Harper owes us some answers

"L'affaire Maxime Bernier"

OTTAWA -At some point during a pivotal gathering of NATO countries last month at which Canada's future in Afghanistan was being decided, our foreign affairs minister must have asked himself this question: "Um, where the hell is my briefing book?"
And as the clouds lifted from Maxime Bernier's befuddled memory, another thought must have popped into his head: "Uh-oh."
Yup, that classified for-his-eyes-only document was still sitting in his former girlfriend's apartment in Montreal. That would be the gal pal with the Hell's Angels history. The one with the allegedly bugged box spring. The eye-catcher his political rivals were already pressuring media to expose as a former biker chick. And the same one who would soon be singing her story for free on television after print media refused her request for tattle-tale cash.
The rationale behind a foreign affairs minister taking his homework to the apartment of a bungled romance is for Mr. Bernier to explain. Don't expect comments any time soon. This Quebec MP is gagged for good.
But there are soap-opera producers who wouldn't buy the believability of this script as Canada's latest femme fatale clashes with the stoic Stephen Harper establishment in the wackiest hell's fury of a scorned woman in parliamentary memory.
Montreal realtor Julie Couillard has obviously written her former boyfriend's political obituary by revealing his comically poor judgment on everything from the propriety of her revealing Rideau Hall wardrobe to his weird demand she sign on as his girlfriend for a full year, if not for amorous purposes then for the appearance of libido stability.
But perhaps we should shift away from spotlighting the salacious details, darn it, to the scandal's security and political ramifications, a long bumpy road the opposition parties started down nicely yesterday.
The Prime Minister and his designated spokesman have some explaining to do given they have stood in the House of Commons for weeks, stonewalling Liberal and Bloc Quebecois demands that they put to rest any security concerns over the Bernier-Couillard relationship while shrugging off all questions as an unfounded smear campaign.
Question Period stand-in Peter Van Loan continued his usual evasion of legitimate concerns yesterday by reading a PMO-approved script insisting Mr. Bernier's "resignation" puts an end to the ruckus.
Well, not so fast.
It doesn't explain the five-week gap between the loss of the minister's briefing book for the Bucharest summit and its unexpected surrender by Ms. Couillard last Sunday.
Mr. Harper may have plausible deniability to knowing everything in advance, but it strains belief when such sloppiness goes undetected by a PMO proudly and harshly centralized with choke-chained Cabinet control.
And then there's the government's refusal to conduct a background check on Ms. Couillard, something even she finds it impossible to believe given her arm-ushering into 24 Sussex Dr. for dinner and into a New York reception where she caught the twinkle-eyed attention of U. S. President George W. Bush.
Then there's the potential bite of Ms. Couillard's alleged bed bugs.
If Mr. Harper's pledge to stay out of the nation's bedrooms as a sign of respect for personal privacy is countered by government-ordered eavesdropping under Ms. Couillard's bed, a claim she says is backed by security experts who spotted signs of a listening device cleanup operation, a serious credibility breach has been uncovered.
For a government whose paranoia is never more evident than on security matters, this is an obvious black eye.
The loss of a key document given to a top minister must have our NATO allies baffled.
Officials in those countries will certainly want to know what was in documents left in the hands of a civilian with former marital connections to organized crime. It may well give them pause to reconsider supporting Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The breach will now be reviewed internally by foreign affairs, a whitewash waiting to happen as the department reviews the actions of its former minister for a government that dearly hopes security has not been compromised.
Mr. Bernier's resignation also means a Cabinet shuffle is now a certainty. Before making that appointment, perhaps Stephen Harper will background check the love interests of his next Foreign Affairs minister, if only to eliminate the prospect of domestic affairs with scandal-sheet and security-breach potential.

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