Canada PM faces plagiarism claim

A Canadian Conservative Party speech-writer has resigned after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was accused of plagiarism in a speech he made in 2003.

Owen Lippert admitted he had been “overzealous in copying segments” of a speech in support of the invasion of Iraq by then Australian PM John Howard.

Mr. Lippert said neither his superiors nor Mr. Harper, who was opposition leader at the time, had been aware.

The accusation comes half-way through a general election campaign.

Mr. Harper, who has led a minority government since January 2006, called the snap election for 14 October last month, hoping to obtain a parliamentary majority, for which he needs to win 28 more seats.

Opinion polls suggest the conservatives are within striking distance of doing so, having maintained a near 10-point lead over the Liberals.

Context ‘even worse’

The speech by Mr. Harper was originally made on 20 March 2003 as the House of Commons in Ottawa held an emergency debate at the beginning of the US-led war in Iraq.

In the debate, Mr. Harper urged Canada and the Liberal government to join the so-called “coalition of the willing”.

Five years later at a campaign stop on Tuesday, a Liberal MP for Toronto, Bob Rae, made accused the prime minister of plagiarism.

Mr. Harper’s 2003 speech had been made almost word-for-word two days before in Canberra by his former Australian counterpart, John Howard, he said.

To prove the allegation, portions of the speeches were played side by side.

“In the interests of world peace and regional security… The community of nations required Iraq to surrender,” Mr. Howard said in his speech.

“In the interests of peace and regional security… The community of nations required Iraq to surrender,” Mr. Harper said two days later.

Mr. Rae said the discovery was made by accident almost two months ago by Liberal strategists who were looking for similarities between Mr. Harper’s government and that of US President George W Bush.

The Liberals said they did not release the information until Tuesday because they had been waiting to receive a videotape of Mr. Howard’s speech from Australia.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion said Mr. Harper ought to be “expelled” by his party, and that the context in which the plagiarism had occurred made it “even worse”.

“It’s about Stephen Harper saying that Canada should go with the war in Iraq,” he said.

“He’s unable to choose his own words,” he added. “Canadians want their country [to] speak with its own voice on the world stage.”

‘Pressed for time’

Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke initially refused to discuss the allegations of plagiarism.

“I’m not going to get into a debate about a five-year-old speech that was delivered three parliaments ago, two elections ago,” he told the CBC.

But eventually Mr. Lippert, who describes himself as an expert in intellectual property, apologised and announced his resignation.

“Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

The BBC’s Lee Carter in Toronto says the revelation comes during an election campaign that has focused heavily on leadership, with Mr. Harper depicting himself as honest and dependable, contrasting himself to Mr. Dion, who has been criticised for poor leadership and communication skills.

The two men are to face each other shortly in two vital televised debates – one in French on Wednesday and another in English on Thursday.