The Tories are demanding the Liberals pull their new health-care ad, arguing that the party misquoted Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. The television ad asks if voters can trust Harper to be in charge of health care and says he once argued the federal government should scrap the Canada Health Act.Now of course, quotes should be attributed carefully - if Stephen Harper did not say those exact words the record should be corrected. But it should also include the context that this was and is the clear and unambiguous position of the National Citizens Coalition - an organization started by an insurance executive specifically to battle public healthcare - and was the ideological raison d'etre of the organization while Harper was Vice President of the organization.
But it wasn't Harper who spoke the words cited in the ad — it was his then-boss, National Citizens Coalition president David Somerville, a Conservative spokesman said Monday.
The ad cites an Aug. 26, 2010 Globe and Mail piece for the first statement, and runs it with a headline that says "It's Past Time the Feds Scrapped the Canada Health Act.
But while that line did indeed appear in the Globe and Mail last year, it was in a column by writer André Picard. Picard was citing Harper from a 1997 statement he made as vice-president of the NCC.
A Google search makes it clear the line is oft-cited but never with a link to a recording or speech text. It's usually sourced to a famous speech Harper made in Montreal to a conservative American group called the Council for National Policy (where he calls Canada a northern European welfare state).
Now it appears Harper didn't use the line at all.
There are more than enough easily verified quotes from Harper, specifically on the subject of how awful publicly administered and delivered healthcare is, to make his beliefs clear:
“Monopolies in the public sector are just as objectionable as monopolies in the private sector. It should not matter who delivers health care, whether it is private, for profit, not for profit or public institutions, as long as Canadians have access to it regardless of their financial means.” (Stephen Harper, Hansard, October 1, 2002)The Conservatives may have miscalculated here, by screaming and yelling about the one quote that cannot be 100% verified as coming from him rather than specifically his boss at the time at the organization where it was clearly the institutional policy position. At the same speech:
“We also support the exploration of alternative ways to deliver health care. Moving toward alternatives, including those provided by the private sector, is a natural development of our health care system.” (Stephen Harper, Toronto Star, October 2002)
“Each province should raise its own revenue for health care – i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points.” (Stephen Harper, ‘Firewall’ letter, January 24, 2001)
“What we clearly need is experimentation with market reforms and private delivery options [in health care].” (Stephen Harper, then President of the National Citizens Coalition, 2001)
"Then there is the Progressive Conservative party, the PC party, which won only 20 seats. Now, the term Progressive Conservative will immediately raise suspicions in all of your minds. It should... They were in favour of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially -- what else can I say about them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system (emphasis added.) and multicultural policies in the constitution of the country."Stephen Harper's own words have always been his greatest enemy. Now he has opened the door for all those words to become center stage again.
- Conservative leader Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank.