OTTAWA — Stephen Harper’s so-called “bubble” campaign style is coming back to haunt him after two women were ejected from a Conservative event for perceived ties to the Liberals — a move Michael Ignatieff calls “un-Canadian.”
The Liberal leader cited an incident on the Tory campaign Sunday in which the two young women were ordered to leave a Harper event in London, Ont.
One woman, a 19-year-old student, broke into tears after she and her friend were forced out of a rally by an official, who then ripped off their name tags and tore them, the London Free Press reported.
The official claimed to know via Facebook that the pair had links to the Liberals, likely referring to a photo of the woman at an Ignatieff rally that’s on her profile page, she said.
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald wrote of a separate incident in which a volunteer who helps homeless veterans was turned away from a Harper rally in Dartmouth, N.S., last week.
When asked about the incidents, Harper brushed the question aside, appearing to lay the blame at the feet of his campaign workers.
“Staff runs our campaigns and I can’t comment on individual matters like that,” he said during a campaign stop in Quebec.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people are coming to see our campaign and I’m very pleased with how it’s going.”
It’s not the first time the tightly scripted nature of the Harper tour — Ignatieff has derisively described it as the “bubble-boy campaign” — has come under fire.
Reporters following the prime minister have complained about limited access: they’re restricted to five questions a day. Individuals attending events must register and show identification, and rarely do events stray into public places where access isn’t strictly controlled.
RCMP officers on the tour make a point of telling reporters at events that they are not acting as prime ministerial staff, and if they yank a reporter aside, it is for security reasons only.
The strategy appears similar to one adopted by former U.S. President George W. Bush in his 2006 re-election campaign, which included town-hall meetings of beaming supporters throwing soft-ball questions to the candidate.
Last week, a Conservative staffer called the tactic “stupidity” in a Facebook entry that was leaked to the media, and pleaded with the party war room to save Harper’s “image.”
Ignatieff wasted no time assailing Harper’s campaign style.
“I just think when you get to a situation where people can’t come to a public meeting in Canada, and get thrown out by two heavies because they have a Facebook friend from another party, you’re in a bad place,” he said during a campaign stop in South Conception Bay, N.L.
“You’re in a very un-Canadian place.”
Ignatieff cited the controversy surrounding Bruce Carson, a former Harper adviser who was hired to work in the Prime Minister’s Office despite disclosing a criminal record that included five fraud convictions.
“I think we’re in a very bad place when you got a prime minister who does a background check on his audience at a democratic crowd, and doesn’t seem to do a background check on the people he hires in the Prime Minister’s Office, like Mr. Carson.”
NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose campaign theme has revolved around the question of trust, also took aim at Harper’s campaign tactics.
“The idea that just because you have a different opinion you can’t walk into the room with the prime minister, that’s wrong and every Canadian should be worried about that,” Layton said at a stop in Winnipeg.
Questions about the form of the campaign and the Carson imbroglio dominated Harper’s media availability today, which took place at a fire station in Victoriaville, Que.
As he has most of the first week, the prime minister was trying to play offence by campaigning in enemy territory in a region of solid Bloc Quebecois ridings.
Ignatieff also was scheduled to arrive on the same Quebec battlefield later today.