Saturday, November 19, 2005

Brison attacks Harper as anti-Charter, anti-gay


In a harbinger of the mudslinging that could shape this winter's expected federal election, a senior Liberal cabinet minister today attacked Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as a socially conservative dinosaur opposed to gay and charter rights.

After a speech to the Rotary Club in which he signalled some of the broad themes of a Liberal campaign, Public Works Minister Scott Brison warned that Harper would turn Canada's social clock back in time.

Harper has consistently found himself at odds with such core Canadian values as multiculturalism, bilingualism, publicly funded health care and the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Brison said.

"During the great debates around those issues. . .people like Stephen Harper consistently stood four-square against the types of policies that built the Canada we love," said Brison.

"As head of the National Citizens Coalition, Mr. Harper (and) his organization, held positions that were contrary to publicly funded health care, that were contrary to bilingualism and the charter, and to multiculturalism."

In past elections, Harper's social values have been his Achilles' heel, especially in riding-rich Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals played to voter fears by portraying him and his party as intolerant.

Harper was not immediately available to comment.

A full-blown election campaign could come within weeks.

The Opposition parties have said they would try to bring down the minority Liberals at the first opportunity, even if that would spark an election campaign that would run through the holidays.

Brison told his audience that Liberals understand the importance of the charter and other policies that "have shaped one of the most progressive societies in the world."

The Conservatives, he argued, would undo the progress if elected.

Brison, who characterizes himself as a politician who happens to be gay, said it was the charter and its equality rights that had made his political career possible.

Brison took special aim at Harper's views of same-sex marriage, a key hot-button issue in the last election, saying the Conservative leader has stated he would be open to repealing the law that recognizes gay marriages.

"That would be the first time in Canada that we would see the repealing of a charter right," Brison said.

"Mr. Harper has left himself open to that possibility."

Conservative industry critic James Rajotte said Brison’s assertions are "completely wrong."

Harper has always told his caucus there will be free votes on contentious matters, Rajotte said.

"Whether it’s marriage, whether it’s euthanasia, whether it’s abortion, he ... will not impose any position on his members of Parliament," Rajotte said.

"The party actually explicitly said it would not change any of the abortion legislation at its March convention, so (Brison) is just basically saying things which are absolutely not true."

During his speech, Brison made references to the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal, emphasizing the finding that most civil servants are honest and that Canada's democratic institutions work.

Afterward, he was presented with a bottle of sparkling wine from Gomerie in France.

"Finally, something to celebrate out of Gomery," he joked.

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