Our story of the year: All Helena, all the time…

It’s only appropriate that while 2010 spent its first half kicking the stuffing out of Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis, that it would deliver life’s greatest blessing toward its end.

While Helena and her hubby Rahim Jaffer can revel in the joyous occasion of their birth of their son, Zavier, last Wednesday, 2010 has not been kind to this once-Ottawa power couple – especially the former Conservative, now Independent Conservative, Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Grey.

It’s Helena’s dizzying fall from grace that’s earned her, at least in my unlearned opinion, the title of our 2010 story of the year, and made her our top newsmaker.

Early in the year, the couple were awaiting the outcome of Jaffer’s brush with the law in September, 2009, his late night roadside run-in with the Caledon OPP that resulted in charges of impaired driving and cocaine possession. While his case was mired in procedure the remainder of the year, the results – a $500 fine and a guilty plea to careless driving – came two weeks after Guergis’ alleged ‘meltdown’ at the Charlottetown Airport became public.

The dominoes were starting to topple.

Jaffer’s plea arrangement came March 9; on March 23, I made what turned out to be a fateful call to Guergis’ executive assistant in Collingwood, Jessica Craven, to ask about letters written by a ‘Jessica Morgan’ that were, shall we say, ‘astroturfing’ the Member’s record.

The ‘letters’ story was interesting for us as a community paper, falling on a day that was between a layout day and a publishing day – but there was no question it was going to be big; we just didn’t realize how big it would be. It was posted the initial story on our website and our parent Canoe website a few minutes after 11 a.m. I had gone out on an assignment, coming back to the office around 12:15 (and having a meeting with Jessica, in which she acknowledged writing the letters), and then the phone calls started: CBC, Global, CTV, Canwest. At 3 p.m., Liberal MP Wayne Easter stood up in the House of Commons to ask a question about it.

The Enterprise-Bulletin had broken a national story, and there hadn’t even been a single drop of ink on paper.

Following my interview that night with Tom Clark on his PowerPlay show on CTV’s Newsnet, Clark turns to his panel and makes the comment: “How much worse can life get for her?”

Well, it did. The next week, The Toronto Star published the first of a series of stories by Kevin Donovan documenting a shady business relationship Jaffer was purportedly involved in – including meetings featuring busty hookers – and at that point the wheels came off. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent the next week defending the MP before pulling the rug, having her resign as Minister of State for the Status of Women and booting her from the party.

The Prime Minister cited “serious allegations” he referred to the RCMP and Ethics Commissioner – allegations, by the way, that the PM has never truly outlined, and for which both Guergis and Jaffer have been cleared of by the RCMP.

And in the middle of this there were other stories: the Ottawa Citizen wrote about the couple’s $800,000 mortgage on a home in Ottawa; the blogosphere questioned the legitimacy of Guergis’ MBA from the University of Alberta.

All in all, it wasn’t a tremendously great first six months for Guergis and Jaffer; even an interview in May on the National with Peter Mansbridge was mocked after Guergis appeared to cry without shedding any tears.

The last six months, though, have represented a bit of a turnaround for Guergis, especially after she was cleared by the RCMP. The Charlottetown Airport video didn’t appear as damning as it was originally purported to be, and a poll conducted by ‘disaffected’ Conservatives indicated Guergis would make it a tight election race if she chose to run as an Independent candidate in Simcoe-Grey.

What does 2011 hold for the couple? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

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