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'Give 'em Hec' Clouthier delivers parting shot to Ignatieff

Jean Chr�tien, left, and Hec Clouthier.

His slogan in his federal election campaigns was "Give 'em Hec." And that's exactly what Hec Clouthier says he gave Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff when he met with him to talk about becoming a Liberal candidate.

In fact, he gave him even more - he says he told him where to go. And now he wants to announce that he is running as an independent in the rural riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke that he once held as a Liberal.

Timing is everything, so why not pile on Mr. Ignatieff when the going is good.

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Here's what happened: The 60-year-old former MP (he served one term from 1997 to 2000) met with Mr. Ignatieff in February, 2009.

Mr. Clouthier says that Mr. Ignatieff "believed I was only person who had a chance to win that seat back."

It has been held by Conservative Cheryl Gallant since 2000; Mr. Clouthier, a local lumber baron, was defeated, in part, when he defended the Chrétien Liberals' controversial long-gun registry.

But after his meeting with Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Clouthier has finally decided to run as an independent in the next election.

"I told him the Liberal Party policies and priorities were targeting the major cities and forgetting about rural Canada," he said Tuesday.

"Take all of his MPs in his caucus who are elected in the major cities out of his caucus and he could hold his next caucus meeting in a phone booth."

Mr. Clouthier says he didn't think that Mr. Ignatieff liked to hear that, but "it is the truth."

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Not only that, but Mr. Clouthier - a colourful character in official Ottawa who is known for always sporting a big fedora to protect his bald pate - told Mr. Ignatieff that if he ran and won as a Liberal he would vote the way his constituents wanted him to.

"He liked that approach even less, saying that he was the boss and would order me to vote according to his wishes and I would do so," said Mr. Clouthier.

"My riposte was something like this: 'I don't want to be vituperative, polemic or caustic, but you and your Harvard professorial manner can go to hell' - or a reasonable facsimile," he said.

Indeed, Mr. Clouthier said Mr. Ignatieff said he would be in touch.

"Strangely, he never did get back in touch with me. ... Yikes, ask me if I care."

The Liberals, meanwhile, have a different version of events.

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"No 'offers' of any kind were ever made," says a senior Ignatieff official. "We have an excellent candidate, Christine Tabbert, who was nominated in September, 2009."

"So no offence to Mr. Clouthier, but his decision to run as an independent is anything but the result of 'recent' events," says the official. "He may want to get some free advertising, which would explain the fabricated outrage."

Mr. Clouthier is a character. He is outspoken, he knows how to stir the pot and he is well known in the capital.

Diminutive - he is 5-foot-3 - he became Jean Chrétien's special caucus adviser after his defeat.

But he does say that his problems are not just with Mr. Ignatieff. Rather, "the system is broken."

"All MPs are dictated to by party leaders," he says. "They are sent there first and foremost to represent their constituents, to speak and vote on their behalf, but when they get there they are told how to talk, how to walk and how to vote - that is wrong!"

And he knows he would be off-side with Mr. Ignatieff on the issues of the harmonized sales tax and the long-gun registry. He could not support them.

"Until the system is fixed, the only way I can truly represent my voters is as an independent, and in a minority the government needs every vote they can get so an independent (especially someone like me who knows the system and the key players) would have more power than King Tut!"

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