By THE CANADIAN PRESS
L'AQUILA, Italy — Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to his chief political rival Friday, after attacking Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for comments he never made.
"During my press conference I attacked Mr. Ignatieff for some things he had allegedly said about Canada in the G8," Harper said in a statement only to television cameras.
"I learned shortly after the press conference this was not a quotation of Mr. Ignatieff. I regret the error and I apologize to Mr. Ignatieff for this error."
One of Harper's chief communications aides, Dimitri Soudas, said he had mistakenly informed the prime minister 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.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said that the matter showed Harper's true character.
"I think all Canadians have to recognize that we have the smallest man on the world stage that it's possible to imagine, and that's Stephen Harper," Rae said in an interview.
"He never misses an opportunity to stoop. Not to conquer, just to throw mud."
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.
I'd like to apologize to the rest of the world for our prime minister. We'll get it right next election...we promise.