Assistant fails minister

What crosses your mind when a federal minister gets into hot water for misplacing a sensitive government document in one week, and then the next is unknowingly reported to be caught on a recording, commenting on the performance of a fellow minister?

What crosses your mind when a federal minister gets into hot water for misplacing a sensitive government document in one week, and then the next is unknowingly reported to be caught on a recording, commenting on the performance of a fellow minister?

You might conclude Lisa Raitt, minister of natural resources, is at a career crossroads, so to speak.

Maybe so, but if that’s all it took to sink a minister, there would be a lot more of them on the scrap heap of history.

The situation does look bad. Raitt was accused of racking up big expense bills in a former job, and then recently lost a staff member over the mishandling of secret documents.

Unfortunately, that same staff member, Jasmine MacDonnell (Raitt’s director of communications), has a habit of misplacing sensitive items. Her recorder was the source of the story, it having ended up in the hands of a reporter for the Halifax Chronicle.

What are the odds? MacDonnell left secret government documents at the CTV Ottawa bureau for days. Then, while the furor over that was just dying down (MacDonnell resigned over the incident), Chronicle writer Steve Maher took it upon himself to listen to the contents of her recorder, which was given to him by someone who found it in a women’s washroom.

The person who found the recorder apparently only listened to enough content to recognize Maher’s voice and thought the recorder was his.

Raitt’s conversation was made way back in January, when the shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear power plant was creating a shortage of waste isotopes that are needed in medical imaging.

Raitt’s conversation makes her sound like someone who really likes her job — and her politics — rough.

She referred to the Chalk River issue as “sexy” because it was difficult, and stories about it contain words like “radioactive” and “cancer.”

She said Health Minister Leona Aglukark was a capable minister, but she comes from a culture of co-operative government in the north. Nothing like that here, right?

Raitt, for her part, likes politics as red meat.

“They’re terrified of the issues,” Raitt is quoted from the recording. “You know what? Good. Because when we win on this we get all the credit. I’m ready to roll the dice on this. This (the Chalk River isotope crisis) is an easy one. You know what solves this problem? Money. And if it’s about money, we’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not a moral issue,” she said.

Well, the moral issue has become Raitt relishing “cancer” as a career opportunity.

Worth noting here is the moral issue of someone in Ottawa being honest enough to return a recorder to its owner without dumping it (even though the person did give it to Maher by mistake). Reporter Maher contacted MacDonnell to say he had her recorder, but MacDonnell never came around to pick it up. He says he didn’t listen to its contents until after MacDonnell had resigned.

If you found a powerful person’s notebook, informed the owner, who never came by to get it back, would you eventually read it? Probably, especially if you’re a reporter. If there was a news story in that, which revealed the character of a member of cabinet, would you publish?

Darn right, and you could do so honourably.

This is how our quasi-open society works. We have been given a glimpse of a powerful person’s character and the picture isn’t all negative. Raitt looks like someone who would work hard to do a good performance at a difficult job, as long as the rewards were there.

Sounds like someone you’d want on your team, right? At least minus the fumbling communications director.

That’s what crosses my mind when I read this story.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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