8 Canadian political sex scandals—and one maybe

Our politicians have had their share of dirty laundry aired in public over the years
Margaret and Pierre Trudeau in a May 3, 1971 file photo. The Prime Minister and his wife were traveling with the Royal family on route to Victoria, B.C. (CP PHOTO/Bill Croke)
Bill Croke/CP Images

Canadian political scandals tend to be rather chaste affairs compared to their American or European counterparts, usually involving railways, “robocalls” and tainted tuna. Still, our politicians have had their share of dirty laundry aired in public over the years.

Here are the most salacious misdeeds by Canadian elected officials:

1. 1933: John Edward Brownlee. Alberta’s fifth premier was forced to resign after he was sued for seduction by Vivian MacMillan, an 18-year-old daughter of one of Brownlee’s political allies. There was much speculation that Brownlee had been the victim of a political set-up after he noticed he had been followed on a country drive by one of the girl’s teenaged suitors and a prominent Edmonton lawyer and Liberal party supporter. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with MacMillan.

2. 1966: The Munsinger Affair. Gerda Munsinger was a German prostitute and alleged KGB spy who seduced several cabinet ministers in the Diefenbaker govern- ment of the late 1950s. Among them was the associate minister of national defence, Pierre Sevigny, who signed Munsinger’s application for Canadian citizenship. The scandal was a well-kept secret among Ottawa politicians until 1966, when Liberal justice minister Lucien Cardin, fending off an opposition attack in the House of Commons on his handling of security breaches, asked: “What about Munsinger?” By then she had been deported, but reporters tracked her down in Munich, where she openly admitted to her numerous political affairs.

3. 1977: Margaret Trudeau and the Rolling Stones. Margaret Trudeau spent her sixth wedding anniversary without her prime minister husband, instead partying with the Rolling Stones at a Toronto nightclub and later in Mick Jagger’s limousine. The rendezvous sparked rumours that she was having an affair with the band’s front man. She later disappeared to New York. The scandal signalled the end of the couple’s tumultuous marriage, but Margaret Trudeau denied having affairs with any members of the Rolling Stones, later telling a conference on mental health, “I should have slept with every single one of them.”

4. 1978: Francis Fox. The 38-year-old solicitor general was the youngest member of Trudeau’s cabinet and a rising star when he was forced to publicly admit that he had secretly arranged for a former mistress to have an abortion, and had forged her husband’s signature on hospital records granting her permission for the procedure. The relationship didn’t last and neither did Fox’s marriage. His political career, however, survived. Fox resigned as solicitor general, but went on to be re-elected and reappointed to cabinet. He was made a senator in 2005, and stepped down last year.

5. 1983: Graham Harle. Alberta’s solicitor general, Graham Harle, was discovered by police parked outside a seedy Edmonton motel with a prostitute in his government car. The 51-year-old Harle claimed he was conducting an investigation into the province’s prostitution industry and had concluded that the sex trade didn’t “appear to be a problem right at the moment.” He stepped down from cabinet after the public refused to accept the story of his undercover operation.

6. 1986: Bob McClelland. B.C. industry minister and one-time Social Credit leadership contender Bob McClelland admitted he had paid $130 to Top Hat Escort in 1985 to have a prostitute sent to his hotel after having “a fair amount to drink.” His dalliance was uncovered after a police investigation into the escort agency uncovered his credit card details. McClelland resigned in August 1986 after testifying at a trial into Top Hat’s activities.

7. 1993: The Wilson-Tyabji Affair. B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson was fresh off a surprise victory that catapulted his party into official Opposition status when he appointed 27-year-old Judy Tyabji as his house leader. It didn’t take long for rumours to start that the two, both married, shared more than just political leanings, though both Wilson and Tyabji vehemently denied any affair. Wilson resigned as party leader the next year just as Tyabji was dumped as house leader by the party. They both later came clean about the affair, left their spouses, got married and quit the Liberals to form the short-lived Progressive Democratic Alliance.

8. 2008: Maxime Bernier. Maxime Bernier, the star of Stephen Harper’s Quebec caucus, was forced to resign as foreign affairs minister after admitting he had left classified government documents at the home of his then-girlfriend, Julie Couillard, a woman who had previously dated two Hell’s Angels associates. Shortly after they broke up, Couillard gave a tell-all television interview about the relationship, which she followed up with a book.

9. Potential Scandal: John Diefenbaker. In 2010, 42-year-old Toronto legal consultant George Dryden launched a lawsuit against his parents alleging he was the illegitimate love child of former Conservative prime minister John Diefen- baker and that his mother, Mary Lou Dryden, a well-known Conservative socialite, had forged his birth certificate because of “political sensitivities” of the day. He has since gone on a quest to prove his lineage, although DNA tests on samples from personal items provided by the Diefenbaker Canada Centre in Saskatoon came up inconclusive.

Sources: Barkerville Cariboo Sentinel; Gold Country Communities Society; Glenbow Museum; Vancouver Sun; Vancouver Province; Whitehorse Daily Star