Montreal

Bernier's back 3 years after document scandal

Three years after a federal review found Maxime Bernier's carelessness with government documents tarnished Canada's "good reputation within NATO circles," the Quebec Tory MP is back in cabinet.
Maxime Bernier is sworn is as Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) during a ceremony to announce the new federal cabinet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
Three years after a federal review found Maxime Bernier's carelessness with government documents tarnished Canada's "good reputation within NATO circles," the Quebec Tory MP is back in cabinet.

Bernier resigned as foreign affairs minister in 2008 after he acknowledged leaving classified documents at the Montreal home of Julie Couillard, his former girlfriend, for more than a month.

Couillard became the centre of a political furor when her past ties to outlaw bikers surfaced.

Bernier, 48, remains highly popular in his riding of Beauce. As one of just five Conservatives elected in Quebec, he seemed a relative shoo-in to finally return to a ministerial position.

As the new junior minister for tourism and small business, Bernier won't be entrusted with matters of grave national confidentiality, said Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer who now works as a crime and risk consultant.

"There's not too many secrets that the junior minister of tourism's going to have that would be of interest to any foreign government or criminals or even the opposition for that matter," Mathers said.

"His parents have let him back in the house but he doesn't have his own key, basically. He's going to have to earn that."

New post means less opining

At the time the Bernier scandal erupted, security screening applied only to the potential cabinet member, not his or her partner, relatives or friends.

Bernier resigned from cabinet after Couillard revealed he left classified documents at her house. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))
The Privy Council Office had no immediate information on whether ministerial security checks have become more rigorous — particularly for the six MPs newly appointed to cabinet Wednesday.

"Bernier's basically the poster child for proper due diligence," Mathers said.

"So is he a risk? Well, I think he's probably learned his lesson. But the question is, have the rest of them? These new ministers, these baby ministers, they're going to do stupid things, like everyone does.

"And if you are in a relationship with somebody – gay, straight, whatever it is – the guy or the girl's got to be checked out."

During his time on the backbench, Bernier broke away from the tight Tory script on occasion, coming out against the federal plan for a national securities regulator and questioning the need for a key Quebec language law.

But he signalled Wednesday in a blog posting his public musings would once again toe the party line.

"It should be noted that as a minister, I am like all my colleagues bound by cabinet solidarity and my public declarations must reflect the government's positions," Bernier wrote.

"I therefore have less scope than I had as a simple MP to express my ideas and take public stands on various topics, as I did these past few years. The content of this blog will thus be a bit different from now on."