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- Helena C. Guergis
- Barrie Ontario
- Member Of Parliament
Helena C. Guergis, PC, MP is a Canadian politician. She has represented Simcoe—Grey in the Canadian House of Commons since 2004, and was appointed Minister of State (Status of Women) on October 30, 2008, following the October 14, 2008 Canadian federal election. She was previously Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Sport. Guergis is a member of the Conservative Party.
Helena Guergis Early life and career
Guergis was born in Barrie, Ontario, and raised in nearby Angus, part of Essa Township, where her family has a history of political involvement. Her cousins David and Tony Guergis are respectively the current mayors of Essa and Springwater, her sister Christine Brayford is a municipal councillor in New Tecumseth, their uncle Edward was a municipal councillor in Essa from 1978 to 1985, and their grandfather George was a reeve of Essa from 1971 to 1974 Her background is Assyrian, Swedish and Jewish.
Guergis attended Georgian College, where she completed an Ontario Real Estate program. After her graduation, she opened a bed and bath gift shop called "Final Touch" at the Rainbow Mall in Angus.She also worked as a fundraising volunteer for the Angus Food Bank and the Barrie Literacy Council, and was a Crisis Intervention volunteer for the Barrie and District Rape Crisis Centre for seven years. Guergis was a constituency assistant and executive assistant to Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Joe Tascona in this period.
In 1992, Guergis won the title "Miss Huronia" in the Miss Huronia Pageant, which was owned and operated by Sylvia Stark, and participated as Huronia's representative in the year's "Miss Oktoberfest Pageant", and the Canadian Search for Miss Universe. She later alleged financial irregularities against the pageant, and sued Stark for $3,000 as well as the cost of her flight and gown. In 2003, she informed the National Post newspaper that her suit was successful but that she could not collect because Stark had filed for bankruptcy.
The Canadian television program The Fifth Estate profiled Sylvia Stark in January 2000, and included interviews with Guergis and other former contestants. Stark alleged that Guergis made death threats against her, and added that she had lost a child from the resulting stress and was unable to conceive again. Guergis responded by questioning the state of Stark's mental health.
Guergis closed her private business after six and a half years to accept a position as a political advisor to Janet Ecker, who was then Minister of Education and Finance in the Ontario government. She held this position for three and a half years, and also served three terms as a vice-president on the Progressive Conservative Party's provincial executive.
She was the Progressive Conservative candidate for the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity—Spadina in the 2003 provincial election. The PCs did not target this riding as winnable and Guergis agreed to be a "sacrificial lamb" candidate in order to gain experience. She finished a distant third against New Democratic Party incumbent Rosario Marchese. In 2004, Guergis endorsed Frank Klees for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.
Member of Parliament
Guergis defeated Liberal incumbent Paul Bonwick by 100 votes in the 2004 election to win the riding of Simcoe—Grey. The Liberals formed a minority government after the election, and Guergis was appointed to the Conservative shadow cabinet as critic for International Co-operation. On January 24, 2005, she was appointed deputy critic for seniors' issues.
When running for provincial office in 2003 in the socially liberal riding of Trinity—Spadina, Guergis said that she would vote in favour of same-sex marriage if given the opportunity. Responding to a question on same-sex marriage at an all-candidates debate, she said, "I believe in the right to choose, so I would be voting in favour of it."
Campaigning the following year in the socially conservative riding of Simcoe—Grey, Guergis said that she would vote against the federal government's proposed legalization of same-sex marriage. She argued that the majority of her constituents opposed the initiative, and that she was committed to supporting their views. Guergis did in fact vote against Bill C-38, which granted legal sanction to same-sex marriage, in 2005. In the same year, she tabled a private member's bill restricting MPs from crossing parties after their election.
Guergis was re-elected with 49.8% of the vote in the 2006 election, substantially increasing her margin of victory as the Conservatives won a minority government nationally. On February 7, 2006, she was named by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as parliamentary secretary to David Emerson, the Minister of International Trade and the Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver—Whistler Olympics.
Guergis's appointment was somewhat controversial, in that Emerson had crossed the floor from the Liberal Party on the same day that he received his cabinet position. One day prior to her appointment, Guergis informed the media that she would issue a press release indicating her continued support for anti-floor crossing legislation. The release never appeared.
Secretary of State
On January 4, 2007, Guergis was promoted to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Secretary of State for Sport. In February, she rejected opposition calls for a travel advisory for Mexico. (Opposition members made the request after four Canadian tourists were killed in Mexico over the course of a year.)
On February 19, 2007, Guergis and Health Minister Tony Clement announced that Canada was reviving its dormant ParticipACTION program to encourage personal fitness.
The Conservative government was criticized in April and May 2007, over its handling of reports on the alleged mistreatment of prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers and turned over to local authorities in Afghanistan. At one stage, Guergis indicated in response to an opposition question that "there are no specific details or specific evidence to support any of the allegations made by Taliban alleged terrorist detainees". This claim was later undermined when a former Afghan mission commander testified under oath that a prisoner turned over to the Afghan National Police had been beaten.
Minister of State
She was re-elected in the 2008 federal election, following which she was appointed Minister of State (Status of Women).
On October 15, 2008, Guergis married her former caucus colleague Rahim Jaffer. This was her second marriage and his first.
Jaffer and Guergis were engaged in October 2007. Reportedly at the initiative of Guergis, the couple decided on the morning after the election to scrap their planned wedding date and to get married immediately. Their wedding was presided over by Ian McClelland, a former Member of Parliament and a licensed marriage commissioner, later that same day at McClelland's home.
The marriage was witnessed by the couple's parliamentary colleague James Rajotte and one of Jaffer's cousins.