Next minister dragged into Raitt tape controversy: Jim Prentice

OTTAWA — Yet another federal minister has been subjected to a less than flattering assessment from Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, as Conservatives brace for what else might emerge from her audiotaped musings.

OTTAWA — Yet another federal minister has been subjected to a less than flattering assessment from Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, as Conservatives brace for what else might emerge from her audiotaped musings.

The latest subject of Raitt’s off-the-cuff utterances into an inconveniently placed tape recorder: Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Sources familiar with the five hours of audiotape obtained by a Halifax newspaper say Raitt suggests her colleague is pandering to Alberta’s oil sands.

Two sources say Raitt is heard speaking dismissively about the environment minister, and one says she refers specifically to policy that favours oil companies.

It would be a particularly surprising observation because Raitt is responsible for defending the oil sands, while Prentice is responsible for reducing Canada’s carbon emissions.

That news comes one day after another snippet of tape surfaced in which Raitt questioned the abilities of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

“This will be the gift that keeps on giving,” was the sarcastic assessment from one government official.

“What else is on these five hours?”

He says the Conservatives are prepared to weather more unwanted headlines from a five-hour audio tape obtained by the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

In the first such story, the newspaper quoted Raitt suggesting the health minister would be incapable of dealing with a political hot potato. This was before Aglukkaq won plaudits even from political opponents for the way she handled the swine flu panic.

Both of the colleagues discussed on the tape rallied to Raitt’s defence Tuesday.

Aglukkaq did it in the House of Commons and, before news emerged that he’d also come up in the recording, Prentice did it with reporters on Parliament Hill.

The environment minister praised the way Raitt had handled a medical isotope crisis triggered by problems at the nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont.

“(Raitt) is a very hard working minister on a very difficult file and she’s a valued colleague,” Prentice said outside the Commons.

”She has been working very hard on this issue from the time that she became a minister.”

Colleagues have, in fact, raved about Raitt’s performance around the cabinet table.

A mere eight months into her career as an elected politician, several are already touting her as a future leadership contender — provided that she becomes fluent in French.

Two ministers have described Raitt’s interventions around the table as smart and well-researched.

The former head of Toronto’s port authority has also impressed peers with witty, unscripted responses in House of Commons debates where others plod awkwardly through pre-written crib sheets.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has staked his own political capital on helping her weather the current controversy.

The prime minister leapt to his feet in an energetic defence of his minister Tuesday, and there wasn’t a word of apology from the Tory benches for Raitt’s musings that the medical crisis could help her career.

Harper has been less forgiving of other ministers.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was forced to make an immediate, late-night apology before a phalanx of TV cameras during last fall’s federal election when news emerged that he’d joked about the Listeria crisis.

Maxime Bernier was dumped as foreign affairs minister when he left documents at his girlfriend’s house.

One Conservative staffer said the document fiasco was a handy pretext to dump the under-performing Bernier — and that Raitt is in a different league.

“Look, she’s a competent minister, she’s a woman, and she’s from Ontario,” he said.

“You don’t throw her under the bus unless you absolutely have to. … Do you really want to sacrifice a capable, female, Ontario cabinet minister unless you absolutely have to?”

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