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The Maxime Bernier Affair

From May 28, 2008

When it was revealed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier, had been in a relationship with Julie Couillard, a woman with a scandalous past, some may have felt it was a poor choice, but a private matter. Stephen Harper responded to reporter questions dismissively. "I have no intention to comment on a minister's former girlfriend. I don't take this subject seriously." But as details emerged, the situation became more worrying.

Not only did Julie Couillard have links to the criminal underworld, she had dated a mobster, was engaged to a Hells Angel biker who was murdered, married a gang member who became a police informant, and was romantically involved with a truck hijacker who later committed suicide. Her father was arrested for running a grow-op in an apartment where she sometimes paid the rent.

Before long it was revealed that during her relationship with Maxime Bernier, Julie Couillard had not undergone a background security check, and that she may have been trying to influence bureaucrats in Ottawa to win government contracts for her "airport security" company. Worse still, Bernier had lost classified foreign affairs documents at her home which were discovered and returned weeks later by Julie Couillard, long after their relationship had ended.

Bernier was subsequently forced to resign from cabinet.

It recalls the Munsinger affair of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it was discovered that Conservative associate defence minister Pierre Sevigny was in a relationship with Gerda Munsinger, who was learned to be a KGB spy. Sevigny resigned from politics over the matter, and a Royal Commission led by Supreme Court Justice Wishart Spence criticized the Diefenbaker government for risking national security.

With the Conservatives, everything old is new again. Bernier's standing has been tarnished, and Harper's judgment called seriously into question.