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Canada Harper says Dion's exit prompted him to drop libel suit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday he dropped his libel lawsuit against the Liberals only because Stéphane Dion is no longer party leader, and not because he has anything to hide in the Chuck Cadman affair.

In a news release late last Friday, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party said the $3.5-million lawsuit had been dropped, without a trial or an apology, and that neither side would comment further.

The NDP alleged yesterday that the surprise announcement is part of a cozy relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberals, which united on recent budget votes to keep Mr. Harper and the Conservatives in power.

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"Does the Prime Minister now agree with the Liberal Party allegations on the Cadman affair, or is there something else that Canadians should know about why this case was dropped?" NDP Leader Jack Layton asked during Question Period.

Mr. Harper refused to address the issue directly, but he pointed out that Mr. Dion was replaced by Michael Ignatieff as Liberal Leader in December.

"I have already said all I have to say about this case. I would note that the leader of the Liberal Party is no longer in his position. Maybe the Leader of the NDP had something to do with that too," Mr. Harper said, alluding to failed plans for a coalition government led by Mr. Dion and Mr. Layton.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said that in his view, Mr. Harper dropped the lawsuit simply because he was not "in a position to win it."

Mr. Harper sued Mr. Dion and the Liberal Party last March over statements that he knew of an alleged attempt to bribe Mr. Cadman, an independent MP dying of cancer, with a life-insurance policy in return for voting against the then-Liberal government in 2005.

Tom Zytaruk, whose biography of Mr. Cadman contained the bribery claim, said last week he hopes the Conservatives will withdraw allegations that he doctored a taped interview with Mr. Harper. The tape suggests Mr. Harper had knowledge of the alleged bribe.

"Do I expect an apology? No, but it would be nice to have one," Mr. Zytaruk said.

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Heritage Minister James Moore, who spearheaded the government's defence on the Cadman affair last year, rejected Mr. Zytaruk's call yesterday.

"I don't have any comment on that. As you know, the matter has been settled," Mr. Moore said.

Last year, Mr. Moore said the Liberal allegations were based on a tape that was "doctored" and "edited."

According to a subsequent analysis by a sound expert hired by the Conservatives, the microcassette of the interview was not altered, except for an overrecording that started after any contentious statement.

With a report from Steven Chase

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