The private lives of politicians matter

Maxime Bernier burned his way through a promising political career amazingly fast. I don't know what this former future prime minister and sexiest MP in the House will do next. Maybe go tell his old Parti Québécois friends Anglos are too uptight, especially about sex. If so, list me among them. I shed no tears for Mr. Bernier. And as for his ex-girlfriend, Julie Couillard, now playing the wounded innocent, if this is a babe in the woods, the bears better look out. But what has me really bent out of shape is that, having sanctimoniously denied that it mattered who a senior national security minister was getting naked with before the business of the sensitive documents came up, the prime minister still insisted in accepting Mr. Bernier's resignation that "This is not to do with the minister's private life."

One never knows how much sincerity to attribute to contemporary political spin. But it's safe to attach maximum ridicule to this one. If Mr. Bernier had left sensitive documents at the home of a person he was sleeping with, and he'd been married to her for 15 years and not one of her former biker squeezes had turned police informant/corpse in ditch, there'd be no scandal. Especially if she hadn't also tried to get a security-sensitive airport contract in 2004 for another boyfriend who later committed suicide amid rumours of biker debts.

The personal lives of senior politicians matter. What if a minister of defence, a foreign minister or a prime minister was sleeping with a hit man, a Chinese spy, or a Hamas official? And the fact that the Tories have been fibbing ever since this messy affair became public proves they know it matters. They claimed the relationship ended months before the pair were seen dining together in March and then he, in April, left classified documents at her home during what she bizarrely called a "routine visit." And early this month the government maintained that Mr. Bernier only found out about the biker business when the press got nosy, an excuse as useless as it is implausible because it tacitly admits he would have worried if he had known so he, and his colleagues, should have known.

The basic idea seems to be that nothing shall be allowed to interfere with sensual pleasure, least of all some trivial thing like matters of state. A claim on which the NDP seems to have nothing to say, not even a press release on their website. Meanwhile Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff was quoted in this newspaper on Tuesday saying that this "is about the possibility ... of a link between organized crime and airport security in Montreal and the possibility of improper bidding for contracts relating to security. I don't care about her skirts, I don't care about her cleavage, I don't care about her past, I don't care about any of it, it is none of my business quite rightly." But the possible link with organized crime is her "past."

Only the Bloc seems to have got it right. In a May 27 press release on their website their spokesman on public security, MP Serge Ménard, said (my translation) "contrary to what the prime minister claims... the risks posed by this relationship to public security are indeed real." Mr. Ménard dismissed claims it was a private matter, and called for the Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security to report to the House on "security questions raised by the relationship of the former minister of foreign affairs with a person having had links to organized crime." Especially, I say, because in listing Ms. Couillard as his "spouse" for official travel purposes Mr. Bernier, among other things, let her meet the President of the United States (and, she boasted on TV, impress him with her looks so forget the ingénue act).

It's hard to say you do care about her cleavage without sounding simultaneously like a prude and a lecher. But such an intimate partner isn't just evidence of bad judgment. She's a cause of it. A stable family life is a good thing for someone with important responsibilities and a foreign minister who changes playmates like shirts is liable not to be properly grounded, to say nothing of being too distracted to master details like how many transport planes we have and who is president of Haiti.

The Citizen quoted the founder of Carleton University's Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security that "Frankly, I don't believe that a minister of the Crown engages in pillow talk on high policy." Which is very Austin Powers: I wasn't talking to her, I was just shagging her. But even if true that kind of life wears you down and the pro-family Tories, of all people, shouldn't be claiming otherwise.

Call me repressed, but my message to politicians is: Go home and sleep with your spouses.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]