Passengers behaving badly: Hon. Helena Guergis, PC, MP

Helen Guergis (right), Minister of state for Status of Women, stands beside Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, as they take part in a Walk For The Cure event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 17, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

On February 19th, junior minister Helena Guergis lost her cool after she arrived late for her flight, and was directed through the usual gamut of security screenings.  She proceeded to throw a tantrum, treating security screeners and airline personnel in an abrasive manner that would have had her barred from the flight, if she were anything other than a Minister of the Crown.  The details were unveiled in an anonymous fax sent to Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter (Liberal-Malpeque).

(I apologise in advance for quoting its entirety, but the letter ought to be read to be fully grasped.  No media account I have seen thus far manages to convey all of the details as soberly as the original author does.)

On February 19th at the Charlottetown Airport, Air Canada Jazz staff was informed via telephone that a certain “V.I.P.” would be late arriving for Air Canada Flight #7677 to Montreal.  The flight was scheduled to be in the air at 1725hrs with a flight load of thirty two passengers.

At 1720 hrs thirty of the thirty two passengers had already boarded the plane.  The two remaining passengers, Conservative MP and Minister of State for the Status of Women Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Emily Goucher were at the Air Canada counter being so difficult and rude to Air Canada representative Alan Bagley that he almost refused to allow them to board to spite their “V.I.P.” status.  They berated him loudly and treated him in a most condescending manner after he told them some of their excessive bags were too large to be carry-on and should be checked.  At one point the Hon. Helena Guergis told Mr. Bagley that she “….knew Ron McKinley”. Apparently she wasn’t aware that as Minister of Transportation Mr. McKinley was not in charge of carry-on baggage, more’s the pity.

At 1720 hrs. inside the preboard screening area, five minutes before the time when the flight was scheduled to be in the air, Air Canada representative Sonja MacMillan paged both Hon. Helena Guergis and Ms. Goucher over the P.A. and after having waited considerably for them already, proceeded to the aircraft with her paperwork.

At 1725 hrs., flight time, Hon. Helena Guergis and Ms. Goucher started into the preboard area to be screened by the security staff.  When asked to remove her overcoat she compiled, but refused to remove her blazer, and when informed that her footwear might set off the walk through metal detector, she refused to remove them as well.  After proceeding through the metal detector, she alarmed it and was screened by Screening Officer Melissa Murnaghan.  She was asked to sit down and remove her footwear at this point due to the fact that they had caused the alarm.  At this point the Hon. Helena Guergis took a seat and huffily started to remove her footwear, upon their removal she slammed her boots into the bin provided by Ms. Murnaghan and then the Minister of State for the Status of Women said to Ms. Murnaghan, a single mother working to support herself and her son, “Happy Fucking Birthday to me!  I guess I’m stuck on this hell hole!”  Ms. Murnaghan, in a credit to her professionalism, did not reply to this comment, nor did the other screening staff on duty; Donald Wood, John Birt, Andrew MacEwan, Wanda Chinery, or Andrew Williams.  Ms. Murnaghan then put the footwear through the X-ray machine.

As the footwear cleared the X-ray conveyor, Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted at her aide Ms. Goucher to “Get those for me! I’m not walking around here in sock feet!.”

Having then cleared mandatory security screening without further incident, and having been handed her boots by her personal servant Ms. Goucher, Hon. Helena Guergis then attempted to force open the locked door that separates the preboard seating area from the apron, upon which Air Canada flight #7677 continued to wait.  Screening Officer MacEwan, closest to her, informed her that the door was indeed locked and that she would have to wait for the Air Canada representative (Sonja MacMillan) to return.  Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted across preboard to Mr. MacEwan “Well, can’t you call her or something!?”  Mr. MacEwan replied that no, he had no way of contacting the Air Canada representative while she was airside and that she would have to wait.  He also told her that passengers were normally requested to be at the airport at least two hours before flight time.  The Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted back across preboard to Mr. MacEwan “I don’t need to be lectured about flight time by you! I’ve been down here working my ass off for you people.”  Taken aback by this unnecessarily venomous response, Mr. MacEwan decided to end the conversation on his part.

Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Ms. Goucher then decided that the best course of action would be to go to the eastern end of the preboard screening area and attempt to get Ms. MacMillan’s attention by screaming and hammering on the sound proof tinted glass that separates preboard from airside.

At this point, Sonja MacMillan returned from the plane, and being unaware of the commotion caused by the Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Ms. Goucher, she processed them without further incident and allowed them to board Air Canada Flight #7677 to Montreal.  As they were being processed and allowed to board, Air Canada representative Alan Bagley entered preboard to see what the yelling he had heard way out at the counter was about.  Screening Officer Andrew Williams, during a security sweep of preboard, discovered two passports and tickets belonging to Ms. Goucher and Hon. Helena Guergis and gave them to Mr. Bagley who then returned them to Ms. Goucher and the Hon. Helena Guergis as they were finally headed towards their flight.

It is most unlikely anyone involved in this incident will be able to give statements or interviews “on the record”.

Due to the likely termination of current employment; Anonymous

— Anonymous letter to MP Wayne Easter.  Attached to report by O’Malley, Kady. “Helena Guergis’s Adventures on Prince Edward Island.” CBC News, 25 February 2010.

Mrs. Guergis has since realised what poison this is for her reputation, and apologised to Air Canada staff in particular and the people of PEI in general.  Take note that in her apology and public statements, she has not contested the details of the account.  Opposition MPs and assorted outraged citizens are calling upon Mrs. Guergis to resign, while the Prime Minister has said that he is satisfied with her apology, and that ends the matter.  Knowing the Prime Minister, however, I am sure the matter is not ended; he remembers it when people fail spectacularly—hello, Maxime Bernier!  No doubt the PM will recall this incident at the next Cabinet shuffle, and out will go Mrs. Guergis.

I’m not particularly upset over her behaviour unbecoming a minister, as it is a role with almost no substance whatsoever.  Before being granted the “Minister” nomenclature, it was known as Secretary of State (Status of Women), and the office-holder was in essence a glorified Parliamentary Secretary—neither sitting in Cabinet nor being a member of the Cabinet’s real centre of gravity, the far more influential Treasury Board.  This so-called “junior minister” portfolio carries with it the whopping bureaucracy of three staff, and no executive authority beyond that of a normal MP.  And as we have seen, it doesn’t even exempt one from having to go through the same meaningless security theatre as the plebs.

I understand that people will lose their cool every now and then; this is human nature.  But neither do I condone an absence of consequences.  If the Hon. Helena Guergis were an ordinary citizen, she would have been bounced from her flight, possibly detained by airport security, and (if they had any sense at all) informed by Air Canada that her business was no longer welcome, and they would be refusing any subsequent bookings by her.  Alas, the time for the first has passed, although there may still be time to file petty charges and have the airline declare her persona non grata.

If I were the Prime Minister, however, I would make it clear that Mrs. Guergis would indeed keep her job, but since she could not be relied upon to conduct herself appropriately at an airport, she must be relieved of the burden of going through airport security screening.  For the remainder of the government’s term of office, therefore, she would be placed on Transport Canada’s Specified Persons List and prohibited from setting foot aboard any kind of aircraft, civil or military.  In order to travel to her engagements, Mrs. Guergis could enjoy the leisurely pace of the railroad or—to go where the rails do not—Greyhound bus.

I’m sure my approval rating would skyrocket overnight.

But alas, I cannot think of any Prime Minister of the Dominion who would ever have the guts to do it.

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3 Responses
  1. Nathan B. says:

    Brilliant, Chris! I love your suggestion.

    • Chris Taylor says:

      I like to think my solution satisfies both punitive and restorative aims, and has a couple of beneficial side effects. First it would demonstrate to the public that a minister of the Crown can be humbled, if necessary. Second it would demonstrate the same to the Cabinet and caucus, and remind them not to be idiots in public so that they do not make their own jobs harder to do.