Stephen Harper’s 2003 speech urging Canada to join the U.S. assault on Iraq was plagiarized from one given by the Australian prime minister two days previously, and the man who wrote it resigned Tuesday as a researcher for the Conservative election campaign.
Owen Lippert said he was working in Mr. Harper’s office when he was asked to write the speech for the then-opposition-leader to deliver in the House of Commons the day the United States began bombing Baghdad. Large chunks were taken from a speech given by then-prime-minister John Howard in the Australian Parliament two days earlier.
“Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech,” Mr. Lippert said in a statement issued by the Conservative Party, five hours after the Tories accused the Liberals of “desperation” and “gotcha journalism” in revealing the plagiarism.
“Neither my superiors in the office of the leader of the opposition nor the leader of the opposition was aware that I had done so,” Mr. Lippert said. “I apologize to all involved and have resigned my position from the Conservative campaign.”
The similarities in the two speeches, delivered on March 18 and 20, 2003, were made public Tuesday during a speech in Toronto by Liberal MP Bob Rae. A Liberal strategist said the party discovered them almost by accident while doing research on the Internet two months ago.
The strategist said a junior staffer, who asked not to be identified, was doing a Google search on Mr. Harper, George W. Bush and the war in Iraq and came across a link to Mr. Howard’s speech.
“A little bell went off — ‘I have heard that language before’ — and the rest, as they say, is history,” the strategist said. The Liberals did not release the information until Tuesday because they were waiting to receive a videotape of Mr. Howard’s speech from Australia, the strategist said.
“Initially, when all we had was the paper copies of the speeches, we would place them side by side, and sometimes you would actually not be able to tell whose speech was whose,” the strategist said.
Mr. Howard’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
Mr. Rae said the copied speech is evidence that Canada is losing its own voice in foreign policy under the Conservatives. He said the country has become a parrot of right-wing interests from the United States and other foreign countries.
“How does a leader in Canada’s Parliament, on such a crucial issue, end up giving almost the exact same speech as any other country’s leader, let alone a leader who was a key member of George W. Bush’s coalition of the willing?” Mr. Rae said.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion also condemned the copied speech, saying Mr. Harper should be “expelled” from his party.
“He’s unable to choose his own words,” Mr. Dion said. “Canadians want their country [to] speak with its own voice on the world stage.”
Mr. Harper’s friend, Ken Boessenkool, was a senior policy adviser in charge of his speechwriting in 2003. Tuesday he denied any suggestion that the similarities in the speeches were the result of orders from Mr. Bush to keep his allies on the same page.
“We had a speech to give on the subject. We asked our researchers to prepare some materials. Some draft materials were presented to me,” said Mr. Boessenkool, who is now senior vice-president at Hill and Knowlton Canada. “The speech was what it was.”
He said the opposition leader’s office had a very busy week when the plagiarism occurred, and that there was nothing more to it than Mr. Lippert’s error in judgment.
“My recollection was it was a very busy week for speeches,” Mr. Boessenkool said. “I’m not excusing what happened, but these things do happen.”
Hansard, the official record of the House of Commons, shows Mr. Harper made only one speech in the House of Commons that week in addition to attending Question Period.
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Earlier Tuesday, Conservative spokesman Yaroslav Baran told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Rae’s “attack” was evidence of Liberal desperation. A senior Conservative strategist dismissed the allegations of plagiarism as not being relevant.