Pressure on Tories to apologize after Sun retracts story on Liberal candidate

Conservative MPs are refusing to apologize for pillorying a Liberal candidate, even though the news story on which their criticism was based has been retracted.
Four Conservative MPs, including Employment Minister Jason Kenney, are refusing to apologize for pillorying a Liberal candidate, even though the news story on which their criticism was based has been retracted. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative MPs are refusing to apologize for pillorying a Liberal candidate, even though the news story on which their criticism was based has been retracted.

Sun Media retracted Tuesday a story published last week that attributed quotes about the Harper government's income splitting plan to Banff-Airdrie Liberal candidate Marlo Raynolds.

The quotes came from a secretly recorded conversation during a Nov. 13 public meeting in Canmore, Alta., involving Raynolds, local resident Tam McTavish, one other man and a young woman identified as Alexandra Constantinidis, a former parliamentary assistant to Conservative MP Rob Anders.

The story by Sun News Network personality Brian Lilley alleged that Raynolds had said couples with children would spend money saved from the Tories' income splitting plan on television sets and cars, not on caring for their kids.

"Mr. Raynolds advises that he did not make those comments and that in fact they were made by Tam McTavish, which Mr. McTavish confirms. Sun Media regrets the error," read a tiny correction box published Tuesday in the Ottawa Sun.

Four Conservative MPs, including Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Banff-Airdrie MP Blake Richards, last week used the story to accuse Raynolds and the Liberals of not trusting parents to spend tax savings on their children.

They denounced Raynolds in the House of Commons and Richards further used the story to solicit donations in a fundraising email that accused Raynolds of showing frightening arrogance.

They showed no inclination Tuesday to retract their denunciations or apologize to Raynolds, despite demands to do so from Liberal MPs.

"Marlo Raynolds is an honourable man with an exemplary reputation and is owed an apology by all of these MPs," Liberal Wayne Easter told the Commons.

"Sun News has published a full retraction today. Do these members have the decency to do the same? Will they apologize for misleading the House?"

No comment from Tory MPs

No mention of the matter was made by Tory MPs in the Commons. And neither Kenney nor Richards responded to a request for comment on Sun Media's retraction.

Richards' Facebook page made no mention of the retraction but an earlier posting, blasting Raynolds and showing a video clip of Richards' statement on the matter in the Commons last week, remained.

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann gave precisely the same answer Tuesday as he did on Monday, when Sun Media was still standing behind its story.

"The person who recorded the conversation maintains the comments in question are from the Liberal candidate. The audio tape is available online for anyone to hear," Hann said when asked if an apology would be forthcoming.

It is clear from the audio that at least two men and one woman were involved in the conversation. However, the quality of the audio recording varies and, at the moment the words in questions were spoken, there is so much background noise that it's difficult to make out the words, much less who is speaking.

In emails to Raynolds, Lilley confirmed the person who recorded the conversation was a Conservative supporter and a woman. He attributed the poor audio quality to the woman "zipping up her coat when she thought you were getting nervous that she might be recording you."

Photographs taken at the Canmore meeting of the only woman involved in the conversation match the Facebook profile photo of Alexandra Constantinidis. Her Facebook page, which disappeared Tuesday, also included photos of her posing with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who personally awarded her father a Queen's diamond jubilee medal in 2012.

Under two different names, Constantinidis signed in at the Canmore event and at an earlier Raynolds event in Airdrie. She provided a phone number on one sign-in sheet.

When The Canadian Press called that number Monday, a woman who said she was Alexandra hung up when told she was speaking to a reporter.

Constantinidis is the same person who was identified last fall as having secretly recorded comments by another prominent Liberal, retired general and would-be candidate Andrew Leslie. That audio also made its way to Sun Media and was used as fodder for Conservative denunciations and fundraising pitches.

Asked if Constantinidis is working for Sun Media, Lilley said in an email Tuesday: "As for the woman you mention, I do not know her, have not met her and have no relationship with her. Nor to my knowledge does Sun Media."


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