OTTAWA -After the rookie mistakes, unscripted banter and diplomatic stumbles, it appears a heart attack finally toppled Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier yesterday, the first firing in the 28-month Conservative government's reign.
Rarely has any minister in any government been punted under such abrupt and strange circumstances, never mind a senior one who served as Canada's ministerial face to the world and rising star from Quebec.
But Cabinet documents in a former girlfriend's apartment equals a security breach. And with that, the once-mighty Max was minimized into a mere backbencher.
In typically evasive Stephen Harper style, the Prime Minister made the brief announcement and dashed off to Europe, leaving everyone wondering whether this was a serious breach of Cabinet confidentiality or a fabricated excuse to get rid of a Minister whose quota of missteps had finally exceeded Mr. Harper's low tolerance for ministerial misconduct.
Mr. Bernier's crime was leaving sensitive ministerial papers in former girlfriend Julie Couillard's apartment.
If so, when? If it was during their alleged dating period a few months ago, before her biker gang romances had been revealed, it's not quite so serious.
If it was after Ms. Couillard's past connections had been exposed and the ministerial relationship terminated, what was Mr. Bernier doing in her apartment, need we ask?
And given that the revelations had been revealed earlier in the day, why were government ministers pooh-poohing potential security concerns as recently as yesterday afternoon when they clearly knew otherwise?
With these and many more questions, the Liberals will have a field day.
If Mr. Bernier was leaving briefing documents around for Ms. Couillard to view after public revelations of her marriage and lingering association with the Hells Angels and their friends, well, this is worthy of a caucus eviction, never mind just a Cabinet severance.
This is just a hunch, but Mr. Bernier may be more a victim of his gaffe-plagued record than merely being a poor judge of dating partners.
He had proven to have a lousy eye for optics, specifically the notion of giving away Joe Louis cakes to the troops during his first let-them-eat-cake visit to Kandahar.
Then came his diplomatic tin ear when he revealed secret plans for replacing the Kandahar governor, which severely vexed the Afghanistan government.
He'd begun to take on lofty airs, infuriating his Cabinet colleagues when he booked a $22,000 air fare to Laos for a conference of modest importance last fall.
Last week, he promised Canada's heavy-lift capacity for Burma-bound helicopters on new Globemasters when none was available, forcing the government to retreat back to the rented Russian Antonovs we spent $4-billion replacing.
But despite all those oopsies, a gal pal with a Harley history sealed his doom.
It seemed convenient and proper for Mr. Harper to defend the privacy of his Minister's relationship with Ms. Couillard when her shady history was a decade old.
Then reporters discovered she had iffy dating connections as recently as 2005.
That's when Mr. Harper stopped defending his Minister in the Commons, leaving the distasteful task to his House Leader.
Another revelation emerged over the weekend about Ms. Couillard's connections to an airport security company, yet the Conservatives still refused to entertain the notion this might be a cause for concern.
But I suspect the kicker clearly came yesterday when Stephen Harper was confronted by his Minister's troubled romance in the middle of a news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
Was Ms. Couillard a security risk? What about the latest revelation? While President Yushchenko looked baffled by the reporter's questions, Mr Harper's steely-eyed fury was the sure sign of a Prime Minister on the verge of snapping at the embarrassment of it all.
Aware that Ms. Couillard was set to give her first television interview as a woman scorned and clearly in love with publicity, Mr. Harper stormed away from the microphone.
That should've put Mr. Bernier on notice he was about to lose his status as the greatest francophone hope to become the next Conservative leader.
Insiders say it's highly doubtful Mr. Bernier left of his own accord. That hardly matters.
Mr. Bernier's resignation letter, as is the case with every minister, sits in the Prime Minister's desk.
It can be retrieved at will and used under any pretext.
There is no appeal from a prime minister who serves as judge, jury and executioner.
Mr. Bernier was found guilty of following his heart more than his head and being more trouble than he's worth.
In Stephen Harper's government, that's a crime worthy of capital punishment.
A classic contrivance by Harper?
Leaves under mysterious circumstances