Ottawa Citizen

‘Sordid little inquiries’ no longer

- DON MARTIN

Julie Couillard is not just a pretty face anymore, innocently serving as the eye candy in a cabinet minister’s photo-ops.

The question now: is she a spectator or a perpetrato­r in the increasing­ly queasy interactio­ns between criminal, political and developmen­t interests in a Quebec City building project?

The suspicion that Couillard targeted a federal cabinet minister’s aide and dated another minister to further her employer’s developmen­t interests is gaining momentum as non-stop revelation­s feed a frenzy of demands for a deeper probe of her assorted affairs.

This has been a bad week for the former girlfriend to former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, who revealed the minister’s forgotten secret documents last month and, by doing so, sentenced him to life on the powerless backbenche­s. She was publicly named as a “known” person by RCMP at a committee this week, which brings with it the stigma of criminal implicatio­n if not conviction, even though her status as a investigat­ed security risk was not disclosed.

But public sentiment toward her soured after Couillard’s biker gang and political lobbying efforts embarrasse­d Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, who scrambled to fire a top aide Tuesday night after learning Bernard Côté’s relationsh­ip with Couillard included business discussion­s.

That’s when a random dating pattern seemed to jell into a potential purpose.

Kevlar Group Inc., a Montreal real estate company bidding on a massive Quebec City building project, had initially denied her status as a realtor employee, but now admits she was on the payroll for unspecifie­d purposes.

That might explain why she was suddenly widely seen in Montreal political circles and wily enough to know that making a $1,000 Conservati­ve party donation, even with a rubber cheque, was the key to getting invitation­s for up-close schmoozing with eligible ministers and their staff.

But while that may explain how she earned a salary, that doesn’t mean security concerns in the Couillard caper have been put to rest. There is no longer almost a decade of separation between her Hells Angels biker gang connection­s and political entangleme­nts.

The gap is down to a year, perhaps less, between her last known shady boyfriend and her political dating debut, which included dinners with the prime minister, the public safety minister and having her photo taken with U.S. President George W Bush.

The only fixed position in this increasing­ly complicate­d soap opera belongs to the federal government, which continues to insist an internal Foreign Affairs investigat­ion is sufficient and to dismiss opposition questions about her dating history as tabloid trash.

The internal investigat­ion, now being footdragge­d until MPs adjourn for the summer next week, seemed an adequate initial response when this was simply a forgotten document story.

But the minute it was revealed her private relationsh­ip with an aide and a minister may have had a deliberate business purpose, particular­ly in a city where political benefits tend to flow based on personal connection­s, Couillard’s personal life became fair game for Commons curiosity.

Sure, some elements perplex. Bernier and Fortier do not get along personally or politicall­y, so attempting to use one to influence the other was futile. But the point is that Couillard’s circumstan­ces have evolved — and the government line dismissing all other party questions as “sordid little inquiries” has not.

That stonewalli­ng perception hasn’t been helped by having all summoned Conservati­ve MPs refuse to appear before next week’s Commons committee that will feature Couillard’s testimony if she agrees to show up, which seems increasing­ly doubtful.

The dots no longer line up as a straightfo­rward connection. They zigzag through Conservati­ve fundraiser­s, into MP offices, through a senior minister’s heart and off into the world of political arm-twisting.

Now that Couillard’s biker gang history, political romances and related business interests have collided in a spectacula­r three-ringed media circus, arguments for a deeper probe no longer sound like a partisan witchhunt.

A beautiful woman working ministeria­l connection­s in a realm where the fastest way to a politician’s brain is through his zipper means this story has not yet been put to bed.

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