“What ever happened over just one night?” One on one with Julie Couillard

By Beryl Wajsman on October 16, 2008

She was never charged with any crime. She was never the object of any complaint. She’s lived her life openly and transparently. But in the public life of this country, anyone can be targeted if they can be abused for political gain to get at someone else. The math in politics is simple. Add two plus two and make sure it equals five. And if you can’t make the numbers dance, get the media to help you. That’s very much the message that Julie Couillard makes clear in how she became a pawn in the chess game of politics.

We met last week in the offices of her French-language publisher in Montreal. The Metropolitain is the first non-daily paper to be accorded an interview with Ms. Couillard following the publication of her book My Story (published by McClelland and Stewart in English) and Mon Histoire (published by l’Éditions de l’Homme in French).

Looking in command in a tailored pantsuit with a French-cuffed dress shirt, Julie Couillard took a direct, no nonsense approach to the “tsunami” , as she put it, that has taken over her life. As much as she is bewildered and angry at former boyfriend, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier’s almost non-existent defence of her after Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe’s “revelations” in the House about her past, she is just as angry at the media for being complicit in this storm. “What ever happened over just one night?” she asked rhetorically.

She referred to the fact that for seven months, accompanying Bernier, she had been friendly and talkative with journalists. They knew her history. They knew of the marriage to one former biker and her affair with another. This was not news. And it was in the past. How is it, she wants to know, that as soon as Duceppe began to talk, these very same journalists reverted to false piety and claimed shock and surprise? The lurid headlines were just to sell newspapers?

She also insists that Bernier knew of her past, and cannot understand why for days after this story broke he would not take her calls. She said that one of the reasons she went on television was that she felt very much alone and abandoned and was fed up with the portrayals of herself as a “biker chick” or a “Mata Hari”. She needed to get her story out.

One of the most interesting, and almost innocent, parts of the book is of course the story of how Bernier left sensitive documents in her home. He had come over and was cleaning out his briefcase. He asked her to put some papers in the garbage among which were the documents. The garbage pick-up on her street was not for a day or two after that weekend. So they stayed in her home. By the beginning of that week Duceppe had brought in the storm clouds.

She vigorously denies that she wrote the book and did all the interviews for revenge. She states emphatically that it was just to establish the facts. There was never any bad blood between her and Bernier even after this past January when the intimacy in their relationship ended but she still accompanied him to official functions through April. She says that though many have described her as “enraged” at Bernier’s failure to come to her defence, she is as much “disappointed” as anything else.

Couillard actually gives us much to think about in her book. Including the very important point that when politicians cheapen themselves to make political capital on the bones of innocent taxpayers it is a “mark of profound duplicity and shallowness” in our public life and exhibits a “total lack of decency”.

There is one other issue that Julie Couillard wants us to think about. The dress! Yes, you know, that dress. She wants us all to ask ourselves if it is really conceivable that with all the noise “that dress” made a year ago; with all the attention she got and with the admission from the RCMP that they knew her name years ago because of her ex-husband’s past, is it really believable that no one — including Bernier — knew anything about her past until Duceppe started to talk? Or was it just a convenient time to twist the truth because some politicians saw a way to gain some points as we got closer to an election? And reporters found an easy story to sell more papers, the truth be damned.


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