Liberals demand PM apologize for
attempt to "smear"
[PoliticsWatch updated 6:00 p.m., February 21, 2007]
|Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
OTTAWA — Prime
Minister Stephen Harper isn't backing down or apologizing after he
attempted to read into the record in question period a newspaper
article detailing how the RCMP wants to interview the father-in-law
of a Liberal MP in connection with the Air India case.
The Vancouver Sun reported on Wednesday that Liberal MP Navdeep
Bains' father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, is on the RCMP's potential list of witnesses
for investigative hearings related to the Air India
Investigative hearings are one of two special measures the Liberals
plan to vote against renewing when the Conservatives bring the
government's anti-terrorism legislation up for a five-year renewal
The Liberals have spent the past two weeks in an internal battle
between Liberals who don't want the measures revoked and the party's
leadership who plan to make revoking the measures a whipped
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is making the vote a three-line
whip, meaning all MPs must show up and vote with the leader against
renewing the law.
When asked an unrelated question about judicial committees in
question period, the prime minister began to read into the record
details from the Sun's story but was quickly shouted down by Liberal
"I am simply reading what The Vancouver Sun reported,"
Harper said before his response time ended.
However, the Liberals used virtually their remaining questions
in question period to press Harper to apologize for the
"uncalled for attack" on Bains' character.
"The prime minister's allegations are simply beneath
contempt," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said.
"The prime minister has attempted in this House to impugn the character and the reputation of an honourable member of Parliament. That is absolutely unacceptable."
But the PM did not back down and fielded several more questions from
Liberal MPs on the matter. Usually the PM only responds to questions
from opposition party leaders.
"It is very clear from the Air India families and I think from the police community and the wider Canadian community, that we expect the Air India investigation to go
forward," Harper said.
"It is an important police investigation and nothing in the Liberal Party should interfere with that."
After question period, the PM spoke on the way up the stairs to his
Centre Block office and again repeated the allegation that the
Liberals were in effect interfering with the Air India
"I think the article in question is -- raised the point that the Air India families have raised, which is that actions of the Liberal Party may well be damaging a police
investigation," Harper said.
"We think that is a serious matter. The Liberal Party has provided no explanation as to why it has reversed its own -- on its own legislation within the last two weeks and really, the Liberal Party has got to respond."
Harper's decision to make reference to the Vancouver Sun article
about Bains' father-in-law was no slip of the tongue. One of the
PM's officials emailed numerous reporters the Sun article while the
Liberals were demanding for an apology in question period.
Last week, Harper said in the House that "extremist
elements" in the Liberal party were making Dion "soft on
The Liberals see Harper's attempt to use the article as an attempt
to smear one of their own MPs.
Bains rose on a point of privilege after question period and also
demanded Harper apologize.
"I had the opportunity to listen to the prime minister attack my integrity, the integrity of my family and I would personally ask that the
prime minister apologize," Bains said.
Although Harper never read a word of the Sun article into the
record, Liberal MP Bill Graham said Canadians "will realize exactly where the prime minister was going and what was seeking to be done here."
"I think Canadians would agree with that that we would be better if we conducted our debate around this very, very important issue in a rational tone which doesn't drag us into finger pointing in the gutter,"
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who scrums for at least 10 to 15
minutes with reporters every day after question period, did not make
an appearance in the Commons foyer on Wednesday.
An NDP strategist said the party did not want Layton to get in the
way while the Liberals and the Tories tore each other apart.
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