My Story (Julie Couillard book)
First edition cover
|Publisher||McClelland & Stewart, Editions de l'Homme|
|October 6, 2008|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Trade Paperback)|
My Story (or Mon histoire) is a tell-all memoir by Canadian Julie Couillard. It was first written in French, then during summer 2008, translated into English. Both versions were published across Canada in October 2008.
Couillard first appeared in the national media when she dated the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier. The Bernier-Couillard Affair erupted in May 2008 over confidential, NATO-related documents left at Couillard's house. Media coverage, and Bernier's reaction, left Couillard feeling victimized. To help dispel rumours regarding her life and her role with Bernier, Couillard signed a book deal.
In her book, she recounts her early years, describes her relationship with Bernier, and reveals his confidential opinions.
Intended to be released on October 14, 2008, the book's release date was moved forward when that same day was selected for the Canadian federal election. Bernier dismissed the embarrassing allegations against him in her book as ridiculous. Though My Story was released eight days before the election, Bernier nonetheless was re-elected in his district of Beauce. The English version peaked at No. 6 on La Presse's bestseller list while the French version reached No. 5. Critics found Couillard's story self-righteous and sometimes conveniently vague, but noted that it provided a unique view into the government's inner circle.
Julie Couillard began dating Conservative Party of Canada Member of Parliament Maxime Bernier in April 2007. The media started covering her in August, when she wore a revealing dress to Bernier's swearing-in ceremony for his new position as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The couple had first met at a restaurant-dinner with business associates. Couillard and Bernier dated until December 2007 but continued seeing each other until April 2008. Their relationship became the subject of a political scandal which brought about intense media attention. As the scandal unfolded, Couillard decided to write an autobiography, telling her side of the story. She formally signed a contract in July with publishers, McClelland & Stewart; and with the help of journalist, Serge Demers, a ghostwriter, she wrote My Story in French within a few months. The publisher translated the text into English.
Bernier was elected as a Conservative star candidate in Quebec and became the Minister of Industry before being reassigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in August 2007. Though his relationship with Couillard had ended in December, they continued with occasional trysts. In April 2008, as Bernier hurriedly departed Couillard's home, he left behind confidential, NATO-related briefing notes; they were from the 2008 Bucharest summit. He asked Couillard to destroy them. Couillard, on the other hand, put the notes aside and forgot about them until May when she returned the notes to a foreign affairs office. Significant discussion about the affair was then voiced in both the Canadian House of Commons and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Journalist Chantal Hébert pointed out Couillard never had any criminal record and was not charged with criminal activity, and that investigative journalists could not find links between Couillard and the bikers since 1999. Political commentators called the affair a threat to national security due to Bernier's carelessness and to Couillard's background with motorcycle biker gangs.
After discussions with Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, Bernier resigned as Minister of Foreign Affairs, a day before the airing of Couillard's interview with TVA. Political commentators called the affair a threat to national security due to Bernier's carelessness and to Couillard's background with motorcycle biker gangs. According to Couillard, Bernier's response to the subsequent media coverage made her feel betrayed and abandoned.
The book begins as an autobiography. Couillard was born in the late-1960s in the Montreal district of Ville-Émard; then she moved to the suburb of Lorraine when she was 4. Her parents often fought as her mother believed that her husband was unfaithful; the family incurred financial problems when Couillard's father changed careers. At age 12, Couillard was diagnosed with epilepsy. At age 17, she bought several properties with a boyfriend. They lived together briefly before breaking up and selling the properties. Couillard then became a friend, then lover, of Gilles Giguère, a money lender who was associated with the controversial motorcycle club Hells Angels. In 1996, after the police raided Giguère's apartment and (according to Couillard) threatened him, Giguère became sullen and withdrawn: the police had charged him with conspiracy to commit murder. But two months later, they let the charge drop. Giguère was soon murdered.
In 1997, Couillard met Stéphane Sirois, a reputed enforcer and drug dealer, member of the Rockers, a Hells Angels affiliate club. They married. However, financial problems interfered with their relationship; furthermore, Couillard had cheated on Sirois with a man named Bruno. During their divorce, Sirois became an informant for the police and entered a witness protection program. Couillard then became pregnant with Bruno's child, and had an abortion; they subsequently separated. Following further personal, financial problems, Couillard declared bankruptcy in 2002. She then began an affair with a married man who abandoned her while they visited Venice, Italy. When she returned to Canada, Couillard launched a security firm, Integrated Global Solutions, along with an auto-leasing business. Meanwhile, she began to date Bernard Coté, an aide to federal Minister of Public Works, Michael Fortier. Couillard then introduced Coté to Philippe Morin of the Kevlar Group, a real estate company which signed a deal with the federal government to acquire land from Kevlar. When the deal became public Coté's involvement was considered a conflict of interest and Fortier, responsible for the actions of his staff, was forced to resign, despite Morin denying any connection between Kevlar and Couillard.
Then, in April 2007, while attending a Conservative Party of Canada fundraising affair, Couillard was asked to consider being a candidate for the party. Later, she attended a dinner where she met Maxime Bernier; they began dating. Bernier registered Couillard as his designated traveling companion with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order for Couillard to accompany Bernier on government business.
In her book, Couillard characterizes Bernier as intellectually lazy, preoccupied with his appearance, and as concerned that he appears gay. She writes further that Bernier privately criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper's eating habits and his physique. She adds that Bernier spoke with party supporters about replacing Harper as the party leader, and says that Bernier opposed the invasion of Iraq contrary to his party's stance. Further revelations regarding Bernier include that he whispered negative comments to Couillard about members of his electoral district; and that he did not own a laptop, yet frequently used her house and home computer as a second office.
Publication and reception
The original publication date for the book was October 14, 2008. After the Canadian federal election was called and set for that day the book's release was rescheduled to October 6, eight days before the election in which Bernier was seeking re-election. The English version was published as a hard cover by McClelland & Stewart while the French version was released by Montreal publishers, Les Editions de l'Homme, as a trade paperback. According to La Presse, 17,000 copies were printed; 5,000 sold in the first two weeks. In the Montreal market, the book was listed on the bestseller list at No. 6 for two weeks while the French version spent one week at No. 5.
In response to the book, Bernier dismissed the contents as "soap-opera politics and completely ridiculous" and denied ever criticizing Harper or constituents. The Ottawa Citizen reviewer, Chris Cobb, and The Globe and Mail's, Christie Blatchford called Couillard's story self-righteous, contradictory, and conveniently vague. Cobb commented that "viewed through a political lens, it's an entertaining page-turner" as it provides "a rare glimpse inside the closed, controlled society that is the Harper government". Additionally, writer, William Johnson, said the book story unfolds like pulp fiction or a soap opera and compares Couillard to the abused heroine in Justine who does not learn from her calamities.
Bernier went on to win his election in Beauce with 62% of the vote. Harper won re-election as prime-minister; he did not appoint Bernier to a cabinet position. Bernier would eventually return to the cabinet following the 2011 election, in which the Conservatives won a majority government, as Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. Bernier continues to sit as an MP, and is currently a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership. Stemming from Couillard's actions during the entire affair, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) launched investigations on how she obtained the secret documents; on whether Couillard's mother was offered a patronage appointment by a Conservative Party official to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada; and on whether there was influence peddling during the land sale between the Kevlar Group and Public Works.
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