Hunter Tootoo joins list of cabinet members making a sudden exit

Almost 40 cabinet ministers resigned, often amid controversy, throughout the Mulroney, Martin, Chrétien and Harper governments. Here are some of the highest-profile cases.

From tainted tuna to mishandling classified documents, ministers have resigned for many reasons

Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo suddenly announced his resignation Tuesday evening, saying he was seeking treatment for addiction issues. It wasn't the first time a cabinet member has quit suddenly. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The abrupt resignation of Hunter Tootoo, minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, has taken many Canadians by surprise. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that Tootoo was seeking treatment for addiction issues "after a very difficult situation" but gave no further details.

Personal and professional factors, including controversies and scandals, have led almost 40 cabinet ministers to leave their posts — sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not — before their terms were up over the last three decades. Often, they weren't gone for long. 

Here are nine other high-profile cases.

John Baird

Baird, an outspoken Conservative in both the Ontario and federal cabinets, unexpectedly resigned from Stephen Harper's government in February 2015 while he was minister of foreign affairs. His seemingly sudden decision led to speculation that there was a falling-out with the prime minister or perhaps a scandal about to emerge, but the people closest to him said it was simply time for him to pursue other opportunities after 20 years in politics. Baird quickly found other jobs as an adviser to mining company Barrick Gold and as a board member for Canadian Pacific Railways.

John Baird announced his resignation in the House of Commons on Feb. 3, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Maxime Bernier

The resignation of another one of Harper's foreign affairs ministers, Maxime Bernier, was much more dramatic. Bernier left his position in May 2008 after he breached security rules by leaving classified documents in his then girlfriend's apartment. Bernier's relationship with Julie Couillard had previously raised eyebrows because of Couillard's romantic history with criminal biker gang members. Couillard defended herself publicly and published a book, saying she had cut off all ties to the gangs in 1999.

Harper defended Bernier right up until his resignation. "Let me be clear: This is not to do with the minister's private life," the prime minister said. Bernier remained in politics and was re-elected as a Conservative MP three times. He is now running for leadership of the party. 

Maxime Bernier was accompanied by his then girlfriend Julie Couillard when he was sworn in as foreign affairs minister in August 2007. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Helena Guergis

The relationship between Helena Guergis, minister of state for the status of women, and the Harper government turned ugly in the events leading up to and after her resignation. Guergis threw a tantrum at the Charlottetown airport after arriving late and being held up at security. She later apologized. Her husband, businessman and former fellow MP Rahim Jaffer, was charged with impaired driving and cocaine possession. Those charges were later dropped, but Jaffer pleaded guilty to careless driving. 

In April 2010, Guergis was forced to resign when Harper said there were "serious allegations" against her but didn't specify what they were. CBC News later learned they were unsubstantiated claims of fraud, extortion and involvement with prostitutes.  

The RCMP found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and Guergis filed a lawsuit against Harper, the Conservative Party and other MPs for conspiracy, defamation and infliction of mental suffering. In 2013, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled she had no grounds to sue

Helena Guergis launched a lawsuit against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, some fellow MPs and the Conservative Party after she was forced to resign in 2010, but the Ontario Court of Appeal ultimately ruled she had no grounds to sue. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Bev Oda

In July 2012, after almost five years as Stephen Harper's minister for international co-operation, Bev Oda announced she was quitting. She said at age 68, she had been thinking about retirement for a while. 

Oda said her departure had nothing to do with spending controversies that had plagued her time in office, including the notorious $16 orange juice she claimed as an expense during a three-day official trip to London in June 2011. Her stay cost almost $2,000 in total. Oda initially defended her actions, but later apologized and repaid the money.    

Judy Sgro

Judy Sgro served as the minister of citizenship and immigration from December 2003 to January 2005 in Paul Martin's Liberal government. She resigned to fight what she called "ridiculously false" allegations that she had helped a pizza store owner in Brampton, Ont., avoid deportation in return for supplying volunteers and free food for her re-election campaign. 

Martin continued to declare his support for Sgro, saying he accepted her resignation "with great regret." Sgro was later vindicated and the pizza store owner retracted his story and apologized. 

Art Eggleton

Art Eggleton's five-year stint as minister of national defence in Jean Chrétien's Liberal cabinet ended in 2002, when a federal ethics counsellor found he had breached cabinet ethics guidelines by awarding a defence contract commissioning a study on PTSD to a former girlfriend. Eggleton insisted she got the contract on merit and that their personal relationship "should neither qualify her or disqualify her." 

John Fraser

Remember the "tainted tuna" scandal of the 1980s? John Fraser was Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's minister of fisheries of oceans and resigned in September 1985 after a CBC fifth estate report that he had approved the sale of a million cans of Star-Kist tuna, ignoring reports that the fish smelled rancid. However, his political career continued as he was elected Speaker of the House in 1986 — a position he held for almost eight years.      

Sinclair Stevens

Another member of Mulroney's cabinet, Sinclair Stevens, resigned from his position as minister of regional industrial expansion amid conflict of interest allegations. Stevens was accused of being involved in approving federal funds for auto parts maker Magna International, which gave a $2.6 million loan to a company owned by Stevens's family. In 1987, a public inquiry ruled there was a conflict of interest, but a federal court judge overturned that decision years later, in 2004.     

Bernard Valcourt

Most recently, Bernard Valcourt was minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development in the Harper government before it was defeated in 2015. But two decades ago, in 1989, Valcourt was minister of consumer and corporate affairs in Brian Mulroney's government and resigned after pleading guilty to impaired driving. 

Valcourt made a comeback to Mulroney's cabinet in February 1990, becoming minister of fisheries and oceans and then serving as minister of employment and immigration and minister of labour.    

Conservative Bernard Valcourt resigned as minister of consumer and corporate affairs in Brian Mulroney's cabinet in 1989 after pleading guilty to drinking and driving. He later returned to hold several cabinet positions. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)



  • A previous version of this story identified one of the former cabinet ministers as Helen Guergis. In fact, her name is Helena Guergis.
    Jun 01, 2016 4:53 PM ET

With files from The Canadian Press