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Cablegate: Biography of Helena Guergis, Canadian Secretary of State

VZCZCXRO6332
PP RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHQU RUEHVC
DE RUEHOT #0720 1502040
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 292040Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7935
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS OTTAWA 000720

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR CA
SUBJECT: BIOGRAPHY OF HELENA GUERGIS, CANADIAN SECRETARY OF STATE
FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE

1. (SBU) Summary. Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted Helena
Guergis to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International
Trade in January 2007 after she had served as Parliamentary
Secretary for International Trade from February 2006. The 39
year-old Conservative Member of Parliament will lead the Canadian
delegation to the Organization of American States' ministerial
meeting in Medellin June 1-3, filling in for new interim Foreign
Minister David Emerson. Critics have charged that she is
"questionably qualified" for her present position, and have
suggested that her appointment owes less to competence than to the
Conservatives' need for gender and regional balance in Cabinet, as
well as her status as one of few women in the Conservative caucus
from Ontario -- where the government hopes to make gains in the next
election. As a junior minister, she is not a member of Cabinet.
She is unlikely to win promotion in a Cabinet shuffle expected this
summer, and more probably will face demotion. End Summary.

2. (U) Helena Guergis was born on February 19, 1969 in Barrie,
Ontario, and completed a real estate program at Georgian (Community)
College in Ontario. In the 1990s, Guergis was active in Ontario
provincial Conservative politics, working as a constituency and
executive assistant to Conservative Member of the Ontario Provincial
Parliament Joe Tascona. She also ran a successful small gift-shop
business. Ms. Guergis subsequently accepted a post with the Ontario
provincial government under Conservative premier Mike Harris as a
political advisor to the Ontario Minister of Education, and as a
senior policy advisor to the Ontario Minister of Finance. She was
elected Vice President of the provincial Progressive Conservative
Party of Ontario, served six years on its Executive Board, and ran
unsuccessfully as a candidate for the provincial Ontario
Conservative Party in 2003.

3. (U) Ms. Guergis moved to federal politics in 2004, when she
successfully contested the largely rural Ontario "riding" of
Simcoe-Grey, and served successively in Ottawa as opposition critic
for Seniors Issues and for International Cooperation and the
Canadian International Development Agency. She easily won
re-election in January 2006 and was appointed Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister for International Trade in the incoming
Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who then
promoted her to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and
International Trade, with additional responsibility for amateur
sport, in January 2007. Her priority files in this portfolio
include women in trade, consular and diplomatic affairs,
Afghanistan, the Global Commerce strategy, and the Prime Minister's
Americas' Strategy. As Secretary of State, Ms. Guergis reports to
both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of
International Trade, now jointly held on an interim basis by David
Emerson. As a junior minister, she is not a member of Cabinet.

4. (SBU) Ms. Guergis has faced a firestorm of criticism over her
performance in 2008, notably for revealing sensitive information
about the pending travel to Afghanistan of Official Opposition
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion in January 2008 -- which led Dion
publicly to call for her ouster -- and then for perceived lack of
attention to the consular case of a Canadian woman in a Mexican
jail, whose file subsequently went to another colleague for
successful resolution.

5. (SBU) Comment: Progressive on social issues, such as same-sex
marriage, Ms. Guergis is considered typical of the more centrist --
Qmarriage, Ms. Guergis is considered typical of the more centrist --
and especially female -- voter the federal Conservatives need to
attract in order to expand their appeal in the key province of
Ontario if they are to win a future majority government. She
remains one of only a handful of women in the Conservative caucus
from Ontario. Ms. Guergis speaks English and French. She proudly
claims to be the first Canadian of Assyrian descent in the House of
Commons. Ottawa's parliamentary newspaper "The Hill Times" listed
this one-time small town beauty queen as the second sexiest female
MP in its annual ratings in 2008. She is engaged to fellow
Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and has joked that uncertainty about
when the next federal election will take place has repeatedly forced
her to postpone their wedding and to consider eloping. She is
personable and vivacious, as well as apparently pro-U.S., but
prefers to stick to small talk rather than discuss substantive
issues in her portfolio. She is unlikely to be promoted in a
Cabinet shuffle expected this summer, and more probably will face
demotion.
WILKINS

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