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Opposition MP likens Canadian PM to 
a dictator

[PoliticsWatch updated 1:00 p.m. May 8, 2007]

OTTAWA  — A Liberal MP is accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of running a government that is "close to a dictatorship" after a Commons committee meeting probing the government's cancellation of the Court Challenges Program was suddenly cancelled on Tuesday morning.   

The Commons official languages committee, which last week was at the centre of attention because of the Shane Doan affair, was set to meet Tuesday morning to hear a number of witnesses who are critical of the government's decision last fall to halt funding to the Court Challenges Program.  

While the program is being credited with putting to a halt the closure of the bilingual Montfort Hospital in Ottawa it also led the charge to give federal prisoners the right to vote and has been criticized by conservative groups for tending to support left-wing organizations and ideologies in court. 

When opposition MPs from the committee arrived Tuesday morning for their hearings government MPs were no where to be found and they were informed the meeting had been cancelled. 

Liberal MP Raymonde Folco said she has her suspicions about the Prime Minister's Office involvement in the cancellation of the meeting because the Conservative MPs on the committee had voted in favour of examining the funding cut. 

"The fact that the Conservative members did not show up and that the meeting was cancelled two minutes before 9 a.m. proves to me very clearly that the order did not come from the chair, the order did not come from the members of the committee," she told reporters at a press conference on Parliament Hill. 

"The order came from higher up and I suspect the PMO, who said to his MPs, 'Thou shalt not go to the committee.' That's what he said to them. What kind of a functioning does he have inside of this Conservative party? Seems to me like very close to a dictatorship."

MPs from the two other opposition parties joined Folco at the press conference and they also said they suspected PMO involvement in the decision. 

NDP MP Yvon Godin, who is his party's deputy whip, said he received a call from the office of the government whip about five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to inform him that it had been cancelled. 

While Godin said the whip's office offered no explanation for the cancellation, he noted that it is uncommon for the whip's office to become involved in committee business.  

"When we talk to the whip, normally the whip will answer, 'The committee will answer on their own,'" he said. "The whips don't get involved in that."

Since becoming prime minister 15 months ago columnists in public and even Tory MPs in private have compared Harper's management style to that of a dictator. 

Folco's comments, however, appear to be the first time an MP used the dictator word publicly. 

In September, a Canwest News story reported that a "senior Tory" said he had been told that Harper had "read and mastered" the biography and leadership style of Russian dictator Josef Stalin, and the PM had adopted some of those tactics.

Last month, Liberal MP Garth Turner, a known critic of Harper who was tossed from the Tory caucus last year, wrote a strongly-worded blog posting that labelled the prime minister as "a truly dangerous man" who had "somehow slipped through our national filter" to land the country's top job.  

"Mr. Harper is our national leader, and yet he does not embody the nation’s values," Turner wrote. "He is an aberration of our flawed political system, a party leader elected when not enough of us were paying attention."

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