As discussed in this space a couple of days ago, the federal Liberal campaign hasn't demonstrated the nastiness necessary to effectively attack the Conservatives primary strength, Stephen Harper. I pointed out that the party needed a high-profile lieutenant to step up and start badgering Mr. Harper, and like Esa Tikkanen against Gretzky (or whoever), get him off his game. This morning, in a well-timed attack, Bob Rae stepped up and did just that.
Mr. Rae accused Mr. Harper of plagiarising a speech he made to the house of commons in 2003 when he led the Canadian Alliance.
The plagiarism is obvious, large portions of the speech were lifted directly from a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. In the wake of the allegation, Conservative campaign worker Owen Lippert resigned and assumed full responsibility for the act, stating that he alone was responsible.
This issue will probably blow over fairly soon, given that the chain of stupidity seems to end well short of the Prime Minister. However the Liberals don't necessarily need to prove Harper was in on the charade, the suggestion is enough to start raining FUD - that is Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - all over Mr. Harper's growing personal appeal, and hence, the Conservative campaign.
Plagiarism certainly helps raise uncertainty about Mr. Harper's character, and doubt about his judgement in hiring assistants who would knowingly put him in such a compromising position. But Mr. Rae saved the element of fear for last, saying that the plagiarism "... speaks to the heart of what's deeply wrong with the Republican-Conservative government, of which he is the leader."
That's a reach. The chances that uncommitted voters will link Mr. Harper to Mr. Bush - just because an aid lifted a speech from Mr. Bush's ally John Howard - are remote. And the charge probably deflates some moral self-righteousness from Mr. Rae's bubble, given that while Mr. Harper was "hands off" the speech, one of Mr. Rae's own counterparts south of the border is guilty of much more serious "hands on" plagiarism.
American Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden quit his own Democratic nomication bid in 1988 after being caught writing and delivering his own speeches, which were found to contain untruths and passages lifted from a British politician.
If that element of the story plays out, politicians of all stripes will look bad. But as long as Mr. Dion stays out of the fray while Canadians discuss Mr. Harper in the same breath as Mr. Bush and Mr. Biden, the Liberal's come out of this ahead.
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