Thursday, June 09, 2005

June 9, 2005: Edmonton Journal: Nina Embattled, Has Support of Female Collegues

B.C.'s 'quiet' MP Nina Grewal keeps low profile: Wife of embattled Tory MP has support of female colleagues
Edmonton Journal
Thursday, June 9, 2005
Page: A7
Section: News
Byline: Joe Paraskevas
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: CanWest News Service; with files from The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The men left through the front door after the Conservative party's caucus meeting Wednesday, the women left through the back.

It isn't completely unheard of, some MPs said, for female party members to make such a departure, avoiding reporters waiting outside the doors on Parliament Hill.

But the reason for the detour Wednesday was special: to show support for British Columbia MP Nina Grewal.

"We left together," Ontario Tory MP Diane Finley said, afterward. "We're solidly with Nina."

"It's just natural," added Saskatchewan MP Carol Skelton, when asked about the party's show of confidence. "She's a female, she's a member of our caucus. She's a wonderful lady."

Grewal, however, was well out of hearing range.

Rare is the backbench politician who will shy from a reporter brandishing a microphone or notebook, but Grewal is setting new standards for keeping a low profile. She has successfully avoided most media attempts to have her comment on her involvement in the Hill's latest partisan tussle.

Three weeks ago, Grewal's husband, Gurmant, a Conservative MP from a Vancouver-area riding, revealed he'd taped conversations with two senior Liberals. He alleged the pair offered him and his wife political rewards for helping the minority Liberal government survive a confidence vote in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives later released tapes of conversations involving Grewal, Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, chief of staff to Prime Minister Paul Martin, and the RCMP began to look into the matter.

But several audio experts quickly determined the tapes had been altered in some way. Moreover, Gurmant Grewal became the subject of two other investigations -- by Air Canada and Transport Canada -- after he was seen in Vancouver trying to pass a package to passengers boarding an Ottawa-bound flight.

Grewal asked for, and received, permission Monday from his party to go on paid stress leave.

In the clamour of the debate between the three men at the centre of the taping drama, Nina Grewal has remained silent.

When one reporter approached her this week, she would only say she wasn't part of the negotiations involving her husband. While her husband is clearly heard on tape talking about an appointment to the Senate for her, Nina Grewal said that "nobody approached me, I wasn't part of any negotiations."

Her husband in the tapes claimed to have consulted her about switching parties, saying "but we are not decided, we have not made up our minds yet."

She said she had no comment when asked how she felt about her husband using her as a bargaining chip.

The Grewals are the first husband-wife team of MPs in Canadian history.

Despite her husband's withdrawal from the political scene, which came after a tense meeting with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, she said her husband is feeling fine.

"He's in high spirits," she said. "We're both still fighting for the right cause," she told the Toronto Star.

On Wednesday, Nina Grewal entered the Conservative caucus meeting room quietly, via the back door, 20 minutes before the meeting was to begin.

This time she said absolutely nothing, leaving an aide to say there would be no comment to media questions. Later, after question period, she slipped away out of reach of cameras.

Some Conservative MPs turned on reporters for their pursuit of Grewal and for perceived suggestions she played a role equal to her husband's in the taping affair.

"They just assume that because he's her husband she was complicit," said Alberta MP Rona Ambrose. "It's a bit sexist really."

At least one MP from another party urged her to break her silence.

"I actually would tell her to stand up and tell her story," said NDP MP Jean Crowder, who serves with Grewal on the House committee on the status of women. "I think that one of the things I hear from Canadians is they want to hear what you've done. And if you've been wrong -- and I'm not suggesting that she has -- it also gives you an opportunity to say 'I erred in judgment,' if that's the case.

"But I think it's really important that her voice, talking about her story, is front and centre."

Liberal MP Anita Neville also said she wouldn't advise Grewal on whether to speak about the tapes. Grewal, a rookie MP, was "learning her way around Parliament," and seemed a naturally reserved person, said Neville.

"She's quiet. She's quiet and conscientious on committee. But for the most part she's quiet," Neville said.