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Embattled minister bitten by her own words

VANCOUVER - It's been a bad couple of weeks for federal Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt.

But it will be hard to avoid the fall-out now that it appears to be her own recorded voice that is causing the scandal.

As the minister in charge of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Raitt has been on the hot seat about the shutdown of the NRU reactor in Chalk River and the resulting global shortage of nuclear isotopes.

Then, when Raitt and staff were at an Ottawa CTV station to talk about the nuclear reactor, they left behind a binder full of documents marked “Secret.”

When CTV finally publicized the gaffe a week later, Raitt's Director of Communications, Jasmine MacDonnell took the blame. She resigned, while Raitt said her offer of resignation was declined by the Prime Minister.

Now, MacDonnell's forgetfullness may have pushed her former boss into an even deeper scandal.

MacDonnell spent the day in a Halifax court trying to get an injunction against the Halifax Chronicle Herald to prevent them from publishing material from a tape recording of Raitt speaking.

The recording was on MacDonnell's personal tape recorder, which had been found by Chronicle Herald reporter Stephen Maher five months ago. MacDonnell never collected the recorder, so after her resignation, Maher decided to listen to it.

Reporters from across the country were waiting in the court all day, and cheered when the judge refused to block the story's publication.

So what could be so bad that someone would go to court to protect their ex-boss?

According to Maher's now published story, Raitt was boasting about her handling of a January incident when the NRU reactor leaked radioactive water. At one point she calls the problem "sexy."

She is also critical of her cabinet colleague, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, while waiting for a decision to be made in Halifax, the federal NDP dug up a scandal from Raitt's former job as CEO of the Toronto Port Authority.

It seems that four members of the Port Authority's Board of Directors have made formal complaints against the rest of the Board, Minister of Transport John Baird, and Raitt about certain management and spending decisions.

Now NDP MP Olivia Chow is suggesting that the federal government's decision to increase the size of the Board from seven to nine members was made to prevent the four dissenting members from forcing a public investigation into Raitt's spending.

The current executive at the Port Authority has responded to Chow with a strongly worded letter that calls the other members of the Board “disgruntled” and their complaints “picayune and stale.”

It's a far cry from last fall, when the newly-elected Raitt was hailed as a new star -- female, successful business experience, comfortable in the spotlight -- for the Harper cabinet.

The entire series of events is reminiscent of the rise and fall of former Tory star Maxime Bernier, the suave Québec MP and former Minister of Foreign Affairs who was relegated to the back benches after a series of scandals last spring.

Expect to hear in the next few days whether the same fate will befall Raitt.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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