Canada’s Opposition Leader Changing Story on Separatists, Prime Minister’s Office Says

By Jason Loftus, Epoch Times
March 12, 2009 Updated: March 13, 2009

The office of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper contacted the Epoch Times following an article that appeared on the newspaper’s website Monday about Michael Ignatieff, the new leader of the opposition Liberal Party, and his efforts to move that party to the political centre.

A spokesperson for the prime minister took aim at a comment made by Mr. Ignatieff that appeared in the article.

Mr. Ignatieff had said: “I could be sitting here as your prime minister, but I turned it down because I didn’t think it was right for someone who believes in the national unity of my country to make a deal with people who want to split the country up.”

Mr. Ignatieff was referring to the participation in the coalition of the Bloc Québécois, a party that seeks independence for the French-speaking province of Quebec.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Dimitri Soudas, press secretary to the prime minister, challenged the opposition leader’s statement.

“I guess that Mr. Ignatieff is trying to pretend that he himself never signed the document that basically formed the coalition between the Bloc Québécois, the Liberals and the NDP,” Mr. Soudas said.

Mr. Ignatieff signed his name at the bottom of a Liberal Party petition presented to Canada’s head of state, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean, in December.

The petition expressed non-confidence in the Conservative government and the intent to form a coalition government, which would have included the Liberals, the left-leaning New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Québécois. It’s a point the Conservatives hope to remind Canadian voters.

Stéphane Dion was Liberal Leader at the time. When the bid to immediately oust the Conservatives failed in December, Mr. Dion was replaced by Mr. Ignatieff, who soon cancelled the coalition agreement.

Ms. Soudas also pointed to a French-language newspaper report from January in which Mr. Ignatieff is quoted as saying that Bloc MPs “are not the enemies of Canada.”

These are examples, Mr. Soudas said, that Mr. Ignatieff “goes to different parts of the country and says totally the opposite thing.”

For his part, Mr. Ignatieff on Monday portrayed Mr. Harper’s stance on the Bloc as divisive. He tried to strike a conciliatory tone, while also saying he would like to “reduce the role” that the separatist party plays in Canada’s parliament.

“I have a respectful but fundamental disagreement with my Bloc colleagues,” he said. “Many of them are friends; I get on with them. And I didn’t like the way Harper called them traitors to the country. I thought he stirred up antagonism between east and west, between Francophones and Anglophones in the crisis in December. I disagreed with that.”