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Helena Guergis affair puts dignity in doghouse

1. No double standard? The mocking "dog" cover on the Toronto Sun this weekend comparing Helena Guergis to a black mutt and other coverage of the Guergis affair is stirring up controversy. Still, there is a view that Ms. Guergis was treated no differently than a man would have been treated under similar circumstances.

The embattled former cabinet minister left her post Friday and was kicked out of the Conservative caucus amid an RCMP investigation.

"I think most of this is self-inflicted, and if a guy had done the same serious things we'd be, I think, having the same story," Carole Taylor, the former finance minister of British Columbia and long-time broadcaster, told CTV's Question Period yesterday.

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"I'm not someone who sits back and bemoans women's fate in terms of how they're treated by the press. I think she was treated the way we would treat a guy that did such foolish things."

In fact, Ms. Taylor believes the more serious issue is that the Guergis saga simply reinforces "the negative image of politicians."

She said she attended a national retreat over the weekend in which she was trying to encourage women to run for politics. "And they're looking at this and saying, are you kidding me? Like, are you kidding me? Why would anyone do that?

"So I think the long-term effect is such a negative one when we're trying to raise the dignity of being a politician."

And with a report in The Globe this morning noting that Ms. Guergis dined with her husband, Rahim Jaffer, and a business associate at the centre of this scandal, we're sure to see all that dignity on display later today in the House of Commons as MPs return for their first Question Period since the Easter break.

2. Helena, Hillary and the polls. Helena Guergis's woes and Hillary Clinton's rebukes have not hurt Stephen Harper's Conservatives, according to a new national opinion poll that shows them moving up with a substantial lead over Michael Ignatieff's Liberals.

The Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday has the Conservatives with 37 per cent support compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals - a 10-point gap and three-point gain for the Tories from the firm's last poll. The NDP would receive 15 per cent of the vote; the Green Party would get 10 per cent and the Bloc is also at 10 per cent.

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Although the poll was conducted between April 6 and 8, before Ms. Guergis left cabinet Friday amid an RCMP investigation, her problems leading up to then had been very well-publicized.

The Guergis affair and the now famous public rebukes from the U.S. Secretary of State (the Arctic; including abortion as part of the G8 maternal health initiative) could have had a negative impact on the Tories; they did not. At least not yet - but neither did the recent high-profile Liberal thinkers conference give the Ignatieff team any bump.

Meanwhile, Ipsos-Reid pollster John Wright sees no election soon. He suggests at trip to the ballot box won't take place until after the new bill creating 30 more seats in the House of Commons becomes law.

Under the legislation, which is now before Parliament, 18 of the new seats would go to Ontario; seven would go to British Columbia and five to Alberta. Quebec would get none - and this has caused controversy and an outcry from the Bloc Quebecois.

"The political numbers in the polls are simple to read," Mr. Wright says. "It's a stalemate in perpetual motion."

Indeed, other national opinion polls have shown a lesser gap but still put Tory support in the low to mid-30s. For nearly three months, for example, EKOS data has shown the Conservatives stalled below the 35 per cent support mark.

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"Nothing changes because there is no room to move," Mr. Wright says. "It's a minority all the time because without the Tories and Liberals being able to make inroads in Quebec, the only battleground is the 401 in Ontario - and whoever wins that won't get a majority."

Indeed, the new Ipsos-Reid poll shows the Bloc with 42 per cent support in Quebec compared to 23 per cent for the Liberals and 20 per cent for the Tories. So his thesis is that a "fundamental shift" in political thinking has to take place. And that shift may be to "write off Quebec" and open a new front.

That can only happen with the seat creation in the new bill. "I don't think there will be any rush to an election under after [the bill]passes - at least if the Harper folks have anything to do with it."

The Ipsos poll of 1,003 Canadians has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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