Monday, April 18, 2011

Tories and Liberals spar over Harper quote on health care act

Conservative party campaign manager Jenni Byrne accused the Liberals Monday of falsifying a quote in a recent television ad that suggested Conservative leader Stephen Harper could not be trusted to defend the public health-care system.

"The Liberal attacks are based on outright lies," Byrne wrote in a letter to the party's campaign managers. "The quotation (in the Liberal ad) about scrapping the Canada Health Act was not made by Stephen Harper but by somebody entirely different," she stated.

Do the Tories have a point, did the Liberals put words in Harper's mouth?

Harper was misquoted. But the Liberals say they didn't intentionally mislead their audience and will update their ad "in response to the Globe and Mail's error in its attribution of a quote."

The quote used in the Liberal ad and attributed to Harper, "It's past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act," was cited as having appeared in an August 26, 2010, Globe and Mail column.

But Monday, after the Conservatives had issued their release, the Globe said it misattributed the quote to Harper.

The newspaper posted a correction on its website at 1:38 p.m. ET saying the statement in question was written by David Somerville, in the June 1997 edition of The Bulldog.

Sommerville was the president of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) when Harper was vice-president of the group, before he became leader of the Canadian Alliance.

The Liberals pointed out that the quote was used and misattributed to the Conservative leader in at least two other publications, a piece in Maclean's magazine from January 31, 2011 and a column in the Calgary Herald from May 5, 2005. Both outlets issued corrections Monday.

The Liberals said they planned to use another quote in their ad that showed Harper's "opposition to universal public health care in Canada."

Are the Liberals right, does Harper want to scrap the Canada Health Act?

"He's had five years to do it and he hasn't," McGill University professor Antonia Maioni told Postmedia News. "If he wants to do it, he is taking his time to do it."

Harper has often said the provinces should be allowed to experiment with more "private delivery" options, and he suggested that again last week during the English leaders debate. But he has said he "strongly supports . . . the principle that no person should ever be denied necessary medical treatment because of inability to pay."

Private delivery options are not a breach of the act but they impact on the public health-care system through queue jumping and strain on human resources, Maioni said.

In 2001, Harper suggested the provinces should each raise their own revenue for health care through tax points. That likely would end the federal government's role as guardian of the public health-care system. Unlike the Liberal government, Harper doesn't seem interested in fining provinces that breach the Canada Health Act by charging user fees, for example. In five years in office, he as never fined any provinces for breaching the principles of the act, Maioni notes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Does Canada need next-generation stealth fighter jets?

An absolutely necessary weapon or an astronomical cost to avoid? The planned purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has been portrayed as both, and the divide between the two has made it an issue in the current election campaign.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives say the 65 fighter jets will cost about $15-billion, but Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated in March that the cost will be twice as much.

How much will they cost, and how much is too much? Do we need them to defend against the Russians, and take part in campaigns like the one over Libya right now?

Winslow Wheeler, a Washington-based defence-spending watchdog, argued that Mr. Page’s figures are too low, and that the fighters will cost billons more than his $29-billion estimate – maybe $10 billion more, but it’s impossible to say. And he argues Canada should wait till they know what they are buying, and how much it costs.

But there is an argument that supporters from the military make: that there will be no other plane like it. The F-35 is touted as a “fifth-generation” fighter plane, with stealth technology and high-tech communications.

Retired lieutenant-general Angus Watt, chief of the air staff of the Canadian Forces from 2007 to 2009, was been involved in the planning for Canada’s air force for several years, and is well-place to discuss its needs. He believes the F-35 is the best plane for the job.

With that in mind, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Watt join us Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET for a live discussion on the pros and cons of the F-35 purchase.