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Plagiarism scandal's source more intriguing than its substance

This Magazine Staff

There are two questions no one seems to be asking about the Liberals latest hatchet job on Stephen Harper. When did they discover this undeniable similarity between his 2003 Iraq speech and John Howards’, and how did they discover it?
Harper gave the speech five years ago, and while that doesn’t let him off the plagiarism hook (or his speechwriter, as the case may be), it does beg several questions, not all of which are directed to the Harper Conservatives.
Why didn’t any of Harper’s opponents, Liberal or otherwise, cry foul in 2003, at the time of this alleged plagiarism or in the five years hence? Undoubtedly it’s because no one noticed. What fodder if they had! Surely none of them would sit on such an internationally provocative political firebomb for five years, through two federal elections. By the end of the 2006 campaign the Liberals had emptied their cannons. They must not have known about this back then.
So when did they find out about this transgression? That answer is wrapped in the even juicier question of how they found out.
It’s not hard to imagine a team of Liberal operatives poring through Harper’s every recorded utterance since before his political career began, searching for ammunition to use against him. That’s what politicos do. But it is too much of a stretch to suppose those same operatives cross-referenced everything Harper has said over the last 20 years or so with everything other political leaders around the world have said during the same time period, and just happened to find the Howard speech now, in the nick of time, with two weeks to go in Harper’s re-election campaign.
The odds of a Canadian political junkie – the only breed paying enough attention to a Canadian Opposition Leader’s speech on Iraq to remember it five years later – stumbling across Howard’s speech on YouTube and then recalling Harper saying something remarkably similar must be terribly long. Even longer, if you eliminate the percentage of such aficionados who swing Conservative, and would want to protect Harper in this case.
You can’t rule out the fluke possibility that some apolitical devourer of Canadian media made this discovery and passed it on to a friend who passed it on to a friend closer to the Liberals, who passed it on, and so forth. But it’s at least equally possible that someone from within Harper’s camp, or at least his party, knew about the Howard speech and tipped the Liberals very recently.
Now that’s intriguing. Harper is notorious for controlling the message of his government and his party, and his Conservative troops are, for the most part, incredibly loyal – or at least intimidated enough to keep their mouths shut. Yet someone very familiar with Harper’s speech record – moreso than his political opponents who get paid to search for such things and missed this one – decided now, when he’s on the brink of a majority government, to tip the Liberals off on some incendiary character ammunition.
Bob Rae, at least, knows where the tip came from, as presumably do a handful of others. However, as spicy as the prospect of dissension within Harper’s ranks might be, the outcome of this conflict is largely irrelevant.
Anyone who wasn’t going to vote for Stephen Harper because they think him dishonest made that decision long before news of the Howard speech broke. They probably didn’t vote for him in 2006 either, and probably never would. Ergo this accusation of plagiarism is preaching to the converted, similar to the weak outcry over the ignored fixed election date. The people who care about such issues were never going to vote Conservative in this election anyway. The undecideds have other things to care about.
Certain media see this latest Liberal tactic for what it is – a desperate salvo from a beleaguered opponent that finds itself outflanked at every turn. But at least the Liberals have bought themselves some room to maneuver.
As for the Conservatives – they’ll weather this squall to victory, then clean out the rats.

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