It may be easy to dismiss these stories out of hand and avoid being seen as gossipy busy-bodies, but no matter how amusing a line Steve Harper’s speech-writers wrote for him, the fact is Maxime Bernier’s ex-girlfriend having ties to organized crime is relevant. And it must be hard for the Conservatives to pretend its not because it comes down to an issue they claim to be all about: national security.
Bernier is Minister of Foreign Affairs. As such, he has access to a great deal of confidential information concerning our national security, and makes critical decisions every day. He also holds a high-level security clearance. Associating with people that have links to organized crime opens him to potential compromise, which may well be why the RCMP questioned him recently about a photo of him with a Montreal man facing criminal charges.
Even if I was willing to dismiss the girlfriend thing, and I think it mainly shows bad judgment more than anything else, in rushing to Bernier’s defence Stockwell Day goes too far:
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day dismissed opposition complaints yesterday, saying the government has no business doing security checks on a cabinet ministers' families or partners.
While cabinet ministers and even members of Parliament must file conflict-of-interest reports that include the financial holdings of their spouses, Mr. Day said there is no reason to perform security checks on family members or partners.
Given some of the other initiatives Day and The Right have advocated in the name of “national security” his supposed squeamishness here is amusing. This is usually where he’d say ‘if you have nothing to hide…” But seriously, to argue no security checks should be done on the spouses of cabinet ministers? That’s a ridiculous argument, especially from Day.
Why does it matter? Well, like anyone else do ministers not confide in their partners about their jobs? Could that not involve confidential information? Do they not bring papers home, that the spouse would have access to? I think a background check is entirely relevant, given the circumstances. Then there’s the possibility of compromise and blackmail.
Because someone trying to get close to such a person to gain information is not outside the realm of possibility. Indeed, while I think there’s probably nothing to the Julie Couillard thing, the Gerda Munsinger affair puts lie to Day’s sweeping assertion we shouldn’t care who cabinet ministers date:
Munsinger was at the centre of a spy sex scandal that rocked Ottawa in the 1960s. The East German-born Soviet spy came to Montreal in the 1950s and ended up being involved with government officials in the John Diefenbaker government, including the associate minister of national defence, Pierre Sévigny.
She was deported in 1961 and the matter was quietly dealt with internally. But in 1966, a Liberal minister brought it up in the House of Commons. A media frenzy ensued and Munsinger was tracked down in Munich and confirmed the story.
All we’re talking about here is ensuring that someone who, by virtue of their relationship with a cabinet minister, gains potential access to confidential information, is not a security risk. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. And it certainly has nothing to do with gossip.
On Bernier though, I'll agree with those that say there are other, better reasons to go after him: he's a really crappy minister. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers