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Raising stakes in name game, Grits go after ‘Harper regime’

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are ignoring the Tory edict requiring the government of Canada to be referred to as the "Harper government."

In fact, they've launched a little re-branding exercise of their own and are now calling the government the "Conservative regime" or even the "Harper regime." It's certainly a pejorative characterization, given the recent regime change in Egypt and potential toppling of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

In Question Period, deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale pressed the absent Prime Minister on the in-and-out election financing controversy. "Why did his regime concoct phoney invoices to try to hide it?"

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Then this: "Only this Conservative regime had this scheme."

He later demanded: "Will this regime at least tell senators Finley and Gerstein to step aside while charges against them are outstanding."

Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein were charged, along with two other senior Tories, by Elections Canada with "willfully" exceeding spending limits in the 2006 campaign, which saw Stephen Harper form his first minority government.

They are happily still sitting in the Senate. In fact, there was some breathless tweeting about the fact that Mr. Finley was spotted in one of the Commons galleries watching part of Question Period Monday.

The "Harper government" edict was revealed last week by Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle. According to bureaucrats he spoke to, the directive came last year from the "centre" – meaning PMO and the Privy Council Office.

Montreal Liberal MP Marc Garneau, meanwhile, followed up in Question Period, inquiring directly about the name-change order: "It is no longer the 'Government of Canada', but the government of the Prime Minister's last name. It is a government of only one, for only one and by only one."

Mr. Garneau could not say the word "Harper," because in the House of Commons MPs must refer to their colleagues by their ridings or titles and not their names.

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Treasury Board President Stockwell Day denied there is a re-branding attempt under foot.

"There has been no change of policy or practice," he asserted. "It is not uncommon at all to see governments use various terms. As a matter of fact, just a quick search of the various Internet sources show at least 109 references used by the Liberals. As a matter of fact, a term was used by the leader of the former government."

But the Liberals didn't give up. In the Commons foyer after Question Period, finance critic Scott Brison took some time to explain why they are calling the Conservative government a "regime."

"Well the Harper regime is exactly what it is. It's the regime of a government that doesn't respect Parliament, a Prime Minister who puts politics ahead of democracy," Mr. Brison told reporters.

A series of Liberal talking points, meanwhile, provides more explanation.

"The Government of Canada does not belong to Stephen Harper. It belongs to all citizens of Canada," the Liberals say. "Directing the public service to replace 'Government of Canada' with 'Harper Government' in all federal government communications is completely unacceptable to Canadians."

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