Isotope issue 'sexy,' Raitt heard to say on tape
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, June 8, 2009 11:38PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 11:04PM EDT
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is again at the heart of a raging controversy after she disparaged Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and called the medical isotope shortage a "sexy" issue on a newly unsealed audio tape.
The candid conversation, which took place between Raitt and her former communications director Jasmine MacDonnell, occurred in January, according to the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
The conversation was made public on Monday afternoon -- less than a week after MacDonnell resigned for leaving sensitive government documents at CTV News' Ottawa office.
Earlier on Monday, MacDonnell had sought a court order to prevent the Chronicle Herald, who have possession of the tape, from publishing its contents.
But MacDonnell's request was rejected by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge and the tape was released Monday afternoon on the paper's website.
During the court proceedings, Chronicle Herald columnist Stephen Maher testified that another reporter passed him the tape after she found it in a bathroom on Parliament Hill.
The paper held off listening to the tape until MacDonnell resigned last week.
On the tape, Raitt said the medical isotope shortage has been a difficult political issue "because it's confusing to a lot of people."
However, Raitt added: "But it's sexy ... Radioactive leaks. Cancer."
The Liberals have hammered Raitt and the Tories with pointed questions about Canada's growing shortage of medical isotopes caused by the shutdown at the Chalk River nuclear facility.
The conversation, which appears to have taken place not long after a reported heavy water leak at Chalk River, Ont., also includes a discussion about Aglukkaq and her ministry's handling of the isotope file.
"They're terrified of the issues," said Raitt, referring to the Ministry of Health.
"You know what? Good. Because when we win on this, we get all the credit. I'm ready to roll the dice on this."
Allegations related to previous job
Adding to Raitt's troubles are allegations she may have expensed thousands of dollars worth of expensive meals when she was the chief executive officer of the Toronto Port Authority.
NDP MP Olivia Chow claims four of the nine port authority directors have requested an examination into Raitt's expenses and other management practices at the port authority.
Complicating matters, Transport Minister John Baird was also accused of shuffling the port authority's board to "cover up" allegations of mismanagement against Raitt.
At issue is $80,000 in travel and hospitality expenses that Raitt ran up in two years while she was CEO of the federal public authority.
Raitt quit the job to run for the Conservatives.
Political fallout spreads
Earlier in the day in the House of Commons, the opposition hammered Raitt with questions about the audiotape.
Liberal environment critic David McGuinty led the charge, saying internal cabinet squabbling is undermining the confidence of Canadians at a time when the shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear reactor is creating a shortage of medical isotopes.
He said the file should be taken away from "this distracted minister."
"The minister of natural resources was recorded when she was making disparaging remarks about her colleague, the minister of health, who she described as not very competent," McGuinty said.
"Can she tell the House unequivocally, loud and clear, that those remarks about the minister of heath in the media are accurate or not?"
Raitt didn't respond about the audiotape, but lashed back at McGuinty for getting some of his facts wrong with respect to reactors, and which countries would help cover the shortfall of medical isotopes caused by the shutdown at Chalk River.
"He said that Australia would not be able to export a single medical isotope. And again that is false," Raitt charged, "And he confused the countries of Belgium and the Netherlands."
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife, quoting officials from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office, reported that Raitt won't be asked to resign because she still has Harper's confidence.
Recorder left behind for months
In an affidavit filed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Chronicle Herald reporter Maher writes that he notified MacDonnell several months ago about recorder.
"MacDonnell never directed me not to listen to the recordings," he writes.
Maher "assumed that she had abandoned it" when MacDonnell had resigned from her post last week and still hadn't picked up the recorder.
Speaking to CTV News Channel from Halifax on Monday night, Maher said that he knew MacDonnell professionally in Ottawa and initially had some concerns about publishing the recordings.
"I feel sympathy for Ms. MacDonnell, who's always been a likeable person," Maher said.
"I really had to impersonalize it in my mind and think 'this is a senior official in the government of Canada.'"
Maher added that the public interest led him to his final decision.
"Unfortunately, for her, her actions have brought her into the spotlight in a way that I don't think is very flattering or very pleasant for her, and I hope she gets past this and finds a career that's suitable for her."
With files from The Canadian Press