cabinet members -- because even the most elementary would have discovered such a blatant conflict of interest.

Maher thinks Bernier will be demoted to international trade. I'd go further and kick Bernier out of Cabinet all together.

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