HL:Internal email shows Tories trying to placate Tamil supporters
Thu January 19, 2006 17:45 EST .
OTTAWA (CP) _An internal party email obtained by The Canadian Press indicates the Conservatives moved to placate Tamil voters around Toronto on Thursday after an ill-timed reminder of the party's tough line on the Tamil Tigers organization.
The missive makes it clear the Conservatives are learning the hard lessons of ethnic politics in this country.
The email says Tory candidates in Toronto's east end complained after Deputy Leader Peter MacKay publicly reiterated a proposed ban on Tigers _ apparently not realizing the Conservatives had agreed not to discuss the ban during the election.
Late Thursday, the party released a statement saying it wanted to improve the targeting of Canadian aid to Tamil communities in Sri Lanka and to get more involved in the Norway-brokered peace process.
It's a direct response to a newspaper interview MacKay granted earlier this week.
According to a party email circulating Thursday, MacKay's comments ``have caused trouble for the seven candidates with sizeable Tamil support in and around Scarborough.''
The Conservatives and their foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day have long argued that Canada should place the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, on its list of banned terrorist entities, in keeping with a recommendation from the national spy service.
But with the world's largest Tamil expatriot community centred around Toronto, successive Liberal governments have refused to tackle the issue for obvious electoral reasons.
The email from party official Sandra Buckler to a group of senior strategists, obtained by The Canadian Press, peels back the campaign machinations revolving around the ethnic vote.
``(MacKay) said exactly what Stock said about 18 months (ago),'' Buckler wrote, ``only Peter didn't know that Stock had promised not to talk about the issue during the election _ yikes.''
Conservative MP Jason Kenney denied in interview there was any gag order on discussing the LTTE ban.
``Mr. Day has had ongoing contact with members of the Tamil community, particularly in eastern Toronto and Scarborough,'' said Kenney.
He also denied the Tories have issues with Tamil voters, noting the party has a Tamil candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt. Banning the LTTE is not one of the Conservatives' top priorities, Kenney added, nor is it a significant election issue.
``I think most Canadian voters vote on domestic issues _ bread and butter issues _ and not conflicts 15,000 kilometres away,'' he said.
Nonetheless, the party did have a statement on the issue.
``The Conservative government would not be a passive bystander in the Sri Lankan peace process as the current government has been,'' Kenney said in the interview.
Earlier this week, MacKay told the National Post ``we would list them (the LTTE) if the government changed on Monday.''
``I think we have to be definitive in saying that we certainly support the Tamil community,'' said MacKay. ``But there is a very clear and distinct line that has to be drawn when it comes to terrorist fundraising that we feel is happening in Canada right now, based on CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) reports.''
His comments were picked up Thursday by news organizations in Thailand and Colombo.
Candidates in Toronto's eastern suburbs immediately complained they were getting grief from their large Tamil constituencies, including party workers.
The Conservative campaign reticence is not suprising, but may be somewhat hypocritical.
For years the Tories have accused the Liberals of refusing to ban the Tigers for electoral reasons.
Paul Martin, then the Liberal finance minister, was roundly criticized for attending Tamil events that CSIS said served as LTTE fund raisers.
But with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper set to visit the heavily ethnic riding of candidate Pauline Browes on Saturday, the party is looking for a way to soften MacKay's comments.
According to Buckler's internal e-mail, Browes asked the campaign head office to ``issue a statement confirming our party's support for the peace process in Norway, and that we would ensure Canadian aid reaches Tamil communities.
``This general statement from the central campaign would go to workers, and the local Tamil media.''
By the end of the day, the party brass had complied.
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Published: Thu Jan 19 18:48:39 EST 2006