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Jane Taber

Who will be next to slap Stephen Harper down? Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals are mocking Stephen Harper's handling of foreign policy, characterizing it is "amateur hour on the world stage."

Liberals are pouncing on media reports detailing the latest public rebuke of the Harper government's seemingly ham-fisted handling of foreign affairs. Expect this to be part of the Liberal line-up on Question Period today.

Adding to the pile-on was the weekend speech by former star diplomat Robert Fowler at the Liberal thinkers' conference. In his speech Mr. Fowler took on the government for pandering to various ethnic groups to win votes. (He was also harsh on the Liberals, however.)

The opposition focus today is on the slap down by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Conservative government's failure to invite other Nordic nations to yesterday's Arctic summit.

The harsh criticism by Mrs. Clinton garnered headlines not only in Canada but in foreign newspapers.

In fact, the Liberals dug up an Associated Press report about the incident appeared in the Stockholm media: "Two Nordic nations have criticized Canada for not inviting them to a meeting of Arctic countries, saying the gathering could undermine the work of the broader Arctic Council," the report says.

Says a senior Ignatieff official: "So the Conservatives have managed to be slapped publicly by the Chinese and Americans."

The Chinese incident occurred when Mr. Harper traveled to Beijing last December and was publicly admonished by the Premier Wen Jiabao for taking so long to visit. A Canadian leader had not been to China for five years.

"Who will be next?" the Liberal official scoffed. "Who can they upset at the G8? Or will it be the G20, where there are more people to ignore or insult?"

In his weekend speech, Mr. Fowler, who was kidnapped by an al-Qaeda offshoot in 2008, cautioned the crowd that he was not going to mince his words. He lived up to the claim, criticizing the Harper government for removing the focus from Africa to the relatively more prosperous Latin America.

Not surprisingly, the Harper government took issue with Mr. Fowler's criticism of its aid priorities and his characterization of them as merely courting of ethnic votes.

Immigration Minster Jason Kenney, who has spent much of his political career successfully wooing new Canadians, said he " respectfully disagrees" with Mr. Fowler's view.

"I would say he's asked us to take a 'balanced' approach in the Middle East but a principled approach in Africa," Mr. Kenney told reporters on Monday. "I think we should have a principled approach everywhere. And a principled approach means supporting democracy and opposing terrorism."

(Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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