A staff member resigned and apologized Tuesday for writing a speech read by Stephen Harper in 2003 as leader of the Opposition that plagiarized from an address days earlier by then Australian prime minister John Howard.

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Australian Prime Minister John Howard, left, is seen on a television screen addressing the Australian Parliament in March 2003, alongside an image of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, right, speaking two days later. ((CBC))

"Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech," Owen Lippert says in a news release sent out by the Conservative camp on Tuesday afternoon.

"Neither my superiors in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition nor the leader of the Opposition was aware that I had done so."

Lippert worked for Harper, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, when the speech calling for Canadian troops to be deployed to Iraq was written and read in the House of Commons.

Lippert, a former policy analyst for economic think tank the Fraser Institute, has announced his resignation from his current position working in the Conservative campaign headquarters.

The apology came hours after Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae accused Harper of plagiarizing from the Howard speech.

Tory camp dismisses issue as irrelevant

At a campaign appearance in Toronto in the morning, Rae played video showing Howard speaking to the Australian Parliament on March 18, 2003, alongside video of an address by Harper two days later in Ottawa.

The two speeches, which the Liberals posted to their website, appear to have lengthy duplicate passages, according to a comparison of the two parliaments' Hansard transcripts.

Earlier in the day, Harper's spokesman, Kory Teneycke, dismissed the issue as irrelevant, saying the video's release was an "act of desperation" by the Liberal campaign on the eve of the first leaders' debate.

"I'm not going to get into a debate about a five-year-old speech that was delivered three Parliaments ago, two elections ago, when the prime minister was the leader of a party that no longer exists," Teneycke said.

"We're going to focus on the economy, which is the No. 1 issue Canadians want to talk about. We're not going to be distracted by attacks from the Liberal war room."

'Shocking' duplication: Rae

In an interview with Don Newman of CBC's Politics, Rae called the Conservative party's earlier attempt to brush off the issue "totally pathetic."

He described the 2003 address as Harper's "big coming-out speech as leader of the opposition."

Immediately following the speech, then-foreign affairs minister Bill Graham praised Harper for his "thoughtful and powerful presentation of his party's case."

Rae called the apparent duplication "shocking," saying it reveals the ideological approach of the Harper government in shaping Canada's foreign policy and indicates the party's own voice on foreign policy issues was weak.

"How does a political leader in Canada's Parliament, on such a crucial issue, in fact an issue that in many ways defined our foreign policy for a generation, end up giving the exact same speech as another country's leader?" Rae said earlier in the day. "Let alone one who was the key leader of George W. Bush's 'coalition of the willing.' "

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion earlier in the day called for Harper to be expelled from the House of Commons over the affair.

"It matters a lot, tremendously," he told reporters at a campaign stop in Gatineau, Que. "Canadians want that their country [to] speak with its own voice on the world stage. It's true for the prime minister; it's true for the Opposition leader."

Australian leader ally of Bush government

Howard was a stalwart ally of the Bush administration in the Iraq war and deployed Australian forces to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003, which other world leaders, including then Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, opposed.

Rae pointed to Chrétien's decision as a moment that "made us proud to be Canadians."

"The Liberal party has always believed that Canada must have its own voice on the world stage," Rae said. "He did the right thing and said, 'No.' "

The Liberals said they noticed the similarity between the two speeches only recently, when one of their staffers was searching for a copy of Harper's editorial on the Iraq invasion published in the Wall Street Journal, the CBC's James Cudmore reported from the campaign trail.

The staffer entered a portion of Harper's comments into Google and came up with a link to Harper's remarks and another to Howard's. The party said it then ordered a video copy of Howard's speech.

The revelation came as the federal party leaders were scaling back on campaign appearances to focus on preparing for this week's debates ahead of the Oct. 14 election.

Segments of speeches

In one segment, both leaders are heard saying:

"It is inherently dangerous to allow a country, such as Iraq, to retain weapons of mass destruction, particularly in light of its past aggressive behaviour. If the world community fails to disarm Iraq we fear that other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can have these most deadly of weapons to systematically defy international resolutions and that the world will do nothing to stop them."

The clips then jump to Howard saying:

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Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says the similarities between the two speeches show that the Conservatives' foreign policy cannot be trusted. ((Canadian Press))

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, so the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply. That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people."

According to the Hansard transcripts, Harper said:

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply, particularly given in this case the shameless association of Iraq with rogue non-state organizations. That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the world, including to Canada and its people."