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Guergis accuses PMO of smear campaign; Harper remains unapologetic

Helena Guergis holds back her emotions while speaking to reporters at her campaign office in Collingwood, Ont., Friday, April 15, 2011.


Helena Guergis blames Stephen Harper's office for orchestrating a smear campaign that got her ousted from cabinet and caucus.

"It was the Prime Minister's Office communications office that was on a destructive campaign perpetrating the false allegations that have damaged my reputation," she said.

In a sometimes-teary news conference in Collingwood, Ont., in her Simcoe-Grey riding, Ms. Guergis said she begged the Prime Minister for an explanation for her ejection from the party, to no avail.

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"I pleaded with Mr. Harper to tell what he thought I had done wrong in order to be able to address these allegations head on and to be able to defend myself.

"Unfortunately, he refused."

The RCMP cleared Ms. Guergis and her husband, Rahim Jaffer, but Ms. Guergis was never asked back into the Tory fold.

When asked Friday whether he owed Ms. Guergis an apology - after allegations of drug abuse, wild partying and attempts to secure illegal contracts all proved unfounded - Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was unrepentant.

"There were, as you know well, a range of political problems around this individual," he told reporters in Thornhill, outside Toronto. "They have been discussed by members of caucus. There is simply no desire to see the return of this individual to caucus...the decision is now in the hands of the riding."

The Conservatives are running a candidate of their own against Ms. Guergis in Simcoe- Grey.

Well before the unsubstantiated allegations, Ms. Guergis had courted controversy over an alleged temper tantrum at Charlottetown Airport, reported confrontations with staff, and allegations that Mr. Jaffer had used her office for his own business purposes.

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Ms. Guergis says her life has been turned upside down unfairly and without due process.

The Globe and other media obtained a copy of a letter sent last spring from Ray Novak, principal secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, that forwarded concerns about Ms. Guergis and her husband.

"The allegations are numerous and include fraud, extortion, obtaining benefits by false pretences and involvement in prostitution," the April 9, 2010, letter reads.

Mr. Novak added the Prime Minister's Office had "no first-hand knowledge of these allegations," but said private investigator Derrick Snowdy "has collected evidence to corroborate his allegations. … I understand that Mr. Snowdy says the information was already shared with the RCMP and the OPP, but I wanted to ensure that you are aware of it."

Mr. Harper, who asked Ms. Guergis to resign from her post as minister of state for the status of women that week, said at the time he did so acting on "serious allegations about the former minister's comportment" forwarded to him by Mr. Snowdy.

But despite the letter's suggestion otherwise, Mr. Snowdy told a parliamentary committee in last May he had no evidence linking Ms. Guergis to criminal activity.

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"The concern here is optics," Mr. Snowdy said at the time. He raised his concerns with Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton late in the day April 8, but said later he was "not very happy with the characterization of that conversation."

PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas wouldn't comment Friday.

"Information was given to us," he said. "We passed that information to the authorities. The authorities dealt with it."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff weighed in, saying the Guergis affair illustrates Mr. Harper's poor judgment.

"The issue is not Helena Guergis. The issue was the lobbying conduct of her husband," he said at a campaign stop in Ottawa. "The thing that is astounding to me is the Prime Minister's judgment. You cashier a member of your own caucus, but you keep in your inner circle, in the Prime Minister's own office, a man five times convicted of fraud - Mr. [Bruce]Carson - who then gets accused of influence peddling. The issue here in the Guergis and in the Carson affairs is the judgment of the Prime Minister of Canada and he's shown astoundingly pour judgment in both cases."

With reports from John Ibbitson and Bill Curry

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