OTTAWA -The Conservative Cabinet minister leaned back wearily into the overstuffed lounge chair, flummoxed by the sad fate of politically deceased pal Maxime Bernier.
The former foreign affairs minister will be missed as a crazily energetic force dominating an inner circle content to wait for direction from the powers above, sighed the minister.
But the perplexing question -- even at the Harper Cabinet table -- is how any of their kind could have misplaced a briefing book for five weeks.
The Privy Council Office, which acts as the secretariat of the Cabinet, checks out every document bound for a minister's desk and checks them back in, usually within hours of their release, the minister said. Missing documents or even a few removed papers, particularly on sensitive files like foreign affairs, are tracked down almost immediately and reclaimed with a respectful rebuke from officials hired to maintain Cabinet confidentiality.
The system is supposedly foolproof and perhaps doubly so given this government's penchant for excessive and perhaps unwarranted secrecy.
Former Liberal ministers describe similar tracking tactics during their terms, including maverick Grit MP Garth Turner, who insists classified documents arrived handcuffed to the wrist of an official escort. That seems a tad over the top, unless Canada has suddenly acquired launch codes for intercontinental missiles.
But, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old busybody, that five-week gap between Mr. Bernier's bizarre document drop-off at Julie Couillard's home and her subsequent surrender of the NATO briefing book to unknown officials last Sunday is where the truth in this story seems to check out -- and fails to check back in.
The government continues, but cannot do so convincingly, to deny the possibility of a security breach, even though spy-worthy papers were in the possession of a woman with some rather shady biker-gang pals in her past.
As of her television interview on Monday night, she had not been interviewed by federal security forces to question her possible viewing, copying or distribution of the documents. Thus, the government cannot state with any authority that a security breach has not occurred.
And then there's the surprisingly specific allegation levelled by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service met with officials in the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the Bernier file just as news of his former gal pal's criminal connections were hitting the headlines.
That would suggest a tripwire had gone off and that the Prime Minister was taking the allegations seriously, even while Mr. Harper was smearing all those who dared questioned the connection.
Now officially denied by the government, the allegation might be a fishing expedition by the Official Opposition. The fact the accusation was levelled by second-stringer Dosanjh instead of the Liberal leader or his deputy suggests they might not have total confidence in their data. Still, Liberal insiders insist the source is solid, as is the intelligence, so stay tuned.
As this mess continues to unspool, one conspiracy theory that may sound a tad grassy-knolled is the possibility that Mr. Bernier was let down or set up by staff, bureaucrats or his own department officials.
To have classified documents disappear despite a careful tracking system at the precise moment the oft-gaffed Mr. Bernier was most vulnerable to a firing would hint that somebody wanted to inflict a fatal flaw on this minister.
The controversy, while starting to weary a bit, seems likely to have just enough oxygen to survive until the Prime Minister returns to face his tormentors in the House of Commons next week.
The combined opposition, once so laughable for its fixation on low-impact scandals, appears to have the perfect combination of sex, security issues and a ministerial pink slip to unleash strong questions this government seems incapable of answering.
Latest theory: Bernier set up
How else to explain failure of foolproof system to track papers?