Independent candidate Helena Guergis lashed out at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his office Friday over her treatment when she was kicked out of the Conservative caucus over sensational — but ultimately unsubstantiated — allegations.
Guergis took aim at Harper after a Friday news conference in Collingwood, Ont., saying he “tossed me under a bus.” She said he never told her what the allegations against her were and didn't give her an opportunity to defend herself.
“This is the behaviour that we’re supposed to accept? I find that unacceptable, and so does the average Canadian,” she said.
Guergis was ousted from the Tory caucus and cabinet last April when Harper cryptically referred to serious allegations of a criminal nature. A party lawyer has said she was fully briefed about the allegations, but Guergis has insisted she was not.
During the news conference, Guergis accused staff in Harper's communications office of running a "destructive campaign" against her and perpetrating "false allegations" that damaged her reputation.
"Not only was it made to seem I was guilty of conduct that has never been disclosed to me — going against the very core of what our principles of justice are built on — the Prime Minister's Office still made it seem as though I was guilty of something even after I had been proven innocent," Guergis said.
"This of course is the worst kind of politics, the kind that Canadians abhor," she said.
Guergis broke down in tears during her statement, describing her ordeal over the past year.
"The damage is real," she said. "It is deep, and it is permanent.”
Earlier in the day, Harper said the Conservatives have "no desire" to see Guergis back in the Conservative caucus. He added that there were multiple problems surrounding the former cabinet member that were related to her expulsion.
"There were ... a range of political problems around this individual," Harper said at a campaign event Friday morning. "They have been discussed among members of our caucus. There is simply no desire to see the return of this individual to our caucus."
He didn't refer to Guergis by name, and he praised the Conservative candidate in Guergis' riding, where Guergis is running as an independent.
“There were no problems with me and the caucus,” Guergis told CBC’s Evan Solomon during an audio podcast, noting that several members of caucus had been supportive of her over the past year.
'I intend on finding my way back into my Conservative family, but perhaps under a different leader' —Helena Guergis
Guergis became tabloid fodder last year and is now back into the spotlight — and the federal election campaign.
The controversy over the handling over the allegations against Guergis continued Friday, with both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton criticizing Harper's handling of the issue and accusing the Conservative leader of showing hypocrisy on Guergis.
“We’ve got people who have been convicted who have been hired and are close to the prime minister," the NDP leader said, in reference to Bruce Carson, a former aide to Harper's who is now the subject of controversy because of his criminal record with five fraud convictions that recently came to light, and other allegations about his business dealings since leaving the Prime Minister's Office in 2008.
Ignatieff said the Guergis situation was the “most amazing case of double standards I’ve seen in a very long time.”
Harper was aware of two of Carson's convictions from the 1980s and has been criticized by the opposition for still letting him into his inner circle as a top adviser. But Harper kicked Guergis out of cabinet and the Conservative Party based on information from a source that wasn't credible, Ignatieff said.
“You make accusations against a member of Parliament based on some dubious allegations by some third-rate gumshoe — you drive her out of the caucus, and Bruce Carson is sitting there at the centre of power in Canada," Ignatieff said during a campaign event in Sudbury, Ont.
”Any woman who is, you know, at work thinks, ‘This is exactly what I worry about, that kind of boss,” Ignatieff said.
At the Sudbury event, Ignatieff also criticized Harper for what he called an "unwillingness to admit a mistake."
”He tried to smear her, he discovered the allegations were baseless, and then he refuses to take responsibility,” the Liberal leader said.
Guergis is running as an independent in the Simcoe-Grey riding, but she said she still believes in conservative values and principles.
”I’m a conservative, I have been my entire adult life, through and through,” Guergis said. ”I intend on finding my way back into my Conservative family, but perhaps under a different leader.”
She said she would keep pushing for answers from Harper, but added that her complaints about “a few of the people in the leadership” in no way characterize the entire party caucus.
Guergis held the news conference to respond to a CBC News story indicating the allegations that got her ousted from cabinet, caucus and the Conservative Party last year included unsubstantiated claims of fraud, extortion and involvement with prostitutes.
A letter written by Harper’s principal secretary to the commissioner of the RCMP indicates the allegations were made by a private investigator and were not based on any hard evidence.
Guergis, who claims she was never told what the allegations were, was cleared by the RCMP of any wrongdoing.
In an email to CBC News late Thursday, Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s director of communications, wrote: “Information was given to us. We passed that information to the authorities. The authorities dealt with it.”
Guergis repeated Friday that no evidence against her was ever produced, including from private investigator Derrick Snowdy, who first brought allegations against her husband Rahim Jaffer to the attention of a Conservative lawyer.
She also released some of the correspondence involved to reporters at her press conference Friday.
”You need to remember one thing here … the government invoked the Privacy Act and did not give anything .… And I did not get one thing from the four departments that were a part of this investigation.
”And I did not get any testimony from Derick Snowdy whatsoever in that package.”
The Canadian Press also reported Friday that Snowdy offered at the time of Guergis's removal from cabinet to provide a statement saying he had no evidence against her. Snowdy said he had gone to the Conservatives with concerns about Guergis's husband Rahim Jaffer but didn't have anything on her.
He said Guergis's lawyer set a meeting with him twice to get a statement but cancelled both times, The Canadian Press reported.
Leading up to her expulsion from the Conservative caucus, the Liberals had been calling for Guergis to resign as minister of state for the status of women. Earlier Friday, Ignatieff was asked if he and Harper both rushed to judgment on Guergis based on unsubstantiated allegations.
Ignatieff said his party had legitimate criticisms of Guergis in her role as a minister of state, but did not attack her personally, and that his party was more concerned about the allegations surrounding her husband, Rahim Jaffer, related to his business activities.
Asked by Solomon whether she planned to sue over the allegations, Guergis said she was waiting to see what her lawyers said. “I will exercise the options that are available to me, and I’ll wait to see what my lawyers have to say."