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The non-denial denial

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UPDATE:Conservative campaign staffer Owen Lippert is taking the fall for the speech.

“Since the beginning of the election campaign, I have been employed by the Conservative Party of Canada at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

“In 2003, I worked in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. I was tasked with – and wrote – a speech for the then Leader of the Opposition. Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech. Neither my superiors in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition nor the Leader of the Opposition was aware that I had done so.

“I apologize to all involved and have resigned my position from the Conservative campaign.”

There are two ways to look at this.

1. Lippert really did write the speech and the Tories were working overtime since the Liberal allegations came out trying to figure it out. The only weird thing about that is why not just say so? Why not say they were looking into the matter but do know for sure Harper had no idea parts of the speech were identical?

or

2. Lippert, a university professor turned political worker who used to be an aide to Kim Campbell when she was justice minister and prime minister, is just taking the fall to try and get this story off the front pages. Doubtful that will happen. This story even got picked up by CNN today. So far the Americans have learned basically two things about the Canadian election - a Tory website had a bird defecating on Dion, and a Tory prime minister plagiarized a speech.

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Did Stephen Harper plagiarize his speech on Iraq in 2003 from Australian Prime Minister John Howard?

Well this is what the senior spokesman for the Conservative Party had to say today in a conference call where the speech was almost the only topic discussed.

"This is more gotcha politics.”

“It’s a five year old speech given by a leader of a party that doesn’t even exist anymore.” (Ie. Harper was the leader of the Canadian Alliance at the time.)

“It’s a sign of the desperation of the Liberal campaign.”

The spokesman refused to say who wrote the speech, refused to say whether Harper had any part in writing the speech and dismissed completely a question about whether there had been any communication to Harper from George Bush’s administration looking for an ally in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Instead the spokesman suggested the issue of whether or not Canada should have fought in Iraq was no longer relevant to today‘s election. Given the majority of Canadians who oppose Afghanistan, I don’t think that’s true.

Given how many people I’ve heard say one of the best things Jean Chretien ever did as Prime Minister was to keep Canada out of Iraq, I’d say that’s not true.

And to suggest the Tories haven’t attempted to use things the Liberals have said and done in the past is almost laughable if it weren't also borderline offensive in its complete inaccuracy. This entire election has been about all parties trying to use things the others have said and done in the past to discredit each other.

(For example, the Tories have repeatedly said Dion at one point said he wasn’t in favour of a carbon tax. But that was more than two years ago and he wasn’t even the opposition leader yet? So should that be considered irrelevant too? Or 18-year-old comments from Liberal MP Garth Turner about immigration and crime which were said when he wasn’t even a Liberal but a Tory?)

There is one thing I’m pretty sure I know about politics: When the response to an allegation is a non-denial complete with attempts to distract by going after the motives of the person making the allegations, generally that means there is some truth to the statement.

It’s pretty simple. If the speech’s similarity is a coincidence, say that. Some people may not believe you but working so hard to avoid answering questions about it just makes people more curious.

And telling people this isn’t an issue voters care about won’t work either. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, political parties can’t control the things voters are going to care about. Voters get to decide what’s important.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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