Saturday, April 16, 2011

Helena Guergis deserves better, Mr. Harper

Suppose the Toronto Star realized that their company’s management was mostly male and began an effort to move more qualified women into leadership. Let’s say a good reporter was moved into position as a department editor and that she was doing well and was asked to serve on the task force charged with mentoring and promoting women within the company. Now, if she were suddenly dismissed from her editorial position and demoted back to being a reporter, don’t you think the company would need to give the reason? Wouldn’t the optics require it? And what if later she was sent to work for a smaller newspaper in the chain—wouldn’t that look terribly unfair? Wouldn’t someone need to give a reason for these decisions? So if the Prime Minister of Canada dismisses the Minister for the Status of Women and then ejects her from caucus, shouldn’t he have to give a reason? And shouldn’t that reason be something more substantive than rumours and criminal allegations completely dismissed by the RCMP? Now that his report of “serious allegations” have tarnished Helena Guergis’s reputation and caused her significant grief, stress (during per pregnancy) and unwanted publicity, shouldn’t Stephen Harper do something to make this right?

You can click here to see an excellent summary of the Helena Guergis story, but I’d like you to view this interview of Helena Guergis herself. Watch closely when the counter gets to 4:47 and the reporter begins asking Guergis about the cross she’s wearing. Do you think that was fair?
[I want to thank J MacShimmie who posted this video and then asked if I would write an op-ed. I don’t usually do politics, but there is a real intersection of faith and culture happening here.]

Helena Guergis is looking for redemption and that seems fair given that she has done nothing wrong. No evidence has ever been presented to the RCMP or to the public to substantiate what the prime minister has said or the rumours that his office leaked to the press about her. The reality is that Stephen Harper has seriously damaged the reputation of this woman for a motive which is still unclear. If he was CEO of the Toronto Star, if this was corporate Canada, I doubt that he would get away with this demotion and public humiliation of a high ranking member of the executive team. To my mind, this action is clearly sexist. Guergis was Minister for the Status of Women—if you’re going to demote and then remove her from caucus, you ought to have a substantial reason that can be announced, something other than baseless character assassination.

This was quite a good interview, but then suddenly CBC reporter Carole MacNeil decides to question Helena Guergis about the cross she’s wearing (4:47). What do you think about this questioning? Do you think it was fair? Relevant?

CBC Anchor Carole MacNeil: Ms. Guergis I notice when we see you, uh, recently, that you’ve been wearing this cross around your neck more prominently than you had in the past, what’s the significance of that?

cbcnn_hgi.mp4_000292059Helena Guergis: Actually Carol, that’s not true at all. This is a cross that I was given by my grandfather who is a Reverend, and I’ve been wearing it around my neck since I was 14 years old.

MacNeil: OK. No it’s just I say we’re noticing it more now than we ever had in the past –  I’m not suggesting that you put it on for any other reason,  but I was just curious what it means to you.

Guergis: Well, you have to look to your faith, when you go through a difficult situation, and you know God only gives you what you can handle.

MacNeil: (Long pause.) Alright. (Pause) And are you handling this? Do you think you can handle this?

Guergis: Yeah… Yeah, I think I am. Yeah. It’s difficult, but we’ll get through it…

Personally, I do wonder why MacNeil went after the cross even after it had been asked and answered. I think Helena Guergis gave a pretty solid Christian answer. Difficult life situations often do deepen our faith and cause us to turn to God with a growing trust. It is that hope that somehow God will redeem even the most difficult circumstances that gets us through. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Back in June 2010, Guergis told Jane Taber (Globe and Mail) she believes that what is happening to her is for a “greater purpose.” “I keep telling myself that,” she said. “I don’t know what it is at this point, but I do continue to go back to my faith… It’s a challenge and every day I turn around and say, ‘What is it going to be tomorrow?’”

Since MacNeil can go after Helena Guergis’s faith, how about we have some other reporter go after Stephen Harper’s faith—he claims to be a Christian, doesn’t he? Does Christianity have anything to say about gossip,Stephen Harper sweater spreading lies and treating someone so poorly? As Bishop Fred Henry said so famously to Jean Chretien, “When you’re prime minister, you can’t take off your faith at the door like it was a sweater” [paraphrased from memory]. I suspect Jesus was talking to politicians too when he said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). Guergis said Harper would not meet with her, would not disclose the allegations and did not give her a chance to defend herself. Now that she has been cleared by the RCMP and Freedom of Information requests have shown that the prime minister had no evidence to support the criminal allegations he raised against her, isn’t it time for Mr. Harper to do the right thing? His handlers may have decided against it, but isn’t it time for Stephen Harper to put his sweater back on?

Perhaps, I should have finished with that previous line, but here’s the deal with scandals. The news focuses our attention so much on so few details about the person that we lose sight of the bigger picture of who this person is, what else they’ve done and whatever we used to think about them. While researching for this post, I stumbled across this great video of Ricker Mercer’s “interview” with Helena Guergis in her riding, Simcoe-Grey. I think you’ll find it quite entertaining, especially if you watch through to the last couple minutes. Personally, I think this time spent with Rick Mercer gives us a truer, more fair picture of who Helena Guergis really is than Harper’s baseless accusations and all the headlines spun from that a year ago. I, for one, vote for redeeming Ms. Guergis and lifting the cloud of suspicion—seems like a good Christian response.
    x   Ken Symes


  1. Great writing, Ken. You're right about Stephen Harper needing to put his sweater back on. He has ruined her and for what? The Rick Mercer video is a great way to remind people that Helena Guergis is a real person who deserves better treatment than what Harper has given her. As it turns out Mercer is far more "Christian" toward Helena than our Christian PM!

  2. I forgot to mention in the post that when CBC News Channel repeated this interview at 2:30 and 3:30 (and so on), they dropped out the part where the reporter repeatedly questions Helena Guergis about wearing a cross. Wonder why they redacted that...

  3. I forgot to mention when CBC News Channel repeated this interview at 2:30 (and so on), they dropped out the part where the reporter repeatedly questions Helena Guergis about wearing a cross. Wonder why they redacted that...

  4. All the leaders are the same, they attack each other but if put in the same situation would probably do the same thing. I don't know the whole story but as leader Harper can call the shots of who he wants in his party. It could backfire but I hope Harper gets in with a majority. Nobody wanted this election in the first place.



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