Harper says defections prove Tory appeal

Harper Says Defections Prove Tory Appeal - January 12, 2007

The second defection of a former high-ranking Liberal to the Conservative party in less than a week illustrates that the Tories are winning over ethnic voters across Canada, and particularly in the Toronto area, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Harper told a crowd of party faithful that the support of former Mississauga-Streetsville Liberal MP Wajid Khan and now of Mark Persaud, a former chair of the federal Liberal party’s multiculturalism committee, shows people are realizing the “failure of the Liberals to match talk with action” when it comes to new Canadians.

“There’s a place for everyone within the new Conservative Party of Canada,” Harper said. “The news is getting out and the party is continuing to grow.”

Persaud, standing on the stage with Harper, Khan and Jason Kenney, the secretary of state for multiculturalism, said he was at first reluctant to speak publicly, but then launched into a tirade against the Liberals.

Persaud said the Liberal have taken a “pedestrian approach” to multiculturalism and shown “disrespect and glaring contempt” for ethnic Canadians.

Like Khan, who announced his jump to the Tories last Friday, Persaud said, “I, too, have wasted over a decade supporting a Liberal party that is ideologically bankrupt, and one that has kept failing Canadians.”

The Tories pointed to Persaud’s left-of-centre credentials as evidence they were winning over a new breed in their continuing quest for the political mainstream.

Persaud fled Guyana as a political refugee in 1983 and lived in a homeless shelter before putting himself through school and obtaining a law degree.

Kenney said the government has won support by cutting in half the $975 immigrant landing fee, making compensatory payments to the Chinese head taxpayers, striking the Air-India inquiry and helping foreign-trained professionals get their credentials recognized. In their budget last year, the Conservatives called for an agency to help foreign professionals integrate into the workforce.

“Where (Liberals) just talked, we’re walking the walk,” Kenney said. “That’s being noticed.”

In Ottawa, Brampton-Springdale Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla said it was “unfortunate” to see former Liberals turning their backs on the party, but that it is “not reflective of the feeling of many communities and Canadians across this country.”

Steven MacKinnon, former executive director of the federal Liberals, took particular issue with Persaud’s attack, saying the allegations the party showed disrespect to ethnic Canadians were “demonstrably false.”

Yesterday was the first time that Harper and Khan, his newest MP, have appeared together since last week’s defection.

Khan said his “disillusionment” with the Liberals began in 2005, particularly after Paul Martin’s government signed a budget deal with the “socialist” New Democrats to extend the life of its minority government. Khan said his decision to defect was made easier by credentials and no commitment to “family values.”

Harper lauded Khan as a man of character and he will be a “crucial link” between his government and the GTA on issues like infrastructure, public transit and the environment.

In addition to his role as the Prime Minister’s special adviser on Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs, Khan will also be named to the Commons’ foreign affairs committee, Harper said.

But Khan’s 19-day tour of the Middle East last September continues to dog him.

Foreign affairs officials posted a list of expenses yesterday showing the trip cost taxpayers almost $13000. Some politicians are casting doubt on the existence of a report on the trip that Khan was commissioned to write.

Dion called on Harper to release Khan’s report, adding that Khan promised last fall he would make the report public.

with files from Richard Brennan and Susan Delacourt.

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