Assistant wrote pro-Guergis letters to newspapers
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:13PM EDT
OTTAWA - Embattled junior Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis says she had no idea her office assistant has been sending pro-Guergis letters to local newspapers posing as a regular voter.
Guergis, already under fire for an airport security tantrum last month in Charlottetown, says her riding assistant has agreed the letter campaign was inappropriate and has apologized.
The assistant used her married name, rather than the maiden name she uses in her professional life, to send letters defending Guergis to newspapers in her Simcoe-Grey riding northwest of Toronto -- without any hint that they came from a Guergis employee.
Adding to the drama late Tuesday, Maclean's reported another Guergis employee had penned a glowing letter to the magazine about her boss, without identifying herself as the MP's spokesperson.
Valerie Knight, who has been on Guergis' staff in her Alliston, Ont., constituency office for three and a half years, signed off with only her name and personal contact information.
She told Maclean's that it didn't occur to her to disclose her affiliation with Guergis when she sent the letter to the editor on March 14.
The letter, in response to the magazine article "Power couple, unplugged", listed awards Guergis received and had Knight conclude, "power couple--I don't know. Smart, hard working, accomplished--you bet."
Knight told the magazine that Guergis wasn't aware of her letter.
That isn't sitting well with others on the Hill.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter notes that all cabinet members have a media clipping service that details every newspaper reference, so it is simply "unfathomable" that Guergis or her department didn't know about the letters.
Easter calls it another embarrassment for the Harper government and says he can't understand why Guergis, the minister responsible for the status of women, remains in cabinet.
The situation is also an embarrassing reminder of an incident involving the minister's husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, who once apologized for allowing an aide to impersonate him for a Vancouver radio interview.
Jaffer was in the news last month after charges of drunk driving and cocaine possession were dropped in favour of a plea bargain conviction for careless driving and a $500 fine.
Guergis told the Commons on Tuesday that she had just spoken with assistant Jessica Craven and that Craven told her she had submitted letters to the editor under her married name, Jessica Morgan.
"We did discuss that it was inappropriate," Guergis told the House.
"She apologized and assured me that it will not happen again."
The minister did not otherwise comment on her aide's behaviour.