September 04, 2008

PM betrayed Canada, Dion says

Liberal attacks Harper for failing to prepare the country to handle economic slowdown

Sep 04, 2008 04:30 AM

Ottawa Bureau

WINNIPEG–Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion previewed his election campaign strategy, accusing the Conservatives of betraying Canadians' trust and forcefully linking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to U.S. President George W. Bush.

"Stephen Harper wants to give George W. Bush a third term – in Ottawa," Dion jokingly told caucus colleagues yesterday in a speech during a meeting in Winnipeg.

If not Bush, perhaps Harper wants to revive the Tories who ran Ontario in the 1990s, he quipped. "Maybe it is to Mike Harris that he wants to give a third mandate in Ottawa."

In a refrain Canadians are likely to hear in the weeks ahead, Dion also said Harper's views are closer to Bush's than Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

Dion cited the controversial U.S. holding centre for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, where Toronto-born Omar Khadr is detained. McCain and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama would close Guantanamo down but Harper has resisted opposition MPs' attempts to condemn it and bring Khadr back to Canada.

"Both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have distanced themselves from Mr. Bush on many issues more than Mr. Harper," Dion asserted in a press conference.

Dion, who faces an uphill election fight according to most polls, enthusiastically attacked Harper over his government's economic management, Conservative scandals and what the Liberal leader said was the Prime Minister's betrayal of Canadian values and hopes.

"Stephen Harper wants to rush into an election before Canadians can realize how little he has done to prepare our country to deal with the slowdown of the economy," Dion told his caucus.

He said Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, claim the economy is okay, despite mounting job losses and a recession in key manufacturing industries.

"In fact, in the first two quarters of 2008 the economy performed the worst since 1991, since Brian Mulroney."

Dion said Harper runs "the most secretive, centralized and manipulative government in our history. A government that tries to hide reports on the link between the environment and the health of Canadians; that fires or intimidates the civil servants responsible for keeping him accountable."

Canada needs a government that "will be guided by science and facts," Dion said, "not by narrow-minded ideology when the time comes to fight the climate change crisis or adopt a sound anti-drug strategy. A government that will not insult scientists, civil servants and doctors, but will work with them with respect."

In particular, Dion said the Harper government has:

  • Been lax on food safety.
  • Undercut arts and culture by not supporting artists and by failing to protect "freedom of artistic expression."
  • Used fear-mongering over crime to win votes.
  • Bombarded Canadians "with sound bites, low-blow attack ads, and potentially illegal taxpayer-funded partisan campaign propaganda,"

according to Dion.

Dion also refined his far-reaching Green Shift plan, promising to provide $900 million in tax incentives and rebates to help the agriculture, forestry, trucking and fisheries industries invest in cleaner technology to cushion the blow from the higher energy costs the Liberals would bring in.

A typical family of four earning $40,000 a year would save $1,900 in taxes in the fourth year of his Green Shift, the Liberal leader added.

Dion said Harper wants an election to avoid embarrassing losses in by-elections scheduled this month.

The caucus was joined by a new Liberal candidate in Manitoba, former Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Bob Friesen.

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, a caucus member who had questioned the saleability of the Green Shift plan, said bringing Friesen on board will provide much-needed credibility for Dion's "green" proposal among rural residents.

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