Seriously, y’all, for the last few days, I’ve been saying that the latest round of prime ministerial embarrassments — Ablonczy/Pride, specifically the almost unbelievably hamhanded handling thereof, and the extended remix screwups surrounding the LeBlanc funeral, from failing to keep the PM briefed on protocol, to arguing about what exactly was depicted on that now-removed Youtube video — have revealed a serious staffing problem at PMO. As far as I can tell, this latest debacle proves it. (Sorry, Dimitri.):
July 10, 2009 – 10:42
THE CANADIAN PRESS
L’AQUILA, Italy – An aide to Stephen Harper has offered an abject apology after the prime minister took a sharp shot at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for comments he never made.
Dimitri Soudas said he mistakenly informed Harper that comments by an academic about Canada’s irrelevance in the G8 were actually Ignatieff’s.
The academic said Canada is at risk of being shut out of such international councils.
Harper took those comments and ran with them in both official languages during his closing news conference at the Group of Eight summit.
He accused Ignatieff of being “irresponsible,” saying the Liberal leader “is supposed to be a Canadian.”
Shortly after the 45-minute news conference ended, Soudas rushed to inform Canadian media that he’d misread an email, wrongly attributed a quote to Ignatieff and then advised the prime minister to comment publicly on the matter.
Soudas said he owes a personal apology to both Ignatieff and Harper.
UPDATE: Colleague Wherry rounds up the reaction from media on the ground, and has more from Dimitri via the Toronto Star. Apparently, at the time that he was explaining his mistake to reporters, he hadn’t yet offered his resignation, but acknowledged that he his boss was “very upset,” and angry and his boss was “clearly, clearly not happy”. [See update at bottom of post for explanation for edit]
Yikes. That’s going to be one tense flight home from Italy — if he lasts til the end of the trip, that is.
EVEN MORE OF AN UPDATE: After going out of his way to lambaste Michael Ignatieff for something that, as it turned out, he never actually said, the PM has apologized to the Liberal leader directly. Aww, that’s nice — and yes, possibly a first. But as some commenters have already pointed out, would it really have been terribly appropriate to attack an opposition politician while attending an international summit? It just seems a little — unseemly. On the other hand, Canada? Backer than ever!
URGENT UPDATE: PM “very bothered”, not “upset”, according to latest version of the Toronto Star story:
Soudas said “No, I am upset,” and he added later that the prime minister was “clearly, clearly not happy with the fact that he was put in that situation by one of his advisors.
“The prime minister is very bothered by the fact that his press secretary mis-informed him, and mis-briefed him and hence he obviously made an accusation.”
Noted, with some sympathy, is his use of the phrase “his press secretary” rather than, say, the personal pronoun. He also made the following somewhat poignant observation:
“[I]n politics you do have exchanges between political opponents but you have to make sure those exchanged happen within a certain reality of things that people actually say.”
So true, Dimtri. So true.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Blogger (and macleans.ca commenter) BigCityLib reveals the actual source of the not-Ignatieff quote – Gordon Smith, of the Center for Global Studies.