April 15, 2011 / 5:30 PM / 6 years ago

Lurid political scandal returns to dog Canadian PM

<p>New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton (L) debates with Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe during the French-language leaders' debate in Ottawa April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Kilpatrick/Pool</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s prime minister suffered an embarrassing moment on the election trail on Friday when a former minister tearfully blasted him for firing her over unfounded stories about drug use and prostitution.

The sight of Helena Guergis weeping on national television could make it harder for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to attract women voters ahead of the May 2 election.

Polls show his Conservatives are set to retain power but perhaps not with the majority of seats he is seeking.

Harper booted Guergis out of cabinet in April 2010 over what he said were serious allegations of misconduct and called for a police probe. Although police later decided there was no case to answer, Harper kept Guergis at arm’s length and refused to detail the allegations against her.

Under access to information legislation, Guergis received a letter that a Harper aide had sent to police mentioning allegations she had been involved in fraud, extortion and had even snorted cocaine off the breasts of a prostitute.

“There was a concerted effort to perpetrate lies and smear my good name ... this of course is the worst kind of politics,” said Guergis, who accused Harper of ignoring her loyalty and undemocratically expelling her from Conservative ranks.

“Not only was it made to seem that I was guilty of conduct that has never been disclosed to me -- going against the very core of what our principles of justice are built on -- the prime minister’s office still made it seem as though I was guilty of something even after I had been proven innocent.”

<p>Canada's Minister of State for Status of Women Helena Guergis pauses while speaking during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 31, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

At the time of her firing Guergis was a junior minister in charge of the status of women. She is now running as an independent candidate in Ontario.

Guergis said she would try to rejoin the Conservative parliamentary caucus, “but perhaps under a different leader”.

Harper, who has a somewhat cold and uncompromising style that polls show can deter women voters, made it clear Guergis had no chance of being welcomed back.

“There were a range of political problems around this individual ... there is simply no desire to see the return of this individual to our caucus,” he told reporters before Guergis spoke.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said the affair showed “astoundingly poor judgment” by Harper, who was also embarrassed last month when it turned out that a former senior aide had had several fraud convictions.

“I think there’s a drip, drip, drip of issues here which are slowly beginning to fill up the bathtub,” Ignatieff said.

“At a certain point the water is going to get up there and Canadians are going to say ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t add up, this doesn’t make sense, this is not right, and we need a change in government’,” he told reporters.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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