MPs target Bernier over ex-girlfriend's alleged biker ties
PM accuses Dion and Duceppe of being 'gossipy old busybodies'
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier dismissed heated questions from opposition members on Thursday over reports alleging his ex-girlfriend had ties to Quebec biker gangs, insisting their relationship was a private matter.
Couillard, who has no criminal record, accompanied Bernier to Rideau Hall last August for his swearing-in ceremony to the Foreign Affairs portfolio. The minister's office said the two recently broke up.
‘What's so ironic about all of these silly things is that while they are arguing about small things of the past, government doesn't worry itself about having to move on to big things. Keep em' coming, fools.’
Responding to opposition suggestions the relationship raises issues of national security, Bernier said it was "in the past" between him and Couillard. He added he never thought he would be subject to "such a nasty and low attack" by opposition members.
"People’s private lives are none of your business," Bernier told the House, garnering a standing ovation and chumly pats on the back from Conservative members around him.
Ahead of the debate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed the reports as irrelevant to government business, calling Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe "gossipy old busybodies."
"I hear one of my cabinet ministers has an ex-girlfriend," Harper said. "It’s none of my business. It's none of Mr. Duceppe's business. It's none of Mr. Dion's business."
'Pattern of embarassment': Ignatieff
But Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff told the House the latest reports are part of a "pattern of embarrassment" of Bernier’s conduct in the Foreign Affairs portfolio, citing his recent high-profile blunder on Afghanistan.
"Questions about ministerial judgment and national security are not a private matter; they are everyone’s business," Ignatieff said. "Based on this record of embarassment, how can the government have confidence in the minister?"
During debate in the House, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe asked whether Bernier and the Prime Minister's Office were aware of Couillard's "shady past" when he was sworn in.
Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, a cabinet colleague and Harper's Quebec lieutenant, came to Bernier's defence, saying Bernier has done a "remarkable job and difficult job for our country."
"He merits and deserves our encouragement," Cannon told the Commons.
MPs 'wasting taxpayers' money': Van Loan
Government House leader Peter Van Loan went further, saying MPs who engage in such questioning were "entirely wasting the taxpayers’ money and aren’t fit for public office."
He also cited the quip made famous decades ago by the late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who borrowed journalist and writer Martin O'Malley's line that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."
"It’s a question that shouldn’t be asked here," Van Loan said. "It shouldn’t be asked anywhere, ever."
NDP Leader Jack Layton used his party's question time to grill the government over economic challenges facing middle-income Canadians and what he called the Tories' "robbing" of employment insurance at a time when it was most needed.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion was not in the Commons during question period, but said earlier that there's "certainly a concern" about Couillard's alleged ties.
'It's my name that'll be dragged in the mud'
"Mr. Bernier needs to explain, because we want to know if there were any matters of national security involved," Dion said in French. "But I don’t have more details and you can understand that I have to be cautious in my comments."
In an interview with the Globe and Mail published Thursday, Couillard dismissed the media reports on her as politically motivated.
"Some people are after Maxime Bernier and it's my name that'll be dragged in the mud," she told the Globe.
Bernier has been in a weakened position in recent weeks since a gaffe in April during a visit to Afghanistan, where he publicly suggested the removal of the governor of Kandahar.
The minister was quickly forced to issue a "clarification" after the Afghan government expressed concern about foreign interference in its internal affairs.
With files from the Canadian Press