Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grounds for dismissal

One of the most interesting questions surrounding Maxime Bernier's resignation is that of just what it takes to get booted out of the cabinet of a PM who seems utterly incapable of acknowledging error. Today, Jane Taber provides the answer - and not surprisingly, there doesn't appear to be any level of ministerial incompetence that the Cons won't accept if they can avoid paying too high a political price for it:
Mr. Bernier submitted his resignation Monday morning, after learning that his ex, Julie Couillard, had given a potentially damaging interview to the French-language TVA network stating that he was careless with confidential documents.

He was told to wait it out. Still, he was pulled out of meetings throughout the day and was absent from a meeting of the cabinet's priority and planning committee, the cabinet's most important and powerful committee.

The powers-that-be wanted to assess just how bad the interview by Ms. Couillard would be. The waiting game was all about media strategy.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to leave Monday night on a trip to Europe. A Bernier friend said the government didn't want its foreign affairs minister to be forced to step down just before the Prime Minister was about to set out on the world stage. Nor, however, did it want the whole thing to blow up while the Prime Minister was in the air.

"They [senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office] had anticipated that this was coming [the Couillard interview] and Bernier had said, 'Listen, I am ready to resign,' " the friend said. "And they had said to him, 'Don't do it yet. Let's just confirm that this is what is going to happen because we don't want this to blow up before Harper gets on a plane and goes to Europe.' "
In other words, the Cons weren't prepared to view any combination of Bernier's incompetence, his carelessness with classified documents (which Taber discusses in more detail), and the scandal surrounding Julie Couillard as providing sufficient reason to remove Bernier from the cabinet. Instead, it was only the calculation that firing Bernier would serve as better political damage control than continuing to lie in his defence that finally forced Harper to pull the trigger.

If there's any good news, it's that the combination of Bernier's departure and the reemergence of the NAFTA leak scandal looks to be serious enough to make any efforts at damage control ineffective. But the Bernier timeline offers ever more evidence that Harper isn't interested in assessing his cabinet on any basis other than his party's political benefit - which raises reason for suspicion that the scandals which have already gone public may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Update: More from Paul Wells.

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