Stephen Harper's most controversial quotes compiled — by Tories
By: Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - A 500-page dossier of potentially damaging remarks by Stephen Harper has hit the election campaign, but don't blame the opposition parties — it was prepared by the Conservatives.
The thick binder of material, obtained by the Liberals, is a treasure trove of controversial Harper quotes, listed alphabetically by subject matter. It covers everything from abortion to western alienation and reaches as far back as the 1980s.
The fact that the Tories felt compelled to research their own leader suggests they believed Harper's past penchant for blunt, uncompromising talk could pose a problem on the campaign trail.
And indeed many of his controversial stands in the past are in stark contrast to the positions he espouses today.
On the campaign trail now, Harper stresses that he has no hidden agenda to reopen the abortion file. But the Tory files include this 2002 boast from Harper, then a leadership contestant: "I'm not ashamed to say that, in caucus, I have more pro-life MPs supporting me than supporting Stockwell Day."
Harper is insisting now that he can erase the deficit by 2014 simply by cutting $4 billion a year in wasteful and inefficient spending. But in 1995, he said it would be impossible to eliminate the deficit without slashing social programs, which he noted account for two-thirds of federal spending.
"We would have to look at everything, you can't spare anything," he said then.
Then there's his 1995 assertion that "providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility."
Since becoming prime minister, Harper has tried hard to woo Quebec, including masterminding a parliamentary motion recognizing the Quebecois people as a nation. But the quote dossier has numerous reminders of Harper's past refusal to countenance any type of special status for the province.
In 1992, he railed against a proposal to ensure Quebec a 25 per cent share of seats in the House of Commons, regardless of the province's share of the population.
"In fact, what's even more repulsive than the 25 per cent guarantee is the giving 18 new Commons seats to Quebec, which isn't even on the basis of population."
And in 1999, he argued that Quebec's language law was designed "to suppress the basic freedoms of English-speaking Quebecers and to ghettoize the French-speaking majority into an ethnic state."
Conservatives shrugged off release of the dossier, essentially maintaining that Harper's record in government is all that should matter to voters — not his long-ago comments while in opposition or heading up a right-wing advocacy group.
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a proud record of delivering (for)Canadians with strong leadership for the last 5 years," party spokesman Ryan Sparrow said in an email.
All parties go to enormous effort to dig up damaging comments by rival leaders and candidates and take great glee in exposing them at the most inopportune moments. But it's unusual to see a party collect its own leader's questionable quotes.
The research was begun in 2003 by Harper's former chief of staff, Tom Flanagan, who appears to have believed the old adage that forewarned is forearmed.
"When I became chief of staff in 2003, one of the first things I did was organize a 'Harper research' program to collect everything he had ever written or said in public," Flanagan wrote in his 2007 book "Harper's Team."
Flanagan declined to comment Monday on the binder of material obtained by the Liberals.
However, a Tory source who was familiar with the research project said the binder appears to be genuine. It includes an initial 359 pages of quotes, which were supplemented by about 100 more pages in two instalments in July 2003 and January 2004.
A cover note on the 2004 instalment says the quotes "that have the potential to be the most problematic are the quotations dealing with health care."
Some of those comments have already been mined by opposition parties to cast doubt on Harper's commitment to maintaining universal, publicly funded health care. Other quotes, in which Harper extols the virtues of allowing private, for-profit health delivery and a parallel private health-care system, seem to have gone largely unnoticed.
There's his 1997 claim that "the best system means having a system where you have as many tiers as possible and you bring in as many health-care dollars into this country as possible."
There's his 2002 assertion that "the private provision of publicly insured services should be permitted. The monopoly of provision of services is not a value that, in and of itself, is worth preserving."
Or his lament, also in 2002, that the Canada Health Act "rules out private, public-delivery options, It rules out co-payment, pre-payment and all kinds of options that are frankly going to have to be looked at if we're going to deal with the challenges that the system faces."
In 1995, Harper said "the federal government should contemplate" a proposal advanced by Quebec's finance minister wherein the federal government would transfer tax points, instead of money, to the provinces for social programs. With no cash transfers, Ottawa would lose its only hammer to enforce the Canada Health Act.
Among the other controversial comments:
— "I, too, am one of these angry westerners ... We may love Canada but Canada does not love us ... Let's make (Alberta) strong enough that the rest of the country is afraid to threaten us." Report Newsmagazine, December 2000.
— "As a religion, bilingualism is the god that failed. It has led to no fairness, produces no unity and cost Canadian taxpayers untold millions." Calgary Sun, May 2001.
— "You've got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society." Report Newsmagazine, January 2001.
— "If a person doesn't want to vote, for whatever reason, that's their decision. It's not the business of the government." On a proposal to make voting in federal elections mandatory. Freedom Watch, January 2001.
— "(He) is not a serious scholar ... Saul is such an intellectual lightweight that a 10-km wind would blow him right off the ground." On John Ralston Saul, husband of then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson. Report Newsmagazine, April 2000.
— "Let's face it, the average backbench MP is little more than a bench warmer for his/her political party." Letter to The National Post, February 1998.
— "MPs are bit players in a top-down parliamentary system and role players on their own top-down partisan team." The Bulldog, August, 1998.