NEWS

Canadian politicians who 'misspoke' and backtracked

07/16/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT
In a speech to church parishioners in her Vancouver South riding two weeks ago, Conservative MP Wai Young glided from a dubious comparison to a factual error, suggesting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's party is comparable to Jesus Christ and that Canada's spy agency knew in advance about the Air India Flight 182 bombing in 1985.

Young's speech to the Harvest City Church addressed, among other things, the government's new anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. 

Young has since backtracked from her allegation that CSIS essentially let the Air India bombing happen, which was first reported on Tuesday by Press Progress, a website affiliated with the Broadbent Institute.

"I misspoke with regards to the investigation of the Air India bombing.… I regret this error," she said in an emailed statement late Tuesday night.

Young isn't the first politician — and certainly won't be the last — to "misspeak," a handy term that is often found in an ensuing apology.

Here are seven other instances of politicians not exactly sticking to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Cross burnings

Hedy Fry, then Liberal minister of state for multiculturalism, was forced to apologize in March 2001 after saying in the House of Commons that racist cross burnings had taken place on lawns across Prince George, B.C. Fry's prepared answer in response to a question commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racism included apartheid in South Africa and the situations in Kosovo and Northern Ireland. 

"We do not have to go too far" to know people are still being discriminated against, she said. 

"We could just go to Prince George, British Columbia, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak." 

Fry also said that the mayor of the city had sent her a letter asking for assistance in her role as secretary of state. 

The mayor's office said it absolutely wasn't true, and the acting mayor at the time said he had no idea where that information came from. 

Nobody CBC News spoke with in the city at the time had heard of cross burnings, including the police and local politicians.

Voter fraud

Conservative MP Brad Butt stood up in the House of Commons in February 2014 on two occasions to assert that he saw, first-hand, incidences of voter fraud during debate on the government's proposed Fair Elections Act. 

"I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID," he said.

Butt repeated this assertion an hour later, and then told a similar story the following week during a House committee examining the bill.

The MP then retracted his statement ("I misspoke during debate," he said) and added that he "did not personally see it."

His statement prompted a complaint to the commissioner of Elections Canada and a question of privilege from the NDP asking the Speaker to make a preliminary finding that Butt deliberately misled the House.

Rob Ford's backyard

In December 2013, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (who had declared the Toronto Star newspaper an enemy) accused Star reporter Daniel Dale of going into his backyard and taking pictures of his children.

During a TV interview with former media baron Conrad Black, Ford was asked a question on media intrusion into his private life. He responded by singling out a supposed incident with Dale.

"Daniel Dale is in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. He's taking pictures of little kids," Ford said. "I don't want to say that word, but you start thinking what this guy is all about."

Although Ford did not use the word "pedophilia" in the interview, many took that to be his insinuation.

Dale said the suggestion was "categorically false" and said he didn't trespass on Ford's property or take photos of his family. A police investigation corroborated his story. 

Ford, who initially stood by his comments, apologized after the Star reporter filed a lawsuit for defamation. 

Robocall outrage

NDP MP Pat Martin was served with a $5-million defamation lawsuit in March 2012 after accusing a call centre company of being part of a conspiracy to commit electoral fraud in Guelph, Ont. (a crime for which former Tory staffer Michael Sona would be found guilty).

RackNine CEO Matt Meier's lawsuit claimed that Martin's comments caused his company to be "shunned, avoided and exposed to hatred, contempt and ridicule."

Martin issued a public apology for his comments and settled out of court with RackNine.

The sharp-tongued MP also had to clarify and apologize for comments he made about two other similar call centre firms. 

Alberta bashing

In a 2012 interview with Télé-Québec television program Les Francs-tireurs (The Straight Shooters), then Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau said Canada wasn't doing well because "it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda."

He apologized after the resulting furor, but argued that his comments were misinterpreted. Trudeau said the comments were actually directed at the government and not Albertans in general.

"It was wrong to use a shorthand to say Alberta, when I was really talking about Mr. Harper's government, and I'm sorry I did that."

Hastening death

Outspoken Conservative MP Rob Anders theorized in an October 2012 interview that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair hastened the death of former leader Jack Layton.

Layton died of cancer in August 2011, shortly after leading the New Democrats to Official Opposition status in the general election. 

"I actually think one of the great stories that was missed by journalists was that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton's death," he said to iPolitics. Anders elaborated by asserting Mulcair had made it obvious that if Layton wasn't well enough to campaign, he should have stepped aside. 

"Mr. Layton put his life at risk to go into the national election, and fight it, and did obviously an amazing job considering his state of health, and that he did that partly because of the arm-twisting behind the scenes by Mulcair and then subsequently died," said Anders.

He later apologized for his "insensitive and inconsiderate" comments.

'Soft porn' in the House

NDP MP and then status of women critic Irene Mathyssen caught Conservative MP James Moore off-guard in December 2007 when she accused him of looking at "soft porn" photos of a "scantily clad" woman on his laptop in the House of Commons. 

The woman, it turned out, was Moore's girlfriend.

Mathyssen withdrew the accusation — levelled publicly in the House of Commons on a point of order — after receiving a phone call from Moore explaining who he was looking at.

"I recognize in hindsight that I should have approached the member and sought the explanation before I rose in this House. For that I am truly sorry," she said.

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