Even Tories want Jaffer, Guergis to clear the air on bad behaviour
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 10, 2010 10:09PM EST
OTTAWA - Rahim Jaffer and Helena Guergis have become the poster couple for political entitlement, under attack not just by opposition critics but by prominent members of their own Conservative party.
Jaffer, a former MP and one-time chair of the Conservatives's national caucus, was under intense pressure Wednesday to explain how he dodged impaired driving and cocaine possession charges in a plea bargain that earned him a $500 fine for careless driving.
And the appearance of preferential treatment in his case was linked to that of his wife, the junior status of women minister who was allowed to board a plane last month despite throwing a public, obscenity-laced tantrum at Charlottetown airport.
Kory Teneycke, a former communications director to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said both Jaffer and Guergis owe Canadians a big apology and a thorough explanation of what happened in each case.
"You've got to come clean and you've got to show contrition and in doing that it allows everyone to move on. Half addressing it or skirting it doesn't allow people to turn the page," Teneycke said in an interview.
Moreover, Teneycke said the couple owes it to the Conservative party and the government to clear the air since both incidents have hurt the Tory "brand."
"The Conservative brand has been very successful . . . as being a very mainstreet brand, the brand of Tim Horton's, the brand of regular people being equal to elites, not a sense of entitlement or special privilege," he said.
"When things like this happen that run counter to that brand, it's a problem and I think that you need to nip it in the bud."
Teneycke added: "Like most Conservatives, I have a mix of sadness, disappointment and anger about" the controversy swirling around the couple.
Tim Powers, a well-connected Tory lobbyist and commentator, also appealed to Jaffer to explain why the more serious drunk driving and drug charges were dropped. He said an explanation is needed to dispel the impression of special treatment or political interference and to restore public confidence in the justice system.
"Nobody's trying to throw Rahim under a bus or any such thing," said Powers.
"I'm just saying, look, you fought for a number of things for a number of years, you were a Conservative member who stood up for mainstreet. Main street just wants to hear from you now and have you explain to them what went wrong and let them determine how they feel about that."
As for Guergis, Powers said he's satisfied with her apology.
Guergis issued a written statement apologizing for speaking "emotionally" to airport and airline staff while rushing to catch a plane. She conceded her conduct --allegedly yelling at employees, trying to force her way through a security barrier and grousing about being "stuck in this hell hole" -- was inappropriate.
Teneycke said anyone else who indulged in such "diva behaviour" at airport security likely would have been "tased" and arrested.
In the Commons, Liberal MPs also returned to the Guergis affair, making no direct link with the controversy over Jaffer's plea bargain but zeroing in on the preferential treatment angle.
"(Guergis) bullied, belittled, and berated the very people she is supposed to serve, without any repercussions," said Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville.
"Any other Canadian would have been grounded."
Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter noted that even "Conservative spin doctors" like Teneycke are demanding accountability as he called on the prime minister to fire Guergis.
Transport Minister John Baird insisted Guergis has made a "sincere apology" which should be accepted.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson continued to parry questions about Jaffer's plea bargain by pointing out that the case was handled entirely by a provincial Crown prosecutor, appointed by the Ontario government, with zero role played by the federal government.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada, an independent body set up by the Harper government to ensure no political interference in criminal trials, confirmed Nicholson's account.
All drug charges are normally tried by federal prosecutors. But when a person faces multiple charges, under a longstanding protocol between federal and provincial attorneys general, the attorney general with responsibility for the major charge assumes responsibility for prosecuting all charges.
Prosecution service spokesman Dan Brien said the amount of cocaine allegedly in Jaffer's possession was small so the drug charge was less serious than the impaired driving charge, which was the responsibility of the provincial prosecutor.
Having delegated authority to try Jaffer on the drug charge to the province, Brien said: "It's out of our hands."
The federal service had no say in the decision to drop the charges and can not appeal or challenge it.