Leaked video shows the true Stephen Harper: rivals
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, September 10, 2009 7:09PM EDT
MONTREAL - Stephen Harper's behind-closed-door musings about winning a majority, stamping out separatists and socialists, and keeping liberals out of the courts prove he's two-faced, his rivals say.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says videotaped comments that leaked out publicly Wednesday show the true prime minister.
"There have always been two Harpers," Ignatieff told a news conference Thursday in Montreal.
"The real Harper always comes out when he thinks he can't be heard."
Ignatieff tried to paint Harper as disdainful of the social institutions Canadians hold dear, like the justice system, and disrespectful of other political parties.
He also scoffed at the prime minister's closed-door rallying cry for a majority. Harper was heard telling his troops their coveted majority was "within striking distance."
Ignatieff countered that while he toured the country this summer he met jobless Canadians who would "laugh in your face" if asked whether Harper deserved a majority.
For political reasons, Harper has for years avoided making such musings in public.
But in the candid speech given to party members in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. last week, the prime minister repeatedly stressed his aspiration to win a majority.
He warned that, without one, the country would get a Liberal government propped up by "the socialists and the separatists."
In the private pep talk, Harper also described how the Tories had kept leftists from being appointed to public institutions -- including the courts.
"Imagine how many left-wing ideologues they would be putting in the courts, federal institutions, agencies, the Senate? I should say, how many more, they would be putting in," Harper said.
The prime minister expressed pride in having killed off the Court Challenges Program -- a government fund used by what he described as "left-wing fringe groups."
That fund, created by the Trudeau Liberals, helped finance court cases by women's groups, minority-language groups, gay-rights groups, and deaf people who demanded sign language in hospitals.
The NDP described Harper's remarks as a shot at the judiciary, which undermine the justice system by calling into question its integrity.
"It's something that you would expect in trash radio, but absolutely unacceptable coming from the prime minister of our country," Mulcair said in an interview.
He said the prime minister should be building bridges when discussing issues, not bombing them.
Despite the shots at "separatists" in the tape, the Bloc Quebecois said what bothered it most were the comments about the judiciary.
Leader Gilles Duceppe said that, behind closed doors, Harper sounds like a member of the U.S. Republican party -- and not even a mainstream one, but part of its radical fringe that rants against liberal judges.
Despite the opposition parties' rush to describe Harper as two-faced, none of the prime minister's private comments actually contradict anything he has ever said publicly.
He has simply avoided discussing them.
Harper has learned hard lessons about the political risk of such talk during the 2004 and 2006 elections, as he saw his poll numbers level off late in each campaign when he mused about things like judges and winning a majority.
He has been particularly careful to avoid scaring off moderate voters by talking about a majority -- fearing that some soft Tory and NDP supporters could make a desperation leap to the Liberals to block him.
But Harper was far chattier in the leaked speech.
"Let me be clear about this: We need to win a majority in the next election campaign," the prime minister said.
"I am not just saying that because we need a few more seats. We saw what happened last year. Do not be fooled for a moment. If we do not get a majority, the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc Quebecois will combine and they will form a government. . .
"And friends, I believe that government is within reach."
Ignatieff sidestepped questions about the substance of Harper's accusation.
When asked about forming a coalition, Ignatieff simply noted that he snuffed out the one opposition parties had formed last year.
"I think I made it very clear by my behaviour last January in relation to coalition politics," he said.
"I didn't think it was in the national interest, I could be standing here as prime minister of Canada, but I turned it down."
When pressed again whether he was amenable to an informal governing arrangement with the other parties, Ignatieff sidestepped the question.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Thursday that Ignatieff gave an ambiguous answer when asked whether he has ruled out forming a coalition should he become prime minister.
"He could have said 'No.' Instead, Ignatieff gave a circular, 51-word answer and refused to rule out a coalition," Kenney wrote in an email.
"Michael Ignatieff dodged the question because he will, in fact, form a coalition if he gets the opportunity."
When Ignatieff was asked about whether he would agree with Harper to eliminate, or phase out, public subsidies for political parties -- the issue that triggered the coalition in the first place -- he answered that he would let the House decide.
"We would only undertake changes to the public financing of political parties after extensive consultation," Ignatieff said.