Former Canadian Minister and Jew Admits Afghan War is All About the Drug Trade

National Post

From Julie Couillard’s

My Couillard, Geroge W. Bush and Maxime Bernier pose for a photograph in September, 2007.

Maxime Bernier saw himself more as a movie star than a politician. His haircut, his skin tone, the neatness of his necktie knot and the pleats of his trousers — in other words, the image he projected — ranked much higher on his list of priorities than the fate of Darfur or the war in Iraq. He was more vain than 10 Hollywood actors put together. Image was an obsession with him. I remember at one point, an Ottawa daily newspaper — or a magazine, I forget which — drew up a list of the best-dressed federal Cabinet ministers. Peter MacKay topped the poll. Maxime was deeply upset by this. He went straight to his good friend Eric Boyko for fashion advice, which included wearing a pocket square and similar affectations. Boyko even gave him the address of his tailor.

All in all, Maxime was quite full of himself, and extremely superficial. He didn’t seem particularly conscious of his responsibilities, and I never saw him deeply absorbed in his dossiers. He wasn’t interested in such things; in fact, I think that apathy in large part explains the gaffes he committed during his time as minister of foreign affairs. He displayed a surprising degree of intellectual laziness for a politician in a position such as his.

There are people in politics — too few of them, mind you, but they do exist — whose positions are well founded. They ascribe to a vision, to a specific worldview, to clear-cut principles. Maxime Bernier was decidedly not one of them. To him, politics was essentially about charm. Countless times, I heard him say to me, just before an assembly, meeting or other event, “It’s going to be fine, just watch. I’m about to turn on the charm.”

Maxime said things in private that were surprising, coming from the mouth of the minister of foreign affairs of a country so committed, as Canada is, to the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. For one thing, he was personally opposed to the posting of Canadian troops in that country. And, in his opinion, the war in Afghanistan had nothing to do with the struggle to replace dictatorship with democracy, nor was it a conflict pitting the values of freedom against those of religious fanaticism; in his mind, it was purely and simply a battle for control of the worldwide heroin trade. Nothing more. He said this to me on numerous occasions.

So it should come as no surprise that he regarded his trip to Afghanistan in the fall of 2007 (when he infamously handed out Jos. Louis cakes to Canadian soldiers) so frivolously. Maxime had told me that a Beauce-born soldier in the Royal 22e Regiment had written to his riding office and asked whether some of the cream-filled chocolate cakes, which are made in Sainte-Marie de Beauce, could be sent to his unit. But there is a world of difference between shipping a crate of cakes to the front and handing them out one by one to soldiers, as Maxime did. He later explained to me that it hadn’t been his idea; according to him, a young communications consultant from the Prime Minister’s Office who had accompanied him to Afghanistan had thought of it, and told him, “You should pass the Jos. Louis round to the soldiers; it’ll look good on TV.”

Right. You’re standing before a group of soldiers who every day run the risk of being caught in a firefight or blowing themselves up on a mine, and all you do to show them compassion and encouragement is hand out a bunch of chocolate cakes. It came off as a tacky backwoods politician move. You’d think he would have seen that one coming.

The one thing that completely flabbergasted me, and that I still can’t quite believe, was the day he expressed his opinion on Quebec and the Constitution. It was one of the last times we saw each other. We were sitting together one evening at Cafe Ferreira in downtown Montreal. The tables there are so close to each other that even the most mildly curious of patrons can easily hear any number of conversations. Maxime had waved to and briefly chatted with a man he knew, who was seated four or five tables away.

Then he started going on about how an independent Quebec was inevitable, and that he was getting ready for it.

“What?” I said. “Hold on, I’m not sure I heard you right. You, a federal minister?”

“Of course, it doesn’t frighten me at all, that’s where we’re headed. It’s obvious. And I have no problem with that. I’m ready. I’m expecting it.”

The people at the next table, who had recognized him and heard every word he’d just said, nearly choked on their soup. – From My Story by Julie Couillard. In stores now. Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.


Couillard explains how Bernier’s confidential documents ended up in her house


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