Opposition parties question
patriotism of Martin's family business
[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:00 p.m. November 30, 2005]
OTTAWA — A day after Prime Minister Paul Martin proclaimed his love for Canada, the Conservatives held a news conference to suggest Martin "isn't nearly so patriotic" when it comes to his past business practices.
Conservative MP Jason Kenney raised questions Wednesday about Martin's past business practices with his former firm, Canada Steamships
That company lowered the Canadian flag on a number of ships and flied so-called "flags of convenience" of other countries, such as the Bahamas, Vanuatu and Singapore to keep labour costs down.
Facing political pressure, Martin divested ownership of the company shortly before becoming prime minister in 2003 to his three grown sons.
The issue of patriotism arose on the first day on the campaign trail Tuesday after a reporter with the National Post asked Conservative Leader Stephen Harper during a scrum on the Hill if he loved Canada.
Harper offered what some of his critics viewed as a weak answer.
Hours later, the prime minister opened a rally with Liberal candidates in Ottawa by mocking Harper's response.
"This morning I'm told Stephen Harper had a little difficulty saying this, so I'll say it. I love Canada," he said to the cheers of Liberal supporters.
Kenney unfurled the flag of Liberia at the press conference
Wednesday and blasted the prime minister accusing him of trying to wrap himself in the flag.
"Stephen Harper doesn't need to take any lessons from Paul Martin when it comes to patriotism," Kenney said.
But Kenney denied he was questioning the PM's patriotism.
"I have no doubt that Paul Martin loves Canada and that he's a patriotic Canadian," he said.
"I'm saying that his jingoistic, patriotic, chest thumping rhetoric on the question of patriotism is not completely consistent with his personal and corporate actions as head of a shipping empire that took the Canadian flag off of his ships so he can make more money."
The Tories were not alone on blasting the PM's past history with CSL.
During a political panel discussion on CBC Newsworld's Politics, NDP strategist Brad Lavigne also made a similar argument.
"If Mr. Martin loves Canada so much, then why as head of Canada Steamship Lines did he take down the Canadian flag, deregister his ships from Canadian law, register his ships in third-world countries to avoid Canadian tax, Canadian environmental laws and avoid employment laws?" he asked.
The Liberal on the panel, Susan Murray, refused to comment on Lavigne's accusations.
"That's too scurrilous for me," she said.
When host Don Newman asked Murray if Lavigne's allegations were inaccurate, she said, "Paul Martin loves Canada. That I will put firmly on the record. He said it yesterday."
CSL has defended the flag of convenience practice in the past.
In an interview with CBC's Disclosure in 2003, CSL's vice president Pierre Prefontaine said the practice and changing crews "are all, were all required in order to remain competitive in the international market."
"All our competitors all employ foreign crews to - and we must be competitive."
Late Wednesday at a rally in Halifax, Harper weighed in on the issue when he spoke about what ordinary Canadians do.
"They occasionally wave the flag. When they do, it's the flag of Canada. Not the flag of Liberia or Barbados."
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