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Them's Fightin' Words

Political insults have a fine old tradition, perhaps reaching their peak with Benjamin Disraeli's many zingers directed at rival William Gladstone in 19th-century Britain. Asked to differentiate between the words "misfortune" and "calamity," Disraeli quickly shot back: "If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If someone pulled him out, that would be a calamity."

More recently, an insult backfired during the last Ontario election when a staff member working to re-elect provincial Tory Leader Ernie Eves sent to the media a fax containing the now-famous line about the Liberal leader: "Dalton McGuinty. He's an evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet." The kitten-eater now occupies the premier's office and the Ontario Tories are seeking a new boss.

We've gathered a few prime insults from the 2004 Canadian winter and spring of political discontent. Please nominate your own favourites by sending us an e-mail.

Insulting the Liberals

  Stephen Harper called then-defence minister John McCallum an "idiot" and a "clown" on April 1, 2003, over the government�s position on Iraq. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)

Former Tory cabinet minister John Crosbie fires away at Paul Martin at a campaign event in Holyrood, Nfld., on June 20: "Prime Minister 'Clawback' Martin, he's like a berserk Bugs Bunny. He's like a crazed rabbit, his nose twitching as he lies, exaggerates, conjures up hidden agendas and conspiracies, twists and turns. Having screwed his own leader, he's attempting to screw ours."

Stephen Harper to his troops as he accepts the leadership of the Conservative party in March: "The tired, old and corrupt Liberal party is right now cornered like an angry rat."

Interim Conservative leader Grant Hill dismissing Prime Minister Paul Martin's first throne speech: "It's nothing but legacy leftovers and puffy promises, the stuff of Cottonelle ads. We have helicopters that won't go up, submarines that can't go down, and a government that sends combat troops to desert theatres wearing jungle fatigues. If there was a political equivalent of the Keystone Kops, they would be sitting across the aisle there."

NDP House leader Bill Blaikie on Paul Martin's promise to change the way government operates, after a decade in Jean Chrétien's cabinet: "[It's] like he came upon a crime scene and he's able to pretend, 'This is a shame. This hasn't been done. This should have been done.' Well, he's crawling around a crime scene that's got his fingerprints all over it."

Stephen Harper on Paul Martin's pledge to take the cronyism out of Ottawa: "Here he is, the guy who's going to come in and clean up all the corruption of the past decade. Sounds great until you realize Mr. Martin was the No. 2 man in the government."

New Democrat MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis to former Liberal public works minister Alfonso Gagliano as he played coy about the sponsorship program in front of the public accounts committee: "You're making us play a game of Clue, and asking questions like 'Was it Chuck Guité in the laundry room? Or Mr. [Jean] Pelletier in the PMO?' If you're so determined that we get to the bottom of this, then you tell us ... who should we talk to?"

Peter MacKay referring to Paul Martin's past role in running Canada Steamship Lines: "Full steam ahead for the Good Ship Corruption under this captain."

After Paul Martin boasts about the Liberals' 10-year plan to repair Canada's health-care system, Stephen Harper strikes back: "We just had a 10-year plan to fix health care called the Liberal government, and it didn't work out."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe speculates on why Paul Martin chose to entertain his cabinet ministers at a big working dinner at 24 Sussex Drive in late April: "Maybe this is the last supper."

Insulting the Conservatives

Author Margaret Atwood, writing in the Globe and Mail on June 9: "Those calling themselves the Conservatives are really the Body Snatchers. They've eaten the comfy old Tories and peeled off their John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker skins and put them on, and now they're prowling the earth with destruction in their hearts. When these neo-Cons hear the word Culture, they reach for their nugs. (Guns turn into nugs when you pretend you didn't want Canada to join in the invasion of Iraq, although you did, too, want it.) Be very afraid!"

Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, who jumped from the old Progressive Conservative party to the Liberals rather than accept Stephen Harper as a leader: "He's an erudite extremist ... Stockwell Day with a library card."

University of Calgary political scientist David Taras: "If Stephen Harper were a colour, he would be grey. He seems perpetually burdened. There is nothing light or whimsical about him. In some ways, he is the oldest young man in Canada."

University of Prince Edward Island political scientist Peter McKenna on the Conservative party's chances in Atlantic Canada under Stephen Harper: "Somewhere between slim and none — and slim just left town."

Former Liberal MP Mary Clancy on Belinda Stronach's sometimes stumbling performance on the campaign trail for the Conservative leadership: "It was like watching a train wreck. If this woman stays around, we might lose the right to vote!"

Former Tory prime minister Joe Clark, who vehemently opposed the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party with the Canadian Alliance: "Some equate it to a death in the family. I regard it rather as a death of the family."

Prime Minister Paul Martin responds to a jibe in question period from Peter MacKay, whose deal with Stephen Harper to unite the right led former Tory leader Joe Clark to quit the new party and sit as an Independent: "The fact is that there is a former prime minister of Canada who is relegated off to the corner, whose heart is broken, because the great party of Sir John A. Macdonald has had its heart ripped out of it because this honourable member broke his word ... Ask the former prime minister of Canada why he's sitting over there. He's doing it because this member has no principles."

Stephen Harper on the Canadian political right's recent fractious history: "We wouldn't be conservatives if the feud was ever over."

Insulting the NDP

The usually low-key Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, losing his temper when told that NDP Leader Jack Layton portrayed the Liberals' plan to pay down the national debt as taking money from education and health care: "I'm just amazed at either the stunning ignorance or the stunning misrepresentation of Jack Layton. He's nuts. Absolutely flipping nuts. All Mr. Layton has to do is go to Economics 101 and find he is 100 per cent wrong. Sorry. He works me up."

The Liberal Party of Canada, on an anti-Jack Layton website Link opens in new window set up to rebut Layton's anti-Paul Martin website Link opens in new window : "Is it Howard Stern? Is it Tom Green? No, it's the 'King of Shock,' Jack Layton. Tell us another one, Jack."

Stephen Harper, refusing to debate Jack Layton over Harper's comment that a minority government that included the NDP would damage Canada as much as one including the separatist Bloc Québécois: "I am here to debate the prime minister. That's what the leader of the Opposition does. He doesn't debate the also-rans."

Winnipeg Sun columnist Charles Adler on Jack Layton and other NDP leaders warmly supporting MP Svend Robinson after he confessed to stealing a $50,000 ring in a moment of emotional stress: "The bathwater of political correctness has left an ugly ring around the tub of the working man's party� When the NDP needs to get in touch with mainstream Canadian values, it needs to call long distance."

A news release from Liberal MP Dennis Mills after Jack Layton appeared on the CBC Radio program The House (Layton is challenging Mills in his Toronto-Danforth riding): "After this humiliating radio interview, we would suggest Jack Layton stick to his beloved 30-second TV soundbites and 'game-show style' stunts. Shorter exposure to the public will mean less time for him to tear his credibility to shreds."

Insulting the Bloc Québécois

Paul Martin on the Bloc Québécois, which threatens to unseat Liberal MPs in Quebec because of the sponsorship scandal: "What Quebecers need on the national scene are players on the ice and not mere spectators in the stands whose only role is to boo and jeer."

Jean Lapierre, a former separatist who is now running for the Liberals, on the failure of the Bloc Québécois: "Instead of giving Quebecers more force, it puts Quebecers in opposition, and frankly I think Quebecers deserve more than that."

Liberal MP Scott Brison, ruling out an alliance with the Bloc Québécois should the Liberals win a minority government: "The raison d'être for the BQ is to tear apart the country. It would be sulphuric for most Canadians to see a coalition government formed with the Bloc."

Back-handed compliments

Pollster Darryl Bricker of Ipsos-Reid on Conservative Leader Stephen Harper: "Ottawa needs an enema and Harper can present himself as just the man to administer it."

Former PC leader Joe Clark gives a lukewarm endorsement to Liberal Leader Paul Martin, saying he prefers him to the Conservatives' Harper: "I think that there is a good question which one is more dangerous for the country. I would be extremely worried about Mr. Harper. I personally would prefer to go with the devil we know [Martin]. I'm that concerned about the imprint of Stephen Harper — not only what he stood for in the past, but the way he has led this party now."

John Ivison, writing in the National Post about Harper: "When he smiles, he may look a little too much like Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo for some people's liking, but one source who has done polling on Harper's 'negatives' said that he has a 'surprisingly high net positive.'"

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